New Jersey designer and mom-of-three Mindy Scheier was getting her kids ready for school one morning when her 10-year-old son Oliver asked her if he could wear jeans that day. Though a seemingly simple request for most kids, wearing jeans to school was a nearly impossible feat for Oliver, who has muscular dystrophy and must wear leg braces in order to walk safely. Not only do mainstream brand pants not fit over Oliver's braces, but his muscle weakness prevents him from buttoning and unbuttoning them.
"I was faced with a difficult decision, do I let my son walk safely into school in sweatpants and his braces on -- no jeans," Scheier recalled. "Or do I let him walk into school in jeans but without braces, which is unsafe but would allow him to hold his head up high because he looks like the other kids do? It was at that moment that I decided that no mother should have to make that difficult decision for their child."
This "ah-ha moment" inspired Scheier to do something major -- to alleviate these issues for Oliver and help other special needs families with the clothing challenges they face on a daily basis. In 2013, the mom launched Runway of Dreams, a foundation dedicated to making "adaptive versions of mainstream clothes for kids and young adults that are differently-abled," she told The Huffington Post.
Through Runway of Dreams, the mom created a clothing challenges survey that was vetted on Facebook. "We literally got answers from all around the world pertaining to all different types of disabilities," Scheier said.
The feedback showed consistencies in the clothing challenges the responders faced. The three main categories were closures (like buttons, snaps, zippers), adjustability (with waistbands, pant and sleeve lengths), and alternative options for getting into the clothing (for example, entering from the back instead of over the head).
With these findings, Scheier worked with a technical designer to create samples for focus groups. "It was amazing what we learned and reinforced by hearing from a wonderful cross-section of the differently-abled community," she said. The next step was meeting with brands, manufacturers, and other potential supporters and partners. The mom said she's already arranged some "high level meetings," with apparel designers who are interested in Runway of Dreams' mission to make fashion "inclusive for all."
For Scheier, one of the biggest challenges has been convincing people that there is a real market for clothing for kids and young adults with disabilities. Citing the millions of kids with disabilities in the U.S. alone, she emphasized the market's impressive size and customer loyalty. "When we find a garment that works for our children we buy it in every color, are willing to pay a higher price, and are very brand loyal!"
Ultimately, the designer hopes that Runway of Dreams can lead to clothing options in mainstream stores for kids of all different abilities. "I get so many incredible emails on a daily basis on how important our mission is so that this community can 'fit' in and feel better about themselves, and in this case 'fitting' in is a good thing. Clothing can make the difference!" she said.
For a closer look at Scheier's work with Runway of Dreams, keep scrolling and check out the non-profit's official website.