NJ Mom Hopes to Make Clothing for Disabled Mainstream

Runway of Dreams founder Mindy Scheier, right, poses with focus group participants. Photo courtesy of Mindy Scheier.

By Michelle Sartor Lang
Senior Multimedia Digital Producer

After observing her son with muscular dystrophy struggle to express himself through dress, Mindy Scheier of Livingston decided to create more fashionable adaptive clothing for those with physical challenges. She hopes that mainstream designers will pick up on the idea and create versions of their existing lines that those with physical disabilities can wear more easily.

Scheier, who studied fashion design and worked in the industry for 20 years, launched Runway of Dreams to help solve what she sees as a huge problem. Her middle child, Oliver, who is about to be 10 years old, has a very rare form of muscular dystrophy. He wears leg braces, which makes it difficult to wear mainstream clothing.

“In the past few years, he started to really care about what he was wearing and how he looked. And he wanted to wear the same clothes that the other kids were wearing,” Scheier said. “I couldn’t fit jeans over his leg braces or dress pants. So either I fixed it myself or he just didn’t wear his braces, which is never a decision a mother should have to make.”

If she was struggling to help her son with his clothing as a fashion professional, Scheier said she knew others with disabled children must be having similar problems and she wanted to help address the issue on a larger scale. She created a survey with a marketing agency that she distributed through Facebook, which got international responses.

Through the survey, Scheier learned that there were three major issues those with physical disabilities had with clothing — with closures, entry and adjustability. Buttons, zippers, snaps and hook and eye closures were reported to be very difficult. Pulling clothing over the head and zipper and button entry was difficult. People also reported that they would like to have adjustable waistbands, hem lengths and sleeve lengths.

After the survey, Scheier worked with a technical designer to modify clothes that already existed. “Because what I also discovered in all my multiple discussions is that these kids didn’t want to look different than the other kids. They wanted to wear the same brands and the same labels. So I didn’t need to create a whole new line of clothes,” she said. “I needed to take what already exists and modify it, make it adaptive, which is the classic term of clothing for kids with disabilities or anybody actually.”

To measure the success of the designs, Scheier held a focus group with 10 students from the Horizon School in Livingston, which educates children with cerebral palsy. Half were in wheelchairs and the group was evenly split between boys and girls.

Participants in a focus group for Runway of Dreams. Photo courtesy of Mindy Scheier.

“I did an exercise where they went through magazines and tore out looks that they liked. And it was so exhilarating for them and something that they’re so not used to, that they would have a voice within the world of fashion,” Scheier said.

Scheier held two additional focus groups with parents and said she learned a lot through all of them. She said parents have to buy clothing as cheaply as possible because they have to spend almost the same amount on tailoring so their children can wear the clothes.

“So not only does it cost them twice the amount of money, but now from the time they bought it to the time their kids actually wear it is at least a week to two weeks, which is an incredible, amazing concept,” Scheier said. “I mean, I have two other children that thankfully are completely typical and when I buy things for them, they get to wear them that day. It’s just a whole different type of thinking.”

From the information collected from the focus groups, Scheier decided to create samples. She bought clothes at Target and Kohl’s and applied what she learned, particularly about closures. She wanted to use magnets instead of zippers, snaps and buttons, which led her to the company MagnaReady, which creates magnetically infused dress shirts for men and women with limited mobility.

MagnaReady founder Maura Horton launched the company in the spring of 2013. She, like Scheier, was trying to solve a problem one of her family members faced.

Horton’s husband, a career college football coach with Parkinson’s disease, had expended his energy during a game and was unable to button his shirt in the locker room prior to boarding the team plane home. One of his players — Russell Wilson who now plays for the Seattle Seahawks — helped him button the shirt.

“He came home and told me the story. And I thought, this is crazy. It was quite humiliating for him to have somebody that he would always hope would look up to him have to help him get dressed,” Horton said. “So I tore apart one of his shirts to see what I could do and came up with this idea.”

When Scheier reached out to Horton, who is based in Raleigh, N.C., they realized they were attempting to solve the same problem, just for different age groups.

“The options were very limiting and not very accessible to many people, young or old. And the quality wasn’t there. And it just wasn’t mainstreamed,” Horton said. “So I think Mindy and I aligned quite nicely to change the faces of how it’s done and what it should look like. … Even though you might be differently abled, you shouldn’t have to always look that way.”

Horton’s existing infrastructure is a benefit, according to Scheier. “She’s been an invaluable partner in helping me get the right magnets for the different weight clothes,” Scheier said. “It’s really gonna be a magnificent partnership in terms of what she has already created, patented, developed and me being able to bring it to the masses hopefully so that kids of all different types of disabilities can have that flexibility of dressing themselves with ease, or if they can’t dress themselves, even from the parent perspective, even if it gives them five more minutes a day because it’s that much easier to get the clothes on them, that’s a dream come true for some situations.”

Magnets down the backs of shirts let children more easily dress themselves. Scheier explained that the magnets fuse together when they’re in close proximity which makes it even easier to take the clothes on and off.

Runway of Dreams founder Mindy Scheier, left, with intern Shannon Zuber and Runway of Dreams Ambassador Laura Watson. Photo courtesy of Mindy Scheier.

Scheier has used her contacts in the fashion industry to help with her endeavor. She was introduced to the company Fishman & Tobin, one of the leading manufacturers of children’s apparel. “They own 11 different licenses ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Calvin Klein to Under Armour and they have come on board as supporters of Runway of Dreams and are working with me to help find a brand to be the pioneer of the groundbreaking of being the first brand to be able to offer typical clothes in adaptive versions so that kids are all wearing the same types of clothes,” Scheier said.

Many people, including retailers and designers, have asked Scheier how clothing can be made to accommodate people with many different types of disabilities. “And my answer is consistently: There’s a reason why somebody makes the baseball hat adjustable. And it’s because it fits all different types of heads. The premise of Runway of Dreams is no different,” she said. “We’re just modifying and tweaking what already exists to make it a little bit easier, if not a lot bit easier for this community that has not been addressed at all from the fashion industry.”

Scheier has about 15 volunteers who help her with Runway of Dreams, which recently received 501(c)(3) status. The ambassadors include a woman from South Dakota who runs the organization’s social media outlets. She is in a wheelchair and found out about Runway of Dreams through Facebook. A Rutgers student with cerebral palsy runs the organization’s website. Jillian Mercado, a wheelchair model featured in the Nordstrom catalog and on the Today Show, is becoming the spokesperson for Runway of Dreams.

Photographer Richard Corman who does a lot of work with Special Olympics has agreed to help do the first Runway of Dreams campaign with the ambassadors as featured models highlighting the clothing. Scheier said it will be a print and video campaign used for marketing and promotions, especially through social media.

“The people that he has photographed are incredibly major people. So for him to be offering his time and his expertise is so exciting and so tremendous and I think it’s gonna bring us hopefully to the next level,” Scheier said.

To help raise money for the cause, Scheier said Runway of Dreams is going to do a YouTube campaign with self-made videos where individuals show how difficult it can be to get dressed. “They’ll be telling the story and directing people to our website for donations,” she said.

Those donations will be used to make more samples and offset the costs of licensing and materials.

Scheier says she’s trying to solve this problem that many don’t think about until they are personally affected.

“The interesting thing is you don’t think it affects you now, but if you break your leg, if you have something that’s even temporary, it’s really tough for that small amount of time,” she said.

Scheier wants to make that problem a thing of the past. “I’m hoping this is something that just develops and develops and develops. I’m going to work until it does.”

Watch a video about Runway of Dreams: