Friday, February 20, 2015

Every kid deserves a pair of jeans

By Megan Jones

In the summer of 2013, Mindy Scheier was faced with a problem. Her son Oliver, then nine, wanted to wear jeans to school.

Oliver, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, has trouble using buttons and zippers. He also wears leg braces, which don’t fit easily under restrictive fabrics like denim.

Mindy, who lives in Livingston, N.J., had a choice: she either had to tell her son he couldn’t wear the clothing he wanted, or send him to school without leg braces and risk that he might not be able to use the bathroom by himself.

“It was terrible,” she says. “I felt like I just didn’t know what the right thing to do was. Oliver views himself as a typical [child]. So he was completely confused as to why it was even a question whether he could wear jeans or not.”

In the end, Mindy let her son wear what he wanted. But the worry she felt as she sent him to school got her thinking about how limiting mainstream clothing was for children with disabilities. A fashion designer by trade, Mindy had adapted some of Oliver’s clothing in the past so that he could wear it comfortably. But the mom of three wondered how parents who didn’t have the sewing skills to modify off-the-shelf clothing managed to dress their kids with disabilities.

Then Mindy had a brainwave. Instead of thinking it was her responsibility as a parent to modify clothes that already existed, why didn’t she insist that companies create children’s wear that was adaptable in the first place?

With that idea in mind, Mindy, who in the past has worked for big names like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, decided to combine the two things she knew intimately about: clothing and disability.

Within a few months, she launched Runway of Dreams, a not-for-profit that aims to convince larger mainstream labels to produce adapted versions of current, fashionable clothes for children with disabilities. The company’s philosophy is simple: Kids deserve to wear whatever they want to wear. And it’s time for the fashion industry to step up and help them do it.

“We have plus-sized department and petite departments and maternity departments,” Mindy says. “And we have nothing for the differently abled community? It is so mind-boggling that this has not been done yet.”

Runway of Dreams isn’t the first company aimed at designing clothes specifically for kids with special needs. Other adapted clothing options exist, but they’re limited, often expensive and seldom trendy. Mindy hopes her project will ultimately give more people easy access to affordable clothes kids will actually want to wear.

Since she came up with the idea a year-and-a-half ago, Mindy has reached out to others to get a better sense of the range of clothing needs kids with disabilities have. She started with a large Facebook survey, which received answers from parents and children all over the world.

The survey revealed that people with disabilities struggled with three main things when it came to dressing. The first was fasteners: buttons, snaps and zippers seemed to be a problem for nearly everyone across the board. The second was the way clothing needed to be put on—kids with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, for example, have low muscle tone, and can’t easily lift a sweater above their heads. The final issue was the ability to adjust the garment to fit—especially important for those with differently shaped bodies, and those with equipment like leg or back braces.

Using this information, Mindy designed a few prototypes and tested them with a group of high-school students and their parents at a school (see photo above). She partnered with Maura Horton, a Raleigh, N.C.-area woman whose company MagnaReady produces washable magnets that can be used in clothing.

They modified pieces with magnets—like a dress-shirt that opens along the back, allowing the wearer to slip their arms inside, and fastens easily.|

“It was one thing to talk to people but another to have them judge, feel, see the modifications that were made,” Mindy says.

Participants’ reactions confirmed for Mindy that Runway of Dreams was an important project. One boy with muscular dystrophy travelled an hour-and-a-half just to participate in the group. He told Mindy that he’d recently been accepted to Harvard, and that what he wanted most for his first day of university was to wear jeans like a typical freshman.

“Being able to wear what you want brings you personal confidence,” Mindy says.

“Differently abled kids are constantly being told, ‘You can’t play that,’ or ‘You can’t wear that.’ I think it will resonate that someone is saying, ‘You know what? You can actually. We’re going to make it happen.’”

So far, Runway of Dreams is in talks with one large clothing company, which Mindy hopes will lead to an official partnership. She’s also reaching out to other designers and manufacturers. Since adapted clothing caters to such an underserved market, she believes it’s in companies’ best interests to get involved.

“Forget about the feel good aspect of it,” she says. “There is a huge population of people out there that are ready and waiting for something like this to happen. They’ll spend their money on it.”

One day creating accessible clothing will be mandated, she predicts, and all companies will have to make a percentage of their clothing adaptable.

Until then, she’s pushing them to get involved. “As a mother, whether your kid has a disability or not, you know how hard it is not to have your child feel good about themselves,” she says. “I’m asking everybody to spread the word because we can make this happen together.”

At the very least, Mindy’s project has left her son (below) hopeful.

“Oliver and I were just interviewed on CNN,” Mindy says. “He ended the interview by saying, ‘I told my mum how lucky she is that I was born with muscular dystrophy. Because we wouldn’t be where we are right now if I didn’t have it!’”

To check out a great video on Mindy's work, or become more involved in the movement, visit
Runway of Dreams.