Like many women, Mindy Scheier dreamt of a career in fashion since she was a little girl. “I wanted to be the next Betsey Johnson, which I guess shows my age!” quips the 48-year-old. She studied fashion design in Italy before moving to New York, working industry gigs that ran the gamut from publicist to stylist and everything in between, all so she could understand every facet of fashion. She even co-founded a fashion design school for kids called Future Fashionistas℠.
However, after two successful decades in the industry, her career took a turn that she would never have anticipated as an ambitious youth. When her middle son, Oliver, was born, Scheier discovered that he suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy — and fashion took on a new, unexpected form in her life. For his first few years, Oliver was severely limited by his disability, and that extended to his clothing. He couldn’t use buttons or zippers, and pants with a tighter cut couldn’t fit over his leg braces. “His daily uniform was sweatpants and a t-shirt, because that was really the only way he’d be able to go to the bathroom on his own without a struggle,” remembers Scheier.
Yet one afternoon, when Oliver was eight, he came home from school and asked his mom if he could wear jeans to school the next day. Scheier felt like she’d missed the most obvious thing in the world. “Here I was in the fashion industry — I loved clothes more than anything — and I forgot the basics of how important clothing is to who you are as a person, how you show up to the world, and how you express yourself,” she says. “And I needed my eight-year-old to remind me how important that was.”
She made her son a special pair of jeans that accommodated his needs with new seams and Velcro®, but the event made Scheier realize that if this was something Oliver was struggling with, many other kids with disabilities likely were, too. From that point onward, she made it her mission to make the fashion industry more inclusive of people with disabilities. Scheier sold her stake in Future Fashionistas and spent an entire year doing research on the space.
“I went to schools and hospitals and facilities, and did focus groups so that I’d be incredibly knowledgeable about the different types of disabilities and how they related to clothing challenges,” she explains. Then, in 2014, she launched her organization, Runway of Dreams®, to work with and educate the fashion industry on the needs of people with disabilities, and to implement minor modifications to mainstream clothing.
In the years since, Runway of Dreams has grown massively — and so, too, has Scheier’s star power. The organization partnered with Tommy Hilfiger® in 2016, and made fashion history with the first-ever mainstream fashion line for children with disabilities, which has now turned into the kids and adults line Tommy Adaptive™. Runway of Dreams has also held a number of fashion shows during New York Fashion Week™ (including their biggest one yet this September!), and it has enabled hundreds of people with disabilities to take center stage as models.
Scheier’s passion for helping differently-abled people spreads far beyond her day job. She is also a member of the advisory council for Zappos Adaptive™, where she helps curate products for customers with disabilities on the online shopping platform. Since the launch of Runway of Dreams, Kohl’s®, Target®, and Nike® have all incorporated designs for people with disabilities into their product lines, and Scheier believes that the trend is just beginning.
“This is something that started with modifying clothing, and it’s now grown to be something that’s an industry-wide movement in every step of the value chain,” she says. “It’s so much more than the product. It’s having people with disabilities on runways and in campaigns. It’s thinking about designers who understand the market — because they either have a disability or have studied people with disabilities. And I just love that we’ve grown to really infiltrate the industry as a whole.”
The fashionista’s passion for the lifestyle category also extends to beauty (she has a can’t-live-without-it lipstick she buys every time she sees a new tube), skincare (her go-to cleanser might surprise you!), and medical aesthetics, which only further cemented our idolization of her. We sat down with Scheier to find out more about her illustrious life in fashion, the future of Runway of Dreams, and what beauty products and treatments keep her on top of it all.
Spotlyte: How did your career in fashion first begin?
Mindy Scheier: I was that little girl who dreamed of being a fashion designer, and I just never let go of that dream. I majored in fashion design in Italy, and I began working in New York City the minute I graduated. I absolutely loved working in the fashion industry, and since I wanted to be a global brand, I did everything from assistant designer to technical designer to stylist. I worked on fashion shows and fashion PR. So, I kind of did the rounds to make sure I was as educated as I could be in all of fashion.
Spotlyte: How did having children, especially a child who suffers from a disability, impact your career?
MS: I never stopped working; I had my kids during my career. My oldest is now 17, so she was very much in the throes of commuting and all of that when she was young. I would say that there’s no rulebook to being a working mom, and there’s certainly no rulebook to being a working mom of a child with a disability, plus two other kids.
I always want to be honest and authentic, and truthfully, it’s a juggle. It took me a good part of my life as a working mom to realize what I could let go of and be okay without. So, the beds aren’t made a lot of the time, and sometimes, I’ll get home from work, and there are dishes in the sink from the morning. I had to learn how to be okay with that and to realize that you can’t be the best at everything. I had to prioritize what I wanted to spend my time on. When I got home from work, it was always to focus on my kids, and everything else would have to wait.
Spotlyte: The Runway of Dreams Foundation was inspired by your son, Oliver. Tell us more about that a-ha moment.
MS: My world, my career, my everything was fashion. I would spend every night thinking about what I’d wear the next day, and I’d get excited about different looks and whatnot. When Oliver came home from school and said, “Mom, I want to wear jeans to school tomorrow. I don’t understand why I never can wear jeans when everyone else in my class wears them. Why can’t I?,” that was kind of my a-ha moment. Here I was in the fashion industry — I loved clothes more than anything — and I needed my eight-year old to remind me how important clothing was to expressing yourself as a person. And I looked at him, and I said, “You bet you’re going to wear jeans to school tomorrow. Go to bed, and get excited because tomorrow, you’re going to school in jeans.”
I sat at my kitchen table — admittedly cried my eyes out — and I ripped apart a pair of jeans. I took out the zipper and the button, and cut up the side seams so they could go around his braces, versus having to force them over, and I replaced everything with Velcro. When I showed Oliver my arts and crafts project the next day, it was the first time that he was ever able to dress himself [in jeans], and it was the first time he went into school wearing anything other than sweatpants.
Spotlyte: When did you know this was an issue on a larger scale, and how did you turn your vision for Runway of Dreams into a reality?
MS: The immediate transformation that came over Oliver was such evidence to me that people with disabilities critically need to be able to wear the same things as everybody else. I realized that if Oliver was struggling with it — and he was still ambulatory and led a fairly typical life — what was happening with somebody in a wheelchair full-time, or who had autism, or dwarfism, or all of the other major disabilities out there? Were they struggling with the same things that Oliver was as it related to clothing challenges, and not being able to wear what he wanted to wear?
This was back in 2013, and I decided that I’d sell my part of Future Fashionistas to my partner so that I could use my background and work towards the small goal of changing the fashion industry to be inclusive of people with disabilities. I spent an entire year doing research, and then, in 2014, I launched Runway of Dreams.
Spotlyte: The idea stemmed from helping Oliver, who suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, to feel included in the "normal" fashion industry, but what sorts of other disabilities do the beneficiaries of Runway of Dreams typically face?
MS: We really look at disability holistically. The modifications were developed for disability in its totality, whether that’s physical or cognitive. The premise of the modifications was to make dressing easier and to be able to make mainstream products wearable for everybody. Is it going to be perfect for every disability out there? Maybe not. But will it make life easier for every disability out there? Absolutely.
Spotlyte: Tell us more about Runway of Dreams’s ambassador program and scholarship initiative.
MS: During our time really submerging into the world of disability, we realized a couple of things: First, no matter how affordable we get the product, there’s always going to be a part of the population who won’t be able to afford it, due to medical constraints and overwhelming bills that relate to the disability. So, we developed a wardrobe grant program. Families can apply for it so they can purchase new, adaptive clothing.
We also believe that the next generation is such a critical part to the movement of making adaptive products. Like plus-size or petite, our goal is that this becomes another division in the fashion industry. So, we run a scholarship program for students who are dedicating their studies to adaptive design or products. We help support up-and-coming designers who have disabilities and are trying to break into the fashion industry as well.
Spotlyte: Runway of Dreams has notably participated in New York Fashion Week, holding charity fashion shows. How did the idea for this first come to be, and how did it evolve to its current state?
MS: Truthfully, this is something that happened organically. We thought, how can we possibly show the world who people with disabilities are without putting them in the spotlight? And that really became the impetus for doing a runway show during the biggest time in the fashion industry, which is New York Fashion Week.
I’m so excited because this year’s show was our biggest yet — we had over 40 models of different ages and ethnicities with different types of disabilities. The overarching theme of our show was “Who are people with disabilities?” and showing that they are kids, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, family members — and, most importantly, customers who deserve to be a part of the fashion conversation. On the runway this year, [we featured] products from Tommy Adaptive and Zappos Adaptive, as well as from the newly launched adaptive versions of the Kohl’s kidswear line. The fact that we have three major brands being shown on our runway is a testament to the fact that this is the future. The future is now in terms of what’s happening in the fashion industry, but it’s also about changing the lives of those on the runway.
Spotlyte: Have you received any feedback from your models?
MS: During one of our shows that we did in Las Vegas with Zappos®, there was a model who had a prosthetic arm, and she shared with us that until the moment that she was walking the runway, she had never worn anything that showed her prosthetic. She had worn long sleeves every single day of her life. Being a part of Runway of Dreams gave her the confidence to be able to show the world that she has a prosthetic arm and feel good about it.
Not only was she surrounded by people who understood her, but it was the first time that she had ever even met anyone else who had a prosthetic arm. I just love the fact that we are changing the fashion industry and changing lives — having our models and our members feel comfortable in their own skin and be able to show who they are to the world.
Spotlyte: What’s coming down the pipeline for Runway of Dreams?
MS: Within the next month, we are going to be launching a new company — a for-profit company — that is being spun out of the non-profit. All of these brands are coming to us to cast roles in movies, or runway shows, or for focus groups, and our constituency needs representation. We are actually launching a talent management company for people with disabilities by the name of Gamut℠ Management, and Runway of Dreams will become the non-profit partner of Gamut. It is such an exciting step in the growth of our mission to be able to properly represent people with disabilities so that they can infiltrate every step of the value chain in our corporate culture and pop culture.
Spotlyte: How do you handle work-life balance with the foundation and your family?
MS: I really have learned to take it day by day. I know that sounds quite trite, but it’s true. Inevitably, every day is so different from the one before or after that I have to just manage today. If I get through to the end of the day — and everybody’s in bed and exactly where they need to be, and we’ve done everything that we needed to — I call it a success. And, you know, for my life, that’s the only way I can manage it: by just trying to take each day individually.
Spotlyte: Are there any beauty products or treatments that you feel help you manage this balance?
MS: A year ago, I started getting eyelash extensions because I tried every single serum out there, and for whatever reason, I couldn’t get my lashes to grow. I just don’t have great eyelashes. I hated that when I would use mascara, it would clump or run. At this stage in my life, I happen to be photographed a lot, so I hated the way I looked in the photographs if I didn’t have time to get my makeup done.
Getting eyelash extensions has literally changed the whole trajectory of what I need to do to get out of the house. I put on either some foundation or tinted moisturizer and a great lipstick, and I’m out the door. I wake up and go to sleep with great eyelashes. It’s changed the whole look of my face. I go to Amazing Lash Studio®, and every other week, I go in for a refill. I always listen to a podcast, or I’ll take a conference call. I mean, this is really multitasking — I’m getting my lashes done and taking a conference call at the same time! It’s honestly made my life easier.
Spotlyte: What is your overall beauty philosophy?
MS: I’m one of those people who loves the idea of makeup, and I’m so impressed by those who can do it well; but timewise, it’s just not something I can do. So, besides my eyelashes, I'm really a big believer in one thing that’s a game-changer: lipstick. I very rarely go out of the house without something on my lips. It changes everything. With one application, you can look put together. When you walk out of the house, it looks like you thought about what you looked like before you left.
It sounds so old-school, and I feel like I hear my grandmother echoing “put on lipstick,” but it’s true, and it’s a really good, simple beauty rule. It makes you feel good, and it puts a little color on your face. So, I am a huge, huge believer in lipstick — just good, old-fashioned, in-a-tube lipstick.
Spotlyte: Do you have a favorite lipstick?
MS: Sure do, and I’m so scared of the day it will ever go out of stock. It’s like Seinfeld® — this lipstick is absolutely sponge-worthy. Every time I pass a Laura Mercier®, I buy it; and it’s called Cocoa Pout™. I feel like it is the perfect color for every tone of skin and every hair color. I’m a redhead, so anything in the red family can sometimes not look great, but this is the absolute perfect, perfect shade.
Spotlyte: What are your thoughts on injectables? Have you tried any or do any regularly?
MS: The answer is yes, and I am very pro. I have significant lines in between my eyebrows, and I think injectable wrinkle reducers are a game-changer for that. I’m due for my next injections, which I’ll actually be getting today. I do it three or four times a year.
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetics specialists now.]
Spotlyte: Have you tried any other medical aesthetic treatments?
MS: I did just try this facial where you use diamond dust to take off a layer of your skin without looking like you got hit by a car and it actually did make a difference.
Spotlyte: Are there any other medical aesthetics treatments you’re interested in trying?
MS: I’ll tell you this: I’m not enjoying that whenever I look at pictures of myself, I seem to have a double chin. I think it’s my skin [looking] loose as I’m getting older, and it’s devastating to me. I’m looking in the mirror right now to try to figure out what smile I need to do to avoid this double chin from happening, and I definitely am considering [the] CoolSculpting® [treatment]. I think we’re lucky to be able to have things like that in our lives.
[Editor’s note: The CoolSculpting treatment is a non-invasive fat-freezing treatment that effectively reduces fat in certain self-proclaimed “problem spots” in the submental and submandibular areas, thigh, abdomen, flank, and upper arm, along with bra fat, back fat, and underneath the buttocks (you know, those bulges that just won’t go away, regardless of how much you sweat it out on the treadmill). While it isn’t a weight loss solution, fat-freezing can reduce pouches of fat. As with any procedure, there are risks and side effects, so talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you.]
Spotlyte: What is your beauty routine?
MS: I have to tell you, I’m a bit of a junkie. I just completely fall for marketing or reading a good review, so I tend to not have specific products. But, what I’m trying to get into — whether it’s the same brand or not — is a serum that has some type of vitamin C, and then a night cream. I have also started using rosehip seed oil.
Spotlyte: Which beauty products could you not live without?
MS: Besides my lipstick? I still use ProActiv® as my facewash, and I love it. I think it’s a game-changer; I really do. Why am I still getting pimples at 48 years old? I don’t know, but I am, and ProActiv really helps control all of that. So, I cannot live without that facewash. Adam Levine swears by it, so, if it’s good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me!
Spotlyte: What are your secrets for maintaining such gorgeous, vibrant red hair?
MS: Well, my secret is that I have embraced my curly hair, and have never gotten any keratin or anything like that. If I’m being incredibly transparent and honest, I only wash my hair twice a week, which really helps maintain the healthiness of my hair. I don’t put any chemicals on it; I just embrace what I was given, even though curly hair is kind of going extinct. So, I’d like to encourage everyone to keep their curls. Don’t kill them; embrace them!
Spotlyte: Whom do you trust with cut/color?
MS: I’m very loyal to my local hair salon, Vitali Salon℠, here in New Jersey, and I will forever be loyal to them. They know my hair like the backs of their hands.
Spotlyte: Were there any wild beauty trends that you were susceptible to back in the day and second-guess now?
MS: Yes! Wow, this is like therapy for me. There are two. Number one: it was the ‘90s, and thin eyebrows were very in. I over-plucked my eyebrows to the point that still to this day, I have very thin eyebrows that won’t grow back — and I had gorgeous, thick eyebrows before that. And again, the serums don’t work for me, so I just have to deal with the fact that I will forever have thin eyebrows.
My only other regret is that there was this horrific trend of asymmetrical hair back in the ‘80s, and I had one side of my hair shaved, and the other one went down at an angle. It was really not cute for curly hair. It was a moment in my life that I would very much like to erase and rip up every photo of.
Spotlyte: What are current beauty trends you love?
MS: I’m really into the trend of lack of Photoshopping. When CVS™ came out with the displays that said, “Has not been Photoshopped,” I loved that so much. Showing natural beauty, or when we age, is so important, and I applaud that so much. That and Dove’s® “Love the Skin You’re In.” I have a 17-year old daughter, and I tell her all the time that when you look at somebody on Instagram® and think that they’re perfect, I guarantee you that is not the shape of her legs, and that is not how smooth her skin is. So, I really love that we’re — hopefully — moving in a better direction of showing what people are actually like.
Spotlyte: What's your approach to anti-aging?
MS: I’m trying very hard to be dedicated to my nightly routine, which I probably should have done a decade ago. But now, I’m fairly diligent with my night cream, my serums, all of that. I’m good during the day, but generally, I’m so tired at night that the last thing I feel like doing is having a routine, so lately I’ve just been forcing myself to do it. And I’m very diligent about my sunscreen and wearing a hat.
Spotlyte: What are some of your go-to self-care methods?
MS: I’m working very hard on daily meditation. That is my new self-care ritual — just carving out 10 to 15 minutes every day to be quiet. I listen to the Calm™ app and Insight™ timer, and it allows me to really just start my day off on a good foot and be centered for a minute before the craziness begins. For working moms out there, or just moms in general who have hectic lives, it allows you to just have some quiet and some balance and serenity before your day gets crazy.
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CoolSculpting® is an Allergan®-owned non-invasive fat reduction treatment.
CoolSculpting® Treatment Important Information
The CoolSculpting® procedure is FDA-cleared for the treatment of visible fat bulges in the submental (under the chin) and submandibular (under the jawline) areas, thigh, abdomen and flank (love handles), along with bra fat, back fat, underneath the buttocks (also known as banana roll), and upper arm. It is also FDA-cleared to affect the appearance of lax tissue with submental area treatments. The CoolSculpting procedure is not a treatment for weight loss.
Important Safety Information
The CoolSculpting procedure is not for everyone. You should not have the CoolSculpting procedure if you suffer from cryoglobulinemia, cold agglutinin disease, or paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria.
Tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions including recent surgery, pre-existing hernia, and any known sensitivities or allergies.
During the procedure you may experience sensations of pulling, tugging, mild pinching, intense cold, tingling, stinging, aching, and cramping at the treatment site. These sensations subside as the area becomes numb. Following the procedure, typical side effects include temporary redness, swelling, blanching, bruising, firmness, tingling, stinging, tenderness, cramping, aching, itching, or skin sensitivity, and sensation of fullness in the back of the throat after submental or submandibular area treatment.
Rare side effects may also occur. CoolSculpting may cause a visible enlargement in the treated area which may develop two to five months after treatment and requires surgical intervention for correction.