When fashion designer Mindy Scheier’s middle child, Oliver, came home one day and told her he wanted to wear jeans to school rather than sweatpants, she was faced with a conundrum. Oliver has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which causes him to struggle with everyday tasks, such as dressing himself. Would she tell her then-8-year-old that he couldn’t wear what everyone else got to wear, or could she figure out a way in which he could? She chose the latter, altering a pair of jeans to accommodate his leg braces. And with that, the Runway of Dreams Foundation was born.
Scheier started the foundation in 2014, with the goal to make adaptive clothing more accessible and fashionable for people with disabilities, a group that makes up an astounding 15 percent of the global population. As part of its mission, Runway of Dreams partners with brands to develop stylish adaptive clothing lines available to the masses, creates scholarships for students focusing on adaptive clothing and helps with employment opportunities for people in the disability community, among so much more. “It is truly incredible how one pair of jeans has literally changed the world,” Scheier said. “Creating adaptive mainstream clothing for people with disabilities, in totality, and trying to make change happen in the fashion industry, felt so much bigger than just Oliver or just me. It felt [like] something that had to happen.”
As part of the TIAA Difference Maker 100 program, we’ve partnered with TIAA to tell Mindy Scheier’s story — as well as the inspiring stories of some of the people she’s worked with through Runway of Dreams. Watch as Jaleesa Graham, Richard “Woody” Wood, Hannah Gavios, Andrew Pilkington, Shaniqua Freeman, Jessie Chin, Greg Strauss and Shareif Hall get their headshots taken; and, as RuPaul once sang, work the runway.
“I can so confidently say, ‘The future of fashion is inclusion,’” said Scheier. “[We’ve been] dressing different bodies and body shapes, and races and genders, and now it’s time to dress different abilities. I am so honored and so thrilled that Runway of Dreams…is forging through that mission and really started a movement to make change happen.”
Listen to Shaniqua Freeman, Administrative Assistant, Adapt Community Network
“They told my mother that I wasn’t gonna be able to talk, do anything for myself, but I proved them wrong.”
Listen to Shareif Hall, Model and Entrepreneur
“What people like me can do with a disability is the same as someone who doesn’t have one. It might look a little bit different, or a little bit more quirky, but it can be done.”
Listen to Jaleesa Graham, Actress, Aspiring Model and Mother
“I know growing up, I never opened up a magazine and saw someone that looked like me. So it’s good now for young kids growing up with limb differences to see a model in an ad with a disability.”
All over the United States, people like Mindy Scheier and the band of difference makers she collaborates with are working to make positive and lasting change in the lives of others. We’ve partnered with TIAA to celebrate its centennial — 100 years of helping people doing good do well — and to put the spotlight on visionaries whose inspirational work is shaping the next century. To learn more about the program and the difference makers featured so far, go here: www.TIAAdifferencemaker100.org.
Words by Jesse Sposato; Headshot photos by Jen Plas