Zappos at the 2019 Runway of Dreams runway show.

The tale is as old as time: the fashion industry lacks diversity, and this is especially true when it comes to New York Fashion Week. However, for the past few seasons, there has been an increase in diversity on the runways when it comes to race, body type and gender expression. Even with this progress, disability is still underrepresented in mainstream fashion.

Mindy Scheier, founder and president of Runway of Dreams, is changing the status quo. As a mother of a child with muscular dystrophy, Scheier, a long-time fashion designer, became aware of the lack of adaptive clothing options in the market. So in 2015, she started the Runway of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works towards a future of inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities. Founded on the basis that clothing is a basic human need, the foundation develops, delivers and supports initiatives to broaden the reach of adaptive clothing and promote people with disabilities in fashion.

For the first time ever, Runway of Dreams kicked off the Fall NYFW with models with all kinds of disabilities strut down the runway. The event, Fashion Revolution 2019, was held on September 5 at Cipriani 42nd Street, and it was the foundation’s first official NYFW event and fourth runway show. It was a sold-out event with guests from all abilities and industries.

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“We started out with the vision of changing the fashion industry to be inclusive of people with disabilities, and over the past four years it has now become a reality in that the industry is not only listening but now acting,” Scheier explains. “Runway of Dreams is exactly where I wanted it to be. I wasn’t stopping until we were here. I had nothing to lose, and I was on a mission. I felt I had strong statistics and a business case behind this idea, that once establishing the market, I was going to make it happen.”

The NYFW event featured over 40 models of all abilities including “America’s Got Talent” contestant, Mandy Harvey and model/actress, Jaime Brewer. The runway highlighted adaptive clothing from Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, Zappos Adaptive, and Kohl’s adaptive clothing options. From amputees to people with autism, the runway was filled with models of all abilities and ages.

Scheier reflected on the success of this year’s runway show: “I have [over] 40 reasons to love 2019’s Fashion Revolution, and that’s because we had [over] 40 models strut down our runway representing adaptive clothing options from three mainstream brands. Our models represented all abilities, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. Together, we’re going to #RethinkTheRunway.”

In addition to the fashion show, the evening honored Mike Shaffer, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating and Financial Officer, PVH Corp., with the Commitment to Inclusion Award; Matt Laukaitis, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Consumer Industries, SAP, with the Innovation Award; and supermodel and fashion designer Madeline Stuart, with the Inspirational Achievement Award.

One of the companies that Runway of Dreams inspired was Zappos Adaptive, a curated shopping experience. In April 2017, Zappos Adaptive was launched with the hopes of addressing an increasing need for adaptive footwear.

“After receiving a phone call from a grandmother who couldn’t find shoes to meet the needs of her grandson with autism, we began thinking about how to create a solution,” recalls Dana Zumbo, business development manager at Zappos Adaptive. “Our thinking led to research and conversations with people with disabilities and their families. Today we have a strong team committed to finding products that are functional, fashionable, and meet many types of needs. Ultimately, we aim to connect people with products that make life easier.”

The adaptive clothing market is continuing to grow as disability is finally starting, slowly but steadily, to be included in the fashion industry. It was valued at $278.87 billion in 2017 and is projected to surpass $392.67 billion by 2026.

As for Scheier’s son, Runway of Dreams has opened more doors for him than he had imagined. Scheier explains, “I think first and foremost it has impacted his life in that he feels less alone, and that there are millions of people out there who share the same struggles that he does. The foundation has given him personally, an option to show the world who he is through his clothing choices.”


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