RUNWAY OF DREAMS FOUNDATION: MAINSTREAMING CLOTHING FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
The Runway of Dreams Foundation is redefining adaptive wear. Historically, adaptive clothing is designed for individuals with disabilities, and its main goal is to provide function. This clothing is made to easily dress, zipper, and button, but Mindy Scheier wanted to expand the clothing beyond function and into fashion. Scheier is a fashion designer and mother of a child with a disability. Her son, Oliver, wanted to wear jeans just like all of his friends at school. However, Oliver has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, making it hard to wear everyday mainstream clothing, like jeans. Oliver’s disability limited the clothing that he could wear because adaptive wear did not have many selections.
“It was more important to me to have him walk into school with his head held high than to worry about the other things,” Scheier explains. “That was when I realized a change needed to happen. Every kid and adult in the differently-abled community deserves to wear the same clothing that everybody else does.”
This was the spark that set Scheier to found the Runway of Dreams Foundation. This non-profit organization makes the fashion industry more inclusive by combining function and fashion, so that children, like her son, can feel confident in their clothing. This organization allows for people to have their adaptive garments look the same as an abled person’s clothes. Scheier wants people to feel good about themselves in their clothing, whether they have a disability or not. “Disability doesn’t change how you want to present yourself to the world,” says Scheier. Individuals express themselves through fashion, and Scheier was motivated to give everyone an equal opportunity to do so. The foundation has started a fashion revolution, as the industry begins producing clothing for everyone, no matter their condition, age, gender, shape, or size.
Adaptive clothing tends to be more expensive in general, as the materials used and the methods of production can vary. Different clothing adaptations are required because everyone is unique and has different needs. However, with increased awareness for mainstream adaptive wear, through organizations like Scheier’s, the market is expected to grow. Coresight Research predicts that the adaptive clothing market will reach approximately $47.3 billion in the U.S. this year.
The Runway of Dreams Foundation first reached out to Tommy Hilfiger to introduce the idea of an adaptive wear line to bring altered clothing directly to the consumer. He was passionate about Scheier’s ideas, as he has children with mental disabilities and helps them navigate their struggles similarly. This collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger is the first-ever partnership that allows for adaptive clothing to become mainstream. They aim to intertwine innovative alterations with everyday fashion. Having this popular name brand adapt to adaptive wear makes fashion truly inclusive, as abled and disabled individuals can both comfortably wear this well known brand.
Scheier and her team worked with the Tommy Hilfiger company to create children’s adaptive wear for the fall, spring, and holiday season. They worked by modifying typical items sold in the store to see what worked best before mass production; they altered closures, making garments easier to get in and out of; they also made items adjustable to account for sitting or standing. This first-ever collaboration was a success, as the adaptive line was launched and accessible to consumers in 2016.
The partnerships did not stop there. In the spring of 2019, The Runway of Dreams Foundation reached out to Zappos Adaptive to collaborate. Scheier and her team took a similar approach as they did with Tommy Hilfiger and modified clothing so that it would look like everyday, mainstream clothing and shoes that individuals wear. The shoes are made to easily take on and off, including velcro closures and slip-on shoes. The clothing comes with innovations as well, such as reversible items, garments with magnetic closures, and apparel made to comfortably wear and dress.
The organization holds their annual gala and fashion show in New York City, where different styles and forms of adaptive clothing are displayed on the runway. They also participated in New York Fashion Week, showing off their adapted yet mainstream clothing, celebrating the Runway of Dreams Foundation and all their achievement of making the fashion industry more inclusive. Seeing the models on the runway allows others to feel more confident about their disabilities as well. Disabled Runway of Dreams model Rhonda Mills explains, “Having a more inclusive fashion show really says you care about people with disabilities. It really helped me become more comfortable in my own skin, and in my wheelchair.”
Scheier has achieved so much already and still remains determined to continue spreading awareness for the need of an inclusive fashion industry. Scheier states, “With your support, Runway of Dreams will work to ensure that adaptive apparel will become as commonplace as petite or plus sizes and that the over one billion people around the world living with a disability will be empowered with confidence, independence and style.”