Episode 24 Transcript

Published: Thursday December 7, 2023

Inclusivity on the Runway: Mindy Scheier’s Fashion Revolution

Mindy Scheier is Leading the Charge in Adaptive Fashion


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia, I’m Alycia Anderson and wow, do we have a guest today, Mindy Scheier.

She is leading the fashion revolution in adaptive wear disability representation in media and TV and in brands. She is making the waves in the fashion world that me, as a disabled woman consumer has been dreaming of for all of my life.

Mindy, thank you so much for taking a little bit of time out of your day to talk about all of the amazing work that you’re doing with your organization. Welcome.

Mindy Scheier: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, I’m honored.

Alycia Anderson: So your organization is called Runway of Dreams. You just had an event in New York Fashion week. Can we talk a little bit about your organization where it started and give us a little bit of background, there?

Mindy Scheier: You got it. So I am actually a fashion designer by trade and had very big goals and visions of having my own line being a global brand. I’m a scant older than you, so Betsy Johnson was like my, you know, who I gleaned to be some day.

And then, as life usually does, it has other plans for you and my middle child Oliver was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and we learned early on that he was going to struggle with everyday tasks, one of which is the very thing I love more than anything and, that’s getting dressed everyday.

For Oliver it was a daily reminder of what he could not do, which are buttons and zippers putting pants over his leg braces, tying shoes, etcetera.

So when he was of school age, he wore sweatpants every single day until he was 8 years old and came home from school and said, Mom, I want to wear jeans like everybody else gets to do. Can I wear jeans school tomorrow?

And, it was a true kick in the stomach moment… not only as a mom, but somebody that dedicated her whole career to the fashion industry that I needed my 8-year-old to remind me of how powerful clothing is to who you are as a person and how you want to show up to the world. And at that time which was around 2013, there were no mainstream options in our world that had anything to do… I had never even heard the word adapted before in any of my training… anything in the fashion industry, etcetera.

So that night I ripped apart a pair of his jeans and truly it was a terrible job as a designer, but I figured it out and, you know, utilized some creative stitching and peel and stick Velcro.

And the next morning it was the first time he was ever able to independently, and wear anything except for sweatpants, to school. And when I saw the immediate transformation that came over him from a pair of jeans, it was palpable and life-changing.

So that’s when I decided to take my background and have a small goal of changing the fashion industry to be inclusive to people with disability.

And in 2014, I launched Runway Dreams Foundation with the mission to really raise awareness to the fact that people with disabilities are consumers. They need to be considered as part of the fashion conversation, and in 2016, we made fashion history by partnering with Tommy Hilfiger and making fashion history by developing the first ever mainstream adaptive clothing line which is now Tommy Adaptive.

Alycia Anderson: I love that beginning story. What I also love that you just said was you wanted to give your son the ability to not only wear the clothes that he wants, feel good in them, but also be able to dress independently, which I think is such a key component and it’s kind of like the behind the scenes, right?

Like, not everybody’s gonna recognize that that’s a thing that you value in your own individual life and path… unless you’re in the weeds and you’re, you know…, you’re the mom, or you’re the actual human being that’s trying to put on something.

So I think having that as a goal too is so powerful for people with disabilities to be able to not only if I can quote you all “look good, feel good” and I’m all about that.

Mindy Scheier: It’s actually psychological. And that there is a psychology term called enclothed cognition that is actually the emotional response that we have humans have two clothing.

Which is why when you put on your favorite pair of jeans, you feel amazing. Whether it’s because they’re comfortable and soft and mushy, or because they make your tush look really good, or why the notion of a power suit came to be… because when you put it on, you feel really powerful.

It’s an actual emotional charge that comes from the clothing that you wear, and so the opposite of that is if you don’t have choice or don’t feel good in in what you’re wearing, it could affect your entire life.

And that’s what I think one of the bigger eye-opening moments for me was seeing… literally seeing that transformation come over Oliver and thinking, if this is so profound to an 8 year old, how in the world did the 1.8 billion people on our planet that have clothing challenges… that have disabilities and most likely clothing challenges…

How are they navigating the world? How are they going on their first dates or first day of school? Or an interview for a job or all… you know… clothing has significance in our every single minute of the day… life.

Alycia Anderson: And it finds you in your most vulnerable positions, right? Like in my life of speaking, I speak to brands and there have been literally moments where I’ve been pitching and literally like had an emotional reaction to clothes not fitting or underwear not fitting or whatever that might be.

And it’s intimate and so empowering people with disabilities to feel strong and beautiful and capable and powerful in your most intimate moments is something… it’s giving me the chills.

It’s something that we’ve been needing for so long, so thank you for doing the work that you’re doing.

How’s the industry receiving you?

Mindy Scheier: Well, I think it’s evidenced by our last runway show during New York Fashion Week.

Alycia Anderson: Amazing.

Mindy Scheier: That we started in 2016 with one brand on our runway, which was Tommy Hilfiger. And now here we are next year will be 10 years. But on this past runway we had 11 mainstream brands.

From luxury to lingerie and everything in between is remarkable in fashion years. How quickly the category that we set out to create, which is adaptive, has really taken wind… the wind under the wings have really happened.

Now mind you, we have a lot of work to do.

You know our goal, and I’m often asked, like, what is my dream brand of working with and adapting? Well, it’s every brand!

What you wanna wear is maybe different than what Oliver wants to wear, or somebody that has a limb difference or etcetera, etcetera. I mean, even what I want to wear on a daily basis is quite different, I’m sure than many, many other people.

And it’s the notion of having that choice and that people with disabilities should be able to wear any product in any budget background that works for them.

Alycia Anderson: And so I think that is in relation to I read somewhere, that you want to be a category like we want adaptive wear just like you have maternity or other types of categories.

Like it should be something that is everywhere in everything.

Mindy Scheier: 100% exactly.

And it’s actually quite similar to size inclusive previously plus size that it is a category.

Now… it took a very long time for it to be really you know, taken out of the basements of department stores and you know, really kind of made a part of the fashion industry, but now there’s so many brands that are in that space or just offering a larger range of size scale.

And that’s really what we are hoping that you can go into a store and go to the adaptive section.

The reality is, and I often use this as an example, just because it was developed with and for people with disabilities doesn’t mean that it’s only people with disabilities can wear it.

My younger son only wants to wear magnetic front shirt. Why would.. he’s like, “if I never had to button again” fantastic! Like I like to eat gluten free pretzels, but I’m not gluten free… I like it… it’s like, it tastes good. I wanna eat that.

And I think our world needs to understand that if it works for somebody with a disability, it works for anyone. Just period.

Alycia Anderson: It’s the path of least resistance. It’s the easiest way to access product, services, technology, infrastructure, clothes… all of it.

And I think it’s powerful that companies are finally starting to receive it.

Even in the work that I’m doing… I’m seeing this shift. Even in the last couple of years, do you feel it?

Mindy Scheier: Not even a question. I would say from my initial meetings back in 2015. Where a large majority of the meetings I had ended with, “Good for you… What a great idea… We’ll be cheering from the sidelines… but clearly there’s a reason… If no other mainstream brands have ever done anything like it, there must be a reason. So good luck to you.”

To now where we are almost 10 years later, that brands are coming to us saying, “We… We’re behind… We…, We have FOMO. We’re… we… we need to understand how we as a brand include this population into our offerings.”

And that’s pretty spectacular.

Alycia Anderson: What do you think has been the biggest driver?

Mindy Scheier: I would say the increase of very visible brands.

Tommy being an extraordinary start, I mean that really, really helps put us on the map. But then once you know, we started working with Target and Kohl’s and JCPenney…, Zappos. And now with our launch with Victoria’s Secret, it is really prevalent now.

And we’re all kind of waking up to obviously DEI. Because that’s all everybody’s talking about.

But exactly what the work that you do… Disability hasn’t really been included in that conversation, and the reality is it’s the biggest piece of that conversation.

It’s the only minority that any one of us could be a part of at any point in our life, and it’s also the only minority that intersects with every other minority.

So when you look at it from that perspective. It’s almost unimaginable that it hasn’t been a part of the DE&I conversation.

Alycia Anderson: It’s so unimaginable. It’s so wild. Authentic representation is definitely what y’all are doing.

Mindy Scheier: After our partnership with Tommy Hilfiger, literally the floodgates opened and so many other brands started gleaning onto Runway of Dreams, and how do we have people with disabilities on our runways… or we want people with disabilities in our commercials… or we want to start developing products for people with disabilities.

And the incoming requests were so big that it was very clear that second company needed to be born and that was Gamut Management, which was launched in 2019 as the first of its kind consulting and talent management company exclusively representing people with disabilities and only working with brands in the adaptive space.

And I do think kind of going back to one of your previous questions. That… that notion, if you don’t see it, you can’t dream it has never been more important than in this population.

That seeing a person with a disability on a huge… in a huge movie or a regular commercial… or on a runway, or, you know, in a magazine, etcetera, etcetera… normal… starts to normalize who it is a part of our population, and that is another reason why it became really, really important for proper representation.

I really do focus on the word proper… because… tokenism or just checking a box and saying good for us, we have somebody with a disability in our… uh ad campaign for Gap?

Well, was the production accessible? How did the talent you know, get up the flight of stairs when there was no elevator in the studio? Where their straws available on set because that person can’t utilize their hands and needs a straw?

Really thinking through all the nuances of what a talent with a disability needs and conversely, from the production side, is really helping to create a safe environment, really helping the those that are behind the cameras understand how to work with the talent with a disability and…. proper words to use and vernacular that’s approved in the population.

So that is such a wonderful experience for everyone and also kind of taking out that fear of it.

Which is one of the reasons why I believe that it’s taken this long is because everybody’s been so afraid of making the wrong product… saying the wrong thing, shooting people with disabilities in the wrong way, etcetera.

But like everything else in the world it takes learning and education. Being curious and doing it, actually doing it.

And I think all this time that everybody’s been like, yeah, let’s not get involved in that. I’m too, too afraid of doing it wrong… was exactly why it took so long for us to get here.

Alycia Anderson: Maybe one step further also is taking that amazing piece of marketing that a company is going to create and then going further within their organizations of embedding those philosophies into their organizations and their product development and more marketing.

And have it not just be this one check off the box, but a fluid continual visual reminder that we are also a part of this world and humanity.

This is a perfect time to take a quick break, you are listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia, I’m Alycia Anderson and wow, do we have a guest today, Mindy Scheier. She is leading the fashion revolution in adaptive wear disability representation in media and TV… and in brands.

I want to kind of dive into that. Profit versus nonprofit in business for disability, the disabled industry.

Mindy Scheier: It’s a very good question and some that I also like to talk about because I think that is also a clear example of how far we have come.

So when I first started back in 2014, Runway of Dreams it was a for profit.

I didn’t know anything about a nonprofit world. I came from the fashion industry. I was business. I was. I ran my own company previous to that.

And once I heard over and over and over again from meetings that I had that, you know, they weren’t willing to take the financial risk, and it’s never been proven, and there must be a reason why nobody’s in it.

I just knew that if I got it… the products out there that the population would reveal itself and reveal that this is a business opportunity and the only way that I could figure out how to make that happen was to become a nonprofit.

Because if I was completely off base and the population didn’t reveal itself, and it was a bust. The brand that I got on board would have gotten a… you know, a tax refund, and so therefore it wasn’t as much of a risk, and it felt good.

Contrary to my true beliefs that people with disabilities are always pigeonholed into nonprofits and it… as a parent of a son who’s now 18 with a disability, I always, always like to instill in him that he is not a charity case.

That he is as capable in other ways as anybody else in this world.

But it’s what I had to do to build the case and really kind of have Tommy, see first-hand that this was white space.

Holy cow, nobody’s doing this! This is amazing. We’re pioneering. We’re the first brand to ever get into the adaptive space.

And that’s fortunately, exactly what happened. So it was a necessary path. And this is what I always like to say to any other entrepreneurial minds out there. That it is so important for you. You, as an entrepreneur to have your North Star to know what is your goal and how you get there may not always be how you first think you’re getting there and you have to be open to doing whatever it takes to get to that North Star moment.

And that’s really why I pivoted and became a nonprofit, but that even made it more important for me to start Gamut because as the business opportunity is really what I wanted to be able to embed in companies and exactly to your point, Victoria’s Secret is a great example that we worked with them not only on developing product, but internally with their HR, their sales teams, their customer service teams… their hiring practices to make sure that they are also internally including people with disabilities in every way that they can.

And because that it would be inauthentic if they had product for people with disabilities, but had nobody, or couldn’t even have anybody working because they didn’t… they weren’t set up properly as a company that could handle people with disabilities.

So Bravo really to Victoria’s Secret for doing it so right, and taking the time to do this fully and completely.

Alycia Anderson: And I think that that’s a huge lesson to corporations out there is including disability is in every level of the organization. It requires different training depending on the department, different commentation all you know it’s multi layered, multifaceted and ongoing. And so that’s just really beautiful work.

So are we missing anything?

Mindy Scheier: People with disabilities are natural innovators because they have to be to navigate a world that wasn’t developed for them.

So tapping into the brilliance of this population is only going to improve our world, multifold.

I mean, I love this example of texting was developed as an alternate way to communicate for people that could not communicate in a typical way. Now it’s the most used form of communication in our world.

So when you think about something like that, there’s so much. Opportunity and tapping into this, this population and learning.

Alycia Anderson: Even if that’s not your lived experience and it’s in your life in some way, or you experience and you have experience…, your example in the fashion industry.

You have connections… and power… and all of these things that you can leverage to advance something that you see is missing. Like that is how we grow.

Mindy Scheier: It’s so powerful. I agree, but really the key to the power is including people with disabilities at every step of the value chain.

And that’s really our founding principle of Gamut is that we include people with disabilities truly from the very first meeting, all the way through to marketing, PR, etcetera.

There is no one that can have… is that powerful, without the multitude of voices coming together and saying this is how we should think about doing it.

This is something that could work for so many, so many people, and it’s a really important principle that that’s it’s something that has to be adopted in this space, is to really have voices of people with disabilities involved.

Alycia Anderson: Nothing for us without us.

Mindy Scheier: 1000%.

Alycia Anderson: I would love for you to tell our listeners how to find you how to support your organizations, how to get involved.

Mindy Scheier: So for Runway of Dreams Foundation, you can go to runwayofdreams.org, find out about our programming, learn about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We often refer to Runway of Dreams as the why and Gamut Management is the how, and that’s gamutmanagement.com.

If anybody is listening that has a disability, we would love you to join our talent community.

We believe in power in numbers. So our requirement to joining talent, our talent pool is you have to have disability.

As well as anyone listening that has… is in… you know involved in product services or product development or marketing, etcetera. Look into the services that we do at Gamut. We are there to support and guide you together through the process of getting into the adaptive space.

Which truly still to this day is white space.

Alycia Anderson: It’s powerful, Mindy. It’s been my privilege to watch the growth of your organizations and just all the impact that you’re having, and personally thank you for the work you’re doing.

It makes me feel better putting on my own clothes so that’s my selfish little bit.

We like to wrap up. This podcast, with the pushing forward moment… if there’s a little nugget that you can gift away today to our listeners?

Mindy Scheier: I love Nuggets, I love Nuggets, and if I may. I have a couple.

Alycia Anderson: OK, please! I love it! Yes.

Mindy Scheier: The first one is rejection is just redirection. Because when you think about it that way, first of all, it’s so much less painful, so much less hurtful and it helps you kind of pick yourself up and say OK that just means I need to go in a different direction. I got you, universe. That’s number one.

Number two is one idea, I can change the world. And I mean that from the basis that it can be one idea that changes one person’s life is just as profound as one idea that changes the world.

Change is still change and put your idea into motion.

And the third is a little kind of fable that I love to share because I think it wraps up everything so perfectly.

And it’s about a teacher in a wheelchair that rolls up to school on a very snowy day and he sees the the. Person shoveling the stairs. And he says to him, can you do me a favor? Could you shovel the ramp so that I can get into school, and the custodian said you bet let me just finish shoveling the stairs and I’ll do that next.

And the teacher looked at him and said, but if you shovel the ramp first, everyone can get in school.

Alycia Anderson: My gosh, I love. That so much it just gave me the chills up and down my entire body.

Mindy Scheier: It’s so true and so profound that let’s just… let’s build more ramps everyone. We can do it! Less stairs, more ramps.

Alycia Anderson: Mindy, you’re absolutely amazing. I’m so happy that. Our universes have crossed finally.

Mindy Scheier: Me too.

Alycia Anderson: It has been my pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for your time.

And to our listeners, thank you so much for spending some more time in space with us today and for supporting this podcast for helping our movement. We love you and we see you.

Until next time. This is Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is exactly how we roll on this podcast.