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NPR Arts & Life

Mother-Son Tag Team Design A Line Of Clothes For Kids With Disabilities

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we just heard how Lupita Nyong'o, in addition to being an award-winning actress, is also a fashion icon. So here's one more word about fashion. This is the time of year when a lot of parents are buying kids clothes for spring holidays or just to get ready for summer. Most parents have some items they just won't let their kids wear - ripped jeans - whatever that is. But what about the opposite problem? You are willing to let your kids wear the latest fashions, but they can't because they use wheelchairs or leg braces or they just can't manage the buttons.

That's why Mindy Scheier had her brainstorm when her son Oliver, who uses leg braces, asked to wear jeans to school one day which didn't fit over his braces. She didn't feel he should have to choose between being stylish and walking safely. So she founded Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit that aims to make mainstream fashion styles available to kids with disabilities or of different abilities. And this year, Tommy Hilfiger agreed to partner with her to offer the first designer-name adaptive collection. Mindy and her son Oliver join us now from their home in Livingston, N.J. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MINDY SCHEIER: Thank you so much for having us.

MARTIN: Oliver, it's nice to hear from you, too.

OLIVER SCHEIER: Nice to hear from you, too.

MARTIN: So Mindy, why don't we start - was Oliver always a fashion plate?

M. SCHEIER: Oliver, probably at about age 8, really started caring about what he looked like. I think it was probably around the same time that he found his voice, I should say.

MARTIN: So was it difficult - I want to mention that he has a particular form of muscular dystrophy, which he manages using leg braces. Was it always hard to find clothes or did it get harder as he got older?

M. SCHEIER: It definitely got harder as we started dealing with the notion of independent dressing. Part of his condition with muscular dystrophy is that he has low muscle tone. So beside not being able to fit the jeans over his leg braces, we also struggled with his ability to use buttons and zippers. So it really also became a function of him being able to dress himself.

MARTIN: Oliver, what about you? Do you remember when it started getting a little frustrating not being able to find the styles?

O. SCHEIER: Yeah, I kind of felt some peer pressure because my friends started wearing, like, some clothes that I couldn't. So I felt like maybe it would make me happier to wear what they did. So then I kind of talked to my mom about wearing that, but my leg braces prevented that from happening.

MARTIN: What were some of the styles that you particularly liked?

O. SCHEIER: Like, Under Armour sweatpants, jeans and, like, button-down shirts.

MARTIN: Buttons a little hard to manage?

O. SCHEIER: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: So Mindy, how did it happen? I know you have a fashion background. Did you just kind of think to yourself wait a minute, I can fix this?

M. SCHEIER: You know, I just could not tell my 8-year-old that he wasn't going to be able to wear what the other kids were wearing. So through focus groups and surveys, I was able to really pin down three different categories. The first one being the closures used. The second category is having alternate ways to get in and out of the clothing. And the third category is the adjustability of the clothing. So pant lengths, sleeve lengths are all adjustable to fit the differently-shaped bodies.

MARTIN: So now that the clothes have been available for a couple of months now - right, online mainly through tommy.com - what's been the response?

M. SCHEIER: Well, I'm excited to say that within the first five days almost every style was sold out, and we've already had to replenish almost every style since then.

MARTIN: Wow. Did - were you expecting that?

M. SCHEIER: You know, I was because I know there's such an enormous need out there. The one incredible thing about the disabled market is that it knows no age and it knows no socio-economic background. So there are really consumers at every level, in every budget that are currently not being tapped into.

MARTIN: That's Mindy Scheier and her son Oliver, joining us from their home in Livingston, N.J. Mindy is the founder of Runway of Dreams. That's a nonprofit that is helping to make mainstream fashion styles available to kids with different abilities. And Tommy Hilfiger has partnered with her to offer the first designer-name adaptive collection this year. It's available online. Mindy, thanks so much for joining with us. Oliver, thank you so much for joining us, too.

M. SCHEIER: Thank you so much having us.

O. SCHEIER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.