The nonprofit’s Los Angeles runway show, which debuted earlier this month, played on the big screen as guests from both LVMH and Runway of Dreams — which advocates for diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry among people with disabilities — sipped on Champagne and mingled IRL before watching the global premiere.
“The event in L.A. exceeded expectations,” Mindy Scheier, founder and chief executive officer of Runway of Dreams Foundation, told WWD before the New York screening. “The response was absolutely palpable, from the overwhelming amount of people who wanted to come to the show — so much so that we had to move venues seven days before the event, because we just outgrew the venue we were supposed to have it in — to even the response from the audience; the complete energy and joy and everything that was shared that night was extraordinary.”
Scheier — who is also founder of Gamut Management, a talent management and consulting firm, which represents people with disabilities in the media — added that screening parties, such as the one hosted by LVMH, help spread awareness and allow people who couldn’t attend the event in person the chance to see the show.
“I would love to further inspire people to watch the show, to really get a good understanding of why this is so important; how clothing equals confidence and how everybody should be able to wear what they want to wear and that mainstream [fashion] should include everyone, especially disabled people, who are the largest minority on our planet,” Scheier said.
David Bassuk, Fashion Industry Council chair and the Fashion Revolution chair for Runway of Dreams, agreed.
“Seeing the models’ joy and confidence during the Runway of Dreams fashion show is contagious,” Bassuk said. “Runway of Dreams Foundation aims to make the fashion industry more inclusive for people with disabilities by educating brands and retailers on the ‘why’ behind adaptive clothing, footwear and accessories. The foundation’s Fashion Industry Council is comprised of leaders from major brands, retailers and other industry partners — all working together to make history in the fashion industry. I’m continually amazed how the fashion industry is embracing inclusivity.”
The Runway of Dreams Los Angeles show was held March 8 at the Majestic Downtown and was sponsored by Kohl’s, in addition to Tommy Hilfiger, Target and J.C. Penney, Zappos and Stride Rite. Smaller brands were also represented, like children’s brand Minor Details, Be Free Clothing and accessories company Wyatt Wear. Additional sponsors included AlixPartners, Victoria’s Secret & Co. and Sephora.
“We made it to L.A.,” Scheier screamed into the mic at the start of the show — an American Sign Language interpreter standing stage left — before introducing actress Jamie Chung, emcee for the night.
The show, which opened with little kids strutting their stuff down the runway, included more than 70 models spanning different disabilities, ethnicities and ages, all sporting adaptive apparel. Kanya Sesser rolled down the catwalk on a skateboard, performing tricks on her hands. Scheier pushed Ukrainian model Oksana Kononets — who recently fled her home country by way of Poland — down the runway in her wheelchair. Molly Burke was escorted down the catwalk by her guide dog. Others brought their whole families as they danced along the runway.
“I think it was really a recipe for success,” Scheier said. “The support in the room was unmatched. And then we did a big party afterward and I love that people did not want to leave, which is such a wonderful moment to have. Generally, you’re hoping that people will stay the duration [of an event] and in this case, we more than exceeded our time there.”
Fast forward to Tuesday night, the viewing party in Midtown Manhattan’s LVMH Tower had a similarly jovial vibe. The event was hosted by Gena Smith, senior vice president of human resources and head of global executive and creative recruitment at LVMH. Smith is also on Runway of Dreams’ board of trustees.
“LVMH has really proved to be an incredible supporter and partner,” Scheier said.
The film included behind-the-scenes footage of the models speaking about their experiences while donning their favorite adaptive apparel pieces, such as shirts with magnetic buttons, velcro shoes and side-zip pants.
The next Runway of Dreams fashion show is scheduled for Sept. 12 in New York during fashion week. But Scheier said she’s hoping to add more stops along the tour in other cities, including internationally. (The firm has its sights set on Paris for 2023.) Viewers can also tune into Runway of Dreams YouTube channel to watch the show.
“I hope as a viewer, and those who are watching the global premiere, they really get the sense of the why — why this is so important — in terms of the fact that people with disabilities are people first, they’re consumers, they want to wear the same things as everyone else,” Scheier said. “I think our platform, our mission, our certainly putting it on a runway establishes and really shows people that we haven’t really seen that representation in the public eye and it’s something that needs to shift, is shifting and no better way to do that than with and through the fashion industry, which has really been an icon of making change happen. And couple that with the support of major brands…that only adds to the reality that inclusion isn’t just a one-off. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also a business opportunity.
“And I think the biggest takeaway is to really home in on the confidence that you see going down the runway,” she continued. “The smiles, the notion of self-worth and self-esteem. It’s really incredibly contagious and I think that’s something that you will see very clearly.”