This story is about how a mother’s love for her child inspired her to create a new blue ocean of uncontested market space to help him and others like him. Today she’s consulting for Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, appearing on TED Talks, ringing the NASDAQ bell, and recently became part of group of leaders in disability community consulting with the Zappos Adaptive team. Find out more about how Mindy Scheier is creating a new market space, or blue ocean, in fashion:
How did your son inspire you to start your blue ocean journey?
Like every mother, I love my son dearly. Oliver was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. When he was eight, he came home from school one day and asked if he could wear a pair of jeans like his friends. I didn’t want to tell my son that he couldn’t wear jeans due to his leg braces and inability to manage the button and zippers, so I took an off-the-rack pair and used my design skills to make adjustments that would meet his needs. This was my first introduction to the world of adaptive fashion. Adaptive fashion is clothing that is created or modified to fit people with disabilities. This opened my eyes to a bigger issue — that millions of other people in the same situation were also struggling to find clothes they want. When you’re disabled, you often just want to fit in, to feel confident and empowered. Realizing this, I decided to create the Runway of Dreams Foundation to make fashion inclusive and accessible to all.
What did you find when you applied a blue ocean mindset and tools?
Few people know that there are over one billion people living with a disability in the world, which makes the differently abled community the largest minority on the planet. They have a collective buying power of over $2.1 trillion a year. At the moment, fashion retailers are simply ignoring them. I applied the blue ocean tools, including the three tiers of noncustomers tool, which is designed to clarify exactly who the noncustomers of an industry are, and why they don’t patronize that industry. With this tool, I was able to identify this huge blue ocean of noncustomers of the fashion industry. That’s where Runway of Dreams comes in.
We are trying to build a bridge between the fashion industry and people with disabilities through donations of adaptive clothing, scholarships for design students dedicated to adaptive design and by creating employment opportunity initiatives for people with disabilities. We’re also delivering awareness-building campaigns and have received a fantastic response – from working with Tommy Hilfiger on launching an adaptive clothing line for kids, to being asked to consult with the Zappos Adaptive team, to being selected by NASDAQ to ring the opening bell.
What do you hope for Runway of Dreams in the future?
We’re hoping to continue building on our success in making adaptive clothing mainstream. But ultimately the need for inclusivity and accessibility for people with disabilities in fashion goes beyond adaptive clothing. The fashion industry needs to become more inclusive of people with disabilities — from the design process and marketing campaigns to the retail experience and customer service.
But we are hopeful for the future. I like to give the example of Lane Bryant, who created a blue ocean with the plus-size market back in the 1920s. Now in 2018, plus size is not only mainstream but carried by many, if not all, major retailers. I believe the bridge between people with disabilities and the fashion industry won’t take nearly as long to build! Every person, no matter their age, gender, socioeconomic status, or ability, should have access to fashion that inspires confidence and self-expression.