When Mindy Scheier‘s son Oliver, who has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, told her that he wanted to wear jeans to school like the other kids, an idea was born. She wanted to do something for him, and for the millions of other people around the world with disabilities. She wanted to create a world where adaptive clothing for people with disabilities was mainstream.

Mindy used her 20 years of experience in the fashion industry to create Runway of Dreams Foundation – a nonprofit that works toward a future of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities.

Living the Second Act was honored to sit down with Mindy and learn how she created Runway of Dreams, and her vision for the future.

Everyone has ideas but how did you turn your idea into a reality? People want to know what it takes to make their vision a reality. Tell us how you did it.

Starting Runway of Dreams was truly born out of two passions that happened to intersect – my family and fashion. Having that guiding light really kept me going in the early days and I knew I needed to make change happen in the world of adaptive fashion. While Oliver, my son, was the initial reason I embarked on this journey, I took a full year to educate myself on the industry, conduct extensive research and ultimately lay the foundation for Runway of Dreams. I met with anyone I could and even chased down people on the street to learn as much as possible.

Tell us about your programs  and how you got the idea for each of these?  Tell me about your ambassador program? I am curious, do you train them? Where do they speak?

I quickly realized the need for inclusion and accessibility in the fashion industry for people with disabilities goes well beyond adaptive clothing. So we decided to further our scope and develop three core pillars to encompass the major needs in order to promote people with disabilities in fashion – inclusion, empowerment and opportunity. Within these pillars we have initiatives that provide clothing donations to people in need, ambassador programs, storytelling campaigns, scholarship programs for design students focusing on adaptive design and initiatives that give people with disabilities employment opportunities in the fashion industry.

The ambassador program specifically is an emerging initiative, where we’ll have models, athletes, influencers and leaders in the fashion industry work to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities on a national, regional, and local level through public appearances, social media engagements, conferences, sports events, and more.

How do you have the energy to raise a family and do this amazing work?

I have a wonderful family that supports me through this journey, not to mention an amazing team that works so hard to make Runway of Dreams a reality. There are ups and downs, but work is a lot easier when you’re passionate about your job.

Tell me about your fashion background.

I have over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry, including as a stylist and designer for fashion houses such as Saks Fifth Avenue and INC Private Collection label at Bloomingdales. I also co-founded Future Fashionistas, a fashion design school for kids ages 6-18.

Tell me about the runway of dreams fashion show during fashion week..how did you get the idea to do this? How did you find the designers to support you?

Our annual gala and runway show is our biggest event of the year, and we are so excited to join help kick-off the New York Fashion Week celebration this year. Through our programming efforts we’ve had the great opportunity to connect with various brands who are making strides in offering adaptive clothing options. Furthermore, we’re always utilizing our network to speak with and encourage brands to be more inclusive of disabilities. We are putting a stake in the ground to create an industry wide movement to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the fashion industry.

How many people do you help each year? How much clothing is distributed?

It’s hard to say an exact number. We’re able to reach people far and wide through so many different avenues, including our model look book program, our efforts with designers and the adaptive clothing they’re able to make, our clothing donations, grant program and so much more. We also aim to empower people with disabilities and hope to instill confidence through our global efforts.

I love how you have a lookbook page like a modeling agency. How do you find the people to participate in your program and your fashion shows?

The Model Lookbook is a crucial piece of our Opportunity core pillar, allowing people with disabilities to find employment opportunities in the fashion industry. Through our network, programs, social media efforts and more, we’ve been able to and continue to build a community of people with disabilities who want to get involved with our initiatives, including the runway show and other brand’s marketing or ad campaigns 

Who is currently making Adaptive Apparel?

Great strides have been made in the industry over the past several years and I’m proud to say that Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Target, among others, have created lines of adaptive clothing and shoes that are not only accessible, but stylish too. Additionally, Zappos Adaptive offers and curates product for people with disabilities.

Do you feel like this is your second act or do you have another act coming….is there a plan to do something next?

My job won’t be done until the fashion industry is 100% inclusive for people with disabilities, and even when that happens, we’ll continue to promote the community within the industry.