Part 2 - Shifting the Culture in Fashion: Creating Adaptive Clothing for People with Disabilities
In episode two of Kessler Foundation's "Fashion meets Accessibility" podcast series, Nicky Miller, spoke with Mindy Scheier. Learn about how Scheier, a fashionista and entrepreneur is helping the fashion industry rethink the runway. Scheier, stopped by to talk about her partnership with Tommy Hilfiger and Zappos.com, she discusses inclusion, accessibility and adaptable clothing for people with disabilities.
Below is a modified excerpt from the podcast.
Nicky Miller (NM): Can you tell us how easy it is for companies to make adjustments to make adaptive clothing accessible? What do you say to companies who are like, "Well, it's expensive. I can't do it. That's not our demographic." How easy is it?
Mindy Scheier (MS): Well, one of the kind of phrases that I always like to say in any meetings is that inclusion isn't an initiative. It's a business strategy. It's a new revenue stream. And when you kind of break it down to, especially when I'm working with companies about understanding how to adapt their products, it's kind of re-calibrating how they feel in terms of including people with disabilities. That this isn't something that should be considered a charitable initiative. It should be considered a new revenue stream, including a new part of our population and the largest minority that we have on our planet, and it should be something that they look at as a business opportunity. And once I start to position it like that, it's kind of understood in a different way. That, yes, it is the right thing to do. It is social good, which is very important in the business world right now. But on top of that, it's a business opportunity. So it is - I wouldn't use the word - easy to adapt, but more of that it is-- it's possible. And that it doesn't mean that you have to start from scratch. It means that you take what already exists and modify it to make it easier for people with disabilities. And I think once brands and industries understand that they don't have to recreate the wheel, it's much more manageable for them to kind of get their heads around. And the fact that-- the fact that I can name five mainstream brands that are already invested in this population makes future conversations much easier.
NM: Mindy you're no longer designing anymore? Are you just consulting?
MS: The way that I wanted to structure Runway of Dreams, and actually, I didn't even think I got to mention this when I spoke here, is that I started a second company actually called Gamut Management. That is a for-profit that we have clients from all over the world with all different types of disabilities. We are the only company that solely represents people with disabilities from a talent perspective. And I use the word talent because we believe that everybody has a talent, whether that is being a part of a focus group or filling out a survey or fit testing product, all the way up to being on a runway or in the entertainment industry. And we are just solely representing people with disabilities. So now when brands come to us, we are connecting the population to brands and saying, "You want to learn how to start to understand this population? Fantastic. I'm going to bring the population in, and you're going to meet," I'm using quotation marks with my fingers, "and understand who people with disabilities are because they buy your side, and with Gamut helping you and our expertise are going to help you understand this population, how to create products for this population, how to market to this population, how to have people with disabilities in your commercials and your movies, and re-branding who are people with disabilities are in the public eye."
So if anybody listening wants to be a part of Gamut management, it's very easy. The only thing we require is that you have to have a disability. So gamutmanagement.com. Check it out. We would love to have you.
NM: What goes into the process when it comes to patterns and textures? I was just talking to my colleague the other day who is a multiple sclerosis warrior, and she was telling me she has to stay away from certain patterns because it's disturbing to her eyes. What goes into the process?
MS: Well, it's a very interesting process because the avenue that we went down is to have product for the masses versus more custom product. So, for example, your colleague, products that would be very specific to MS would be different necessarily from muscular dystrophy, who wouldn't necessarily have pattern issues or vision impairments, etc. So putting that kind of process to the side, we try and focus on what are the highest levels of the challenges for vastly different disabilities and kind of approach it from that perspective. So even between the two disabilities I just mentioned, MS and MD, muscular dystrophy, commonalities between those are very much fine and gross motor skills. Having either hypotonia or hypertonia. So the actual process of putting clothing on the body and doing closures is really challenging from a dexterity perspective which, of course, then relates to the aging population. Relates to the cognitive population who have to have the cognitive wherewithal to know that a button goes through a buttonhole. So I just mentioned very different disabilities that have one commonality right there and that's closures. So being able to find different ways to have the product close on the body is something that just helped many, many, many people with very different disabilities. So from the perspective that we like to take as opposed to other brands or smaller designers that are focusing a little bit more specifically on individual disabilities, we try to look at it from a higher perspective to see what are really the top three challenges across different disabilities as it relates to clothing.