Leave your ego at the door — if you want to make change happen — it takes a village.
As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mindy Scheier. Mindy is the pioneer of the adaptive fashion industry. One day, her 8-year old who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy came to her asking to wear jeans to school. He woke up the next day with a MacGuyvered pair of jeans his mom made, fixing velcros in the inseam to fit over his leg braces. From there, she spearheaded the adaptive clothing movement, partnering with Tommy Hilfiger to create the first-ever adaptive fashion collection. From there, she has partnered with the likes of Zappos, Appaman, Kohl’s and more, to consult on how to expand the industry.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me. I started working in the fashion industry over 20 years ago. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in fashion/apparel design at the University of Vermont and studied fashion design, construction, and merchandising through the Fashion Institute of Technology in Florence, Italy. Prior to starting Runway of Dreams in 2014, I was a member of the design team for INC Collection and a stylist for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. During this time, I gave birth to my middle child, Oliver, who was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. Oliver has faced limitations in what he could wear- specifically jeans. For so long, my son wore sweatpants, which fit over his leg braces. We thought nothing of this, as many boys his age also wore sweatpants. One night, he asked if he could wear jeans to school the next day. This was a punch in the gut for me — how would he manage jeans at school? I was going to do whatever it would take. I stayed up all night and MacGuyvered a pair for him using Velcro. I made a pair of adaptive jeans.
It was at this moment that my two worlds collided. After utilizing my background in fashion to design a pair of jeans that accommodated his want to dress independently, I couldn’t fathom why there were no mainstream apparel options for people with disabilities. My founding year of Runway of Dreams was spent researching. Taking my experience in fashion and my passion for helping others, I had a small little goal of changing the industry to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. Here in 2020, I am proud to say we have.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
The most interesting part of my story is that despite being a part of the fashion industry for 20 years, I never heard of or thought of adaptive clothing until it became personal. It amazes me how little I knew of the enormous population of people with disabilities, or the business opportunity at hand. To think that all of this started with a pair of jeans for my son is awe-striking.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During one of the first runway shows, there was an accessory mixup that we weren’t aware of until the very last minute. As major panic ensued on my part, we told the models to swap accessories until they found ones that worked with their outfits. It was like a giant backstage gift exchange; everyone was laughing and rushing to find their matches. Although many of the accessories weren’t what we initially planned with the outfits, the models nonetheless ROCKED them, and the show was a success!
Reflecting on the mixup now, I can definitely look back and laugh, but for the future, I always made sure to triple-check every last label and chart. It is safe to say that we have not had a mistake like that ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
During one of our original fitting sessions, we brought in children and adults of all different disability types to try on our adaptive products. One of our participants, a 15- year-old boy named Liam, has Muscular Dystrophy and has been a wheelchair user his entire life. For his fitting, we gave him one of our magnetic closure front shirts to try on. I vividly remember waiting outside his dressing room, when he came out wearing the biggest smile. With tears in his eyes, he turned around and thanked me. To this day, I will never forget what he said- “Can you imagine that I’m 15-years-old, and this is the first time that I’ve been able to dress?” To be a part of someone’s experience like that is indescribable.
It’s moments like this that remind me of why I do what I do. The road to success was not an easy one, but experiences like these make it all worthwhile. This is what Runway of Dreams is all about.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out??
Have you seen my vision board? It’s mentioned in every episode of The Gamut Network, an online talk show we started amidst the global pandemic to feature people with disabilities and their stories on YouTube. This vision board keeps me focused. It keeps my goals in check. You cannot do this alone. You must surround yourself with a team of passionate, creative, organized people who are aligned with your mission. I am so grateful and proud of our Runway of Dreams, and Gamut Management teams, and the industry experts who partner with us.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We saw a major industry opportunity in our experience running partnerships under Runway of Dreams. Gamut Management was born to represent people with disabilities, and to create a marketplace where businesses and industries can connect directly with people with disabilities. This brought forward the opportunity for The Gamut Network, now 100+ episodes deep, meaning 100+ voices heard. We knew that the population of people with disabilities were urgently in need of PPE during this time, so we partnered with Skilled Laborers Brigade to donate 2000+ masks so far to communities who reached out to us in need. This was part of our social campaign, #ShelterChic, where we ask that you post a pic of your post fabulous quarantine outfit, donate $5 to Runway of Dreams, and tag friends to join in. It has been so fun.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” — Joan Cusack, Working Girl 1988.
The lesson is that to basically find your own way, you must be your own person. If I listened to brands saying no to me — no one has ever done this — obviously, there is a reason — we wouldn’t be where we are today. We have partnered with multiple national brands, and have garnered international news attention. People who could never dress are now getting ready on their own.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I firmly believe that the adaptive category will be in the industry no different than plus size or petite — just a fit for a differently shaped body.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Know your customer — before I approached the industry with my idea of creating mainstream adaptive clothing — I spent a year doing research and focus groups.
2) Being fluid — the original modifications that I developed didn’t all work for the population, so I had to pivot my thinking and create new versions that better helped the masses.
3) Leave your ego at the door — if you want to make change happen — it takes a village.
4) Buck the Norm — the buttonhole was created in the 13th century and the fact that we are still using this “technology” is absurd while we can run our lives by our phones. We have to start thinking out of the box on the basics.
5) Fashion + Technology is the future of fashion, and in particular, will be the much-needed solution for including people with disabilities and putting them on the forefront rather than as an afterthought.
Thank you for these great insights!