Mindy ‘Transformer’ Sheier: Founder & CEO Of Runway Of Dreams – How Clothing Can Empower People With Disabilities
Here at John Foley Inc, we get to meet some incredibly inspiring people. People who are changing the world and making it a better place. People who are truly Glad To Be Here.
Mindy is one of them…
Mindy Scheier is the founder and & CEO of Runway Of Dreams, a non-profit organization dedicated to making adaptive clothing for people with disabilities. She also runs Gamut Management, an agency designed to support people with disabilities to find work.
She’s a fashion designer by trade and a mother to 3 children. Her second child, Oliver, was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, called Rigid Spine Syndrome (RSS), a degenerative disease that affects the pulmonary system.
Mindy adapted quickly and was keen to make Oliver’s life as easy as possible. She didn’t want him to experience any limitations, but everyday tasks like getting dressed were extremely difficult for him, especially using buttons, zippers, and tying shoes independently.
When he first went to school, the easiest solution was for Oliver to wear sweatpants. Wearing these meant that he could go to the toilet unaided and his leg braces could fit easily underneath.
But when Oliver was 8, he began asking to go to school in jeans, just like all the other kids.
For Mindy, this kicked her right in the stomach.
As a fashion designer, she knew how important clothes were for identity, and she was distraught that her son was struggling to wear what he wanted.
Clothes are so much more than practicality. They are an important form of self-expression, of how you want to show up in the world, and of how you identify yourself.
The fashion designer in her took over completely. She grabbed a pair of jeans and began adapting them.
She replaced the zipper with velcro and altered the side seams so that they would go on easily over leg braces.
She made everything accessible.
The next morning, Oliver got himself ready independently and went to school for the first time in an outfit that wasn’t sweatpants.
Making Disability Inclusive
This whole process served to open her eyes to what life must be like for thousands of other people struggling with their clothing. If an 8-year-old was finding it this hard, how were the 1 billion other people on the planet with disabilities coping?
In 2013, Mindy decided to try and make the fashion industry more inclusive for people with disabilities by founding Runway Of Dreams. Her dream was to create a platform for people with disabilities. For them to be represented within society and to have clothing that was tailored to suit their needs.
The main priority was education. But to achieve this, she had to educate herself first.
Mindy dedicated an entire year to research, and she concluded that there were commonalities between vastly different disabilities and clothing challenges which she could then use to make a range of adaptive clothing.
The population size of people with disabilities is huge but she only knew her world with Oliver. She needed to broaden her understanding of the struggles that other people faced with different disabilities.
It didn’t feel authentic to represent a population unless she was fully embedded and could truly speak the language.
Important things like understanding differences between different disabilities, as well as how that affects your body and your ability to get dressed.
She did a tremendous amount of focus groups and went to schools and hospitals that catered to people with disabilities and absorbed as much knowledge as possible.
For Mindy, the most important thing that she could do was listen.
And the more she listened, the more aware she became of the potential market size.
People with disabilities are the largest minority on the planet by far. And it’s the only minority that anyone could one day find themselves being a part of.
With that in mind, why wasn’t anyone developing products for them if there was such high demand?
Stages Of Research
There were three main stages of research that Mindy focused on.
- Disability Category
It was important for Mindy to identify the differences between cognitive and physical disability because the struggles would differ depending on the type of disability.
Physical disabilities affect your body, your muscles, and your ability to dress. Whereas cognitive disabilities can affect your ability to think through the process.
These 2 different categories would require very different solutions.
2. Adjustability Category
Mindy was shocked to discover that people with disabilities were spending twice the amount of money on their clothing than people without disabilities.
This was largely to do with the cost of alterations to make them wearable.
Creating adjustable products was essential for an adaptable clothing range. Mindy focused not only on how she could make products adjustable but how could she ease the tailoring process too. This might be as simple as adjustable sleeves or pant legs.
3. Usability Category
One of the most important things to consider with clothing for people with disabilities is how useable it is.
Whether you struggle taking clothes on or off, or if you need someone to assist you in getting dressed, most items of clothing simply don’t consider these struggles.
So adapting clothing that was easy to take on and off was essential for Mindy. This might be with a simple back opening on a sweatshirt or magnetic buttons on shirts.
Focusing on how to adjust and make products that fix these key areas was the foundation of all of the modifications she developed early on.
Becoming A Non-Profit
Mindy’s dream was always to change the fashion industry to be inclusive for people with disabilities.
But it was hard to get others on board. Not because they didn’t see the benefits, but because investors didn’t want to risk putting their money into an unknown enterprise.
People just weren’t prepared to take a financial risk on something that had never been done before.
This didn’t deter her drive.
Knowing that the scope was massive, Mindy decided to make Runway Of Dreams a non-profit organization.
As a non-profit, she could approach big brands confidently and minimize their risk. Hey, even if she was wrong, they would still get a tax right off, wouldn’t they?
It worked. The second she became a 501C3, people started taking her meetings.
And Mindy’s first meeting was with Tommy Hilfiger. They absolutely loved the concept and collaborated to launch Tommy Adaptive
After Tommy Hilfiger, it didn’t take long for other brands to get involved.
In 2016, the fashion world was clueless about adaptable clothing. Fast forward to 2022 and she has 6 major brands sponsoring Runway Of Dreams: Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos, JC Penny, Target, KOHLS, and Stride Rite.
Soon she was inundated with requests for everything relating to people with disabilities. Brands who wanted to run ad campaigns, commercials, and people that also wanted to tap into the industry.
But the requests were getting so far outside of what Runway Of Dreams was and they were unable to deal with the demand.
It didn’t feel authentic to Mindy, for a non-profit to represent people with disabilities, and so Gamut Management was born.
The business plan for Gamut was all about modernizing the concept of a management company.
Giving people with disabilities a voice, and a job and reshaping how they are seen and treated in the workplace. Whether that’s with product development, testing, or advertising.
Gamut Management supports their talent when taking on a job and ensures that the company hiring them is equipped to deal with any special requirements needed.
They also commit to at least 50% of the in-house team being made up of people with disabilities. This is through every single level, right the way up to the top.
Mindy is determined to reduce the number of unemployed people with disabilities which is at a staggering 80%.
What’s Coming Up?
Mindy is so proud to help people with disabilities be seen, heard, and represented. Her work is starting up conversations giving a much-needed voice to a huge population of people.
Just recently she was able to announce that Victoria’s Secret is collaborating with her to make a new range focused on inclusivity. They had realized that their brand wasn’t serving all women and so were very keen to rectify this.
Actively developing products that serve and represent people with disabilities is an important message and statement from them.
This demonstrates just how much Mindy’s hard work is paying off, her achievements are staggering and it’s only just the beginning!
What Does Glad To Be Here Mean For Mindy?
When John first reached out to Mindy, she really connected with the notion of being Glad To Be Here.
It’s a mentality that she tries to live by every single day, waking up and reminding herself of how glad she is to be here.
She’s grateful that she gets to do what she does, and she’s grateful for her family.
But the thing that makes her really grateful is that she gets to be a part of people’s lives in a way that most people might not get to experience in their lifetime.
She’s glad for the education and for getting to work with such talent.
You can watch the full video of John and Mindy here