Get to Know Runway of Dreams Founder Mindy Scheier
After her son Oliver was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy — of which there are only 70 known cases — Mindy Scheier knew she had to use her fashion degree to make a difference.
Making it a fundamental family rule to treat Oliver as she would any of her other children, Scheier set out to make his life as "normal" as possible, eventually leading to her dream of an "all-inclusive" world — beginning with clothing.
In 2013, Scheier founded Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit organization that partners "with top brands and retailers ... to integrate wearable technology and design modifications into clothing, making it adaptive and wearable for all."
Determined to take over the industry and make adaptive clothing a part of all big fashion lines, Sheier continues to make a difference through various fashion shows dedicated to her work. Her next big event? The Runway of Dreams 2016 Gala on June 9 at 6pm EST at Capitale in New York City.
Check out her Q&A with MAKERS below and learn more about how she got started, what the process was like, and her plans for the future.
Q. What has family life been like since your collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger?
A. I would say certainly over the last couple months our world has been turned upside down and in the best way, but… it’s fascinating to live through something like this in the world, so to speak, especially so my teenage daughter lives it. To have her mom, you know, show up on things like Buzzfeed that she’s looking at is wild for her, for me, for the whole family. So it’s been just… I feel like I’m living somebody else’s story, to be honest.
Q. Was having a fashion line always a part of your dream?
A. Fashion was always in my blood. I’m a fashion designer by education. I graduated with a fashion design degree and then studied in Italy through FIT, so I always, you know, had fashion on my plans for life. But… life always laughs at you when you think you’re planning one thing and it turns into something different. But prior to Runway Of Dreams, I co-founded a fashion design school called Future Fashionistas that was a school for kids ages 5 and up and we taught all different types of fashion design… that’s probably where I kind of start raking this out way beyond me and sharing it with others. So, did I anticipate something like this happening? Definitely not. Until Oliver came into our lives, I didn’t even know the problem existed.
Q. At what exact moment did you realize this was something you would do?
A. [Oliver] came to me, mostly because he was at that age that he really started caring about what he wore, how he looked, you know — he didn’t feel any different than the other kids, so it wouldn’t even occur to him that he wouldn’t be able to dress like the other kids… From the mother perspective... there was no way I was going to let him feel anything else but what he feels about himself and that he can wear what the other kids wear. But, I did have very real concerns that he wasn’t going to be able to do the button and zipper on his own to go to the bathroom and he wasn’t going to wear his leg braces underneath the jeans. So it was a real dilemma.
Q. How did you respond?
A. My initial response was "Of course you are!" As a family, our mindset was that Oliver was going to be treated the same as our other kids, he was going to be treated as any other typical, at the time, 8-year-old boy. So it just naturally rolled off my tongue and then, you know, after when I wasn't with him I thought "How am I doing this? What was I thinking? How am I going to make this happen?" You know?... But at the end of the day he, of course, wore jeans the next day to school.
Q. What kind of jeans did he wear to school that day?
A. They were regular jeans so he did not wear his leg brace that day and I snuck into school to help him go to the bathroom so that, you know, he wasn’t embarrassed, it wasn’t a big deal. But, clearly, certainly after that experience… I can’t do this every day, there’s no way. And it’s terrible for his self esteem to have his mom have to help him go to the bathroom in the middle of school, so it was really kind of that day that I just started even researching what options there were for adaptive clothing. Even at that point I still didn’t even know what adaptive clothing was.
Q. How long did it take you before you decided this was something you had to do?
A. You know, once I started kind of really digging into what was out there and realized that there was nothing out there. You know, certainly kind of Mom and Pop shops that had adaptive clothing, but it certainly was not what the other kids were wearing. It wasn’t the brands they were wearing, it wasn’t necessarily ‘current’… that’s when I had a bit of an epiphany that I better take my background and my passion for, you know, making a difference in, at the time, in my son’s life and how I’m going to try to make mainstream clothing adaptive.
Q. Did it originally start out as you something you did just for Oliver or did you always have this idea of it becoming something for everybody?
A. I really wanted to do something for everyone, even like from the beginning. Just because… once I started seeing what was out there, it like pained me that there were no options for anyone, let alone my son specifically… It just… suddenly became “Why would I only do it for Oliver?”
Q. Did you have any negative experiences with the process before you worked with Tommy Hilfiger?
A. I wouldn’t say negative experiences… I would say… The roadblocks I think at that point was getting any type of grant funding from other foundations to help us, you know, kind of do the things we needed to do in terms of being careful like with the magnets, help put these fashion shows together, all of that — we were just so out of the box of what, you know, foundations give grants to that we got declined from easily over 25 right off the bat.
Q. How has the collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger changed things for you?
A. The primary change is that it gives credibility to the need to have probably one of the most recognizable global brands believe in the Runway Of Dreams mission, so much so that they collaborate with us to do, you know, this line together is the greatest step that we could have asked for in terms of making a change in an industry. And, you know, thankfully rather than having Tommy’s team, you know, go out and say they’re the only ones who have this new collaboration, they’re really looking at it much more as “As an industry, we should all be doing this.”
Q. What's next?
A. Our big mission is to have adaptive versions made in clothing for every economic background that there is out there because everybody deserves to wear what they want to wear.
Q. Do you have any collaborations in the works as of right now?
A. We do, we do. Unfortunately I can’t mention them right now, but certainly as soon as I can, I will. But it’s just, it’s amazing the outreach that we’ve done and, you know, meetings that are upcoming with, you know, huge brands that are finally recognizing the needs of it.
Q. Do you foresee any roadblocks in the future or do you really just see it as an open door?
A. I really do believe in my heart that it’s going to be in this generation. I strongly believe that.
Another main concern about what we are doing is that we are trying to make life better now… we do a lot of fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy donations that I hope, you know, in the next lifetime they find a cure for what Oliver has, but that isn’t helping Oliver right now in living his life the best it can be. Having adaptive versions of mainstream clothing allows, right now, life to be better. And that is just about the best gift that I could possibly ever hope to give to this community.
Q. What do you think it would have been like 10 years ago if you were trying to do this?
A. I'm not sure I would be able to, to be perfectly honest. I think that our culture is very poised... for something like this to happen. Now if this was 10 years ago, I still would have had the same drive and mission to make it happen, I just don’t think it would have happened as quickly as it had.
Q. If we were to talk to Oliver today, what do you think he would say about all your accomplishments?
A. I mean, I think it’s really for, you know, all of my kids to see even just the notion that if you believe in something and you’re passionate about something and you work really hard, it can happen. You know, my daughter specifically, I love having her witness this. I think that this is just an amazing model for her to see, you know, as a developing young woman that, “you know what, you can have it all and you can make a difference.” But with Oliver, you know, obviously it being spectacular for him and his self-esteem and, you know, for him to be exposed to other kids and young adults and adults that have all different types of disabilities, it gives him that sense of normalcy. But, what is normal? You know, who even determines what that is?
Photo Credit: Richard Corman