The Runway of Dreams story starts with my son Oliver, a compassionate, funny and curious sixth grader who was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy when he was a baby. From that day on, we knew there would be both challenges and triumphs ahead for our family.
A degenerative disease, Oliver’s muscular dystrophy impacts his ability to do various daily tasks on his own. As his mom, it breaks my heart to watch my child struggle doing the simple things most of us take for granted — buttoning a shirt, tying a shoe or zipping a zipper.
One day, Oliver came home from school asking to wear jeans just like his friends. He was coming into his own and was starting to care about his style. Standard jeans did not fit over his leg braces and he was unable to maneuver the button and zipper without help. As a parent, this presented a true predicament. I refused to tell him ‘no you cannot dress like your friends,’ but from a logistical standpoint he could not wear a standard pair of jeans to school without needing extra assistance and we did not want him to sacrifice his independence. I felt there had to be an alternative solution.
My background is in fashion, and so the conversation with Oliver prompted me to start playing with the design of his jeans, adapting the openings, closures and cinching to optimize fit and allow Oliver to self-dress. I wanted to make sure that when Oliver goes to school or camp, he walks in as the confident boy who loves Fetty Wap, basketball and cooking, among many other passions. Fashion is a big part of making that happen — it inspires self-expression, tenacity and confidence.
Helping Oliver made me realize that adaptive clothing was not just something that could help our family. Fashion has a profound impact on someone’s self-worth, but it doesn’t mean that everyone in this world has the same level of access to clothing that meets his or her needs. With that as my inspiration, I created Runway of Dreams, an organization dedicated to working with brand-name retailers to bring mainstream adaptive clothing to the millions of people who live with disabilities. Oliver has opened my heart and eyes to incredible people in the differently-abled community, who like our family, have unique and important stories to share about their experiences living, struggling, adjusting and thriving in life’s everyday moments.
Through the focus groups we conduct to continually evolve our adaptive designs, I have had the honor of meeting and getting to know parents, caretakers, children and adults who represent nearly every ability and background. These amazing people have taken me into their homes and hearts to teach me about their dressing routines, style preferences, and clothing challenges. More than anything, I am grateful that these wonderful people have shared their stories with me. These are human stories, the kind of stories that connect us no matter our differences.
For example, there are the incredible parents who found out during pregnancy that their beautiful daughter would be born without part of her arm. Their daughter, who is now in elementary school, is smiley, confident and ready to take on the world.
There is the young middle school girl with Cerebral Palsy who is defined by her bravery, outgoing personality, love of dance and passion for fashion.
There is the inspiring woman with Spinal Muscular Dystrophy who is a licensed clinical psychologist, pageant winner and model. She uses her platform to talk about dating, romance and sexuality while living with a disability.
There’s the mom who had to watch her son suffer seizures and surgeries, leaving the left side of his body paralyzed. That same mom is raising an energetic boy who loves swimming, jumping on trampolines and gardening sunflowers.
These are the stories that connect the differently-abled community to the world. They are not stories of suffering, dealing with incomprehensible challenges or fighting for life, though those stories do exist. These are stories about real people and families who love, want and dream just like everyone else.
There are so many more stories out there that deserve to be told. That is why Runway of Dreams is excited to partner with Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It to create a forum for more people in the differently-abled community to share their stories. We believe that storytelling invites empathy, initiates understanding and sheds light on truth. We are thrilled to invite any of you to submit your own story and join Runway of Dreams and Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It in our shared mission to make the world a more inclusive (and fashionable) place.