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The Runway of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2014 by Mindy Scheier to empower people with disabilities through adaptive fashion, held its first West Coast runway show, titled “A Fashion Revolution,” on Tuesday evening at the Majestic Downtown in Los Angeles. A goal is to make adaptive fashion — designed to accommodate the needs of people with congenital, acquired and temporary disabilities — “as common as petite or plus sizes,” said Scheier in opening remarks, telling THR that nearly one in four people in the U.S. are currently living with a disability. Adaptive fashion includes clothing, footwear and accessories with features and materials that help people with disabilities to dress independently and to feel comfortable.
Hosted by Jamie Chung, the event’s lineup featured a cast of more than 70 models of diverse ages, ethnicities and disabilities. Among them were actor Alex Barone, born with fibular hemimelia; wrestler and wheelchair racer Zion Clark, whose life is chronicled in the Emmy-winning Netflix documentary Zion; actress, model and athlete Kanya Sesser, born with no legs; blind pro skateboarder Justin Bishop; Oksana Kononets, a Ukrainian quadriplegic model, who planned for four years to be in this show and made it to L.A. on March 5 after fleeing Kyiv with her mother; and actor-model Danny Gomez, paralyzed from the waist down after a mountain biking accident when he was 33 years old.
“After my accident, all my clothes didn’t fit right, didn’t look right because everything looks different sitting down,” said Gomez, who looked to his seamstress mother to tailor all his clothes. “In a wheelchair, you’re a little more constricted. That really weighed on my confidence, especially in L.A., where everything is image-based. Adaptive clothing was expensive, like $100 jeans or $90 Velcro shirts that didn’t even look good.”
Presented by Kohl’s, the fashion show featured clothing, footwear and accessories by Tommy Hilfiger (who launched the first mainstream adaptive fashion clothing line, with the help of Scheier, in 2016), Zappos (featuring brands such as Adidas and Crocs), Target, Stride Rite and JCPenney, as well as up-and-coming brands No Limbits, Wyatt Wear, Minor Details and Befree. Sponsors included French luxury giant LVMH, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Tiffany & Co., Victoria’s Secret, Rimowa, Benefit, Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin.
Joy emanated from the models and the crowd, who clapped and cheered nonstop throughout the show.
“I feel a really great energy — it’s so positive,” said Kononets, wearing a look by No Limbits, including a puff-sleeve blouse in the yellow hue of the Ukrainian flag, her favorite color, with her mother standing behind her wheelchair. “This is my first time in the U.S.A., and I came here because now my country is at war. My mom helps me to be strong, brave and powerful.”
Taking his first turn on a fashion runway, walking on his hands with a beaming smile, Clark told THR, “I have to say I think I had the crowd shaking pretty well. I try to bring the energy all the time. I’m not up there for me. I’m up there for a bigger purpose and to give everybody a good time. That’s what it’s about. That’s how you keep people interested and on the wave of inclusion. You want to get them hyped for it. I was the only person in my entire city the way I am, and seeing all these people and companies coming together to really give everybody a shot at being fashionable is amazing to me!”
Throughout the show, there was an educational focus on adaptive product features such as elastic, hidden zippers, pull tabs, Velcro and sensory-friendly fabrics. “What’s really important and very different from a typical runway show is that we had to be very mindful that the product per brand really made sense for the disability of the person wearing it on the runway,” said Scheier.
Bishop, who was making his runway debut, told THR that his dream was to have clothing with braille cues: “I know that brown with neon green or crazy orange is going to look weird together, so having some kind of braille on the labels to let us know what the colors are is always something I’ve wished and dreamed for. To tell me if my jeans are black or blue or gray. The last time I could see was 2009, so I’m always worrying, ‘How do I know what’s cool anymore?’ It’s a weird thing because you don’t know what’s cool anymore with fashion, with what other people are wearing. A designer told me that fashion is just what everyone else is wearing, and style is what makes you comfortable. So whatever makes you comfortable, that’s your style. It gives me a little more confidence knowing that.”
Another first-timer on the runway, Barone emphasized that he would love to see more brands step up to the table. “I love Tommy Adaptive. I love what Adidas is doing — they said they are creating adaptive backpacks now. I hope that more activewear brands make adaptive styles. I think it’s a matter of time before all brands are doing it across the board,” said Barone, who wrote a first-person essay for THR last fall about how Hollywood can bring more authenticity to characters with disabilities.
With the conversation about diversity in fashion ever expanding to boost the visibility of BIPOC brands, all genders and an array of body shapes and sizes, the Runway of Dreams Foundation raises the question: Isn’t it high time to add individuals with disabilities more significantly into the conversation?
“Even though big brands are trying to do inclusivity, I feel like they’re still limiting on who’s in and who’s out, and we don’t want that!” said Sesser. “There are so many beautiful disabilities and different limbs and different people all around the world trying to show how beautiful we are, so we shouldn’t limit that.”
Ms. Wheelchair America, Christine Burke, who wore her sash and a rhinestone crown to the show, told THR: “I serve as a spokesperson for the over 64 million Americans living with disabilities, and the show tonight was absolutely a dream come true. We need inclusive fashion to not be separate, but equal. We need to have it on every platform. Every line should be adaptable. I’m 33, so I don’t want to look like either a 5-year-old or an 80-year-old. We need to have the notion that people with disabilities are a whole gamut of ages and styles!”
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