The Business of Inclusivity | Wunder 2023

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, The Business of Inclusivity | Wunder 2023. The summary for this episode is:
02:24 MIN
01:23 MIN
Setting the Scene: History of Vocabulary, Inclusive Language, and Statistics
01:45 MIN
Mindy’s Journey
03:05 MIN
Time for the Fashion Industry to Adapt
01:13 MIN
Runway of Dreams Launches at NYFW
03:18 MIN
The Launch of Gamut Management
01:31 MIN
Victoria's Secret: A Game-Changer in Adaptive Fashion
01:48 MIN
Mainstream Products Initially Developed for People with Disabilities
04:16 MIN
Adidas & The Gamut Seal of Approval
04:03 MIN
Victoria’s Secret Adaptive Line Launch
01:38 MIN
Conclusion: Let’s Build More Ramps
01:01 MIN

Maddie Zingeser: As Bill already alluded to, the theme of this week is kindness. So who better to start things off than our opening keynote, Mindy Scheier. Mindy is the founder and CEO of Runway of Dreams and Gamut Management. Founded on the basis that clothing is a basic human need, Runway of Dreams develops, delivers, and supports initiatives to broaden the reach of mainstream adaptive clothing and promote people with disabilities in the fashion industry.

Vern Tremble: Following its launch, Runway of Dreams partner with Tommy Hilfiger on the first mainstream adaptive clothing line for kids and continues to work with many mainstream brands such as Kohl's, Target, JC Penney, and zappos. com. In 2019, Mindy created Gamut Talent Management to represent people with disabilities and create a marketplace where business and industries can connect to this target audience. Mindy has been featured in People Magazine's Heroes Among Us, US Today, New York Times, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and many more. Please welcome Mindy Scheier.

Mindy Scheier: Thank You. Hi, Wunder family. I'm so, so grateful to be here today, and I'd also like to welcome you into your journey into the world of disability. And we are actually going to start with the fact that I don't know all of you yet, but I hope to do by the end of this. And there could be somebody in the room with blindness or low vision. So I'm going to do what's called a visual description. Hello, my name is Mindy Scheier. I am a 51- year- old white woman with curly red hair. I'm wearing what I think is a ridiculous cape that has bright flowers on it. It's pink and I'm wearing matching pink pants. And I actually think I should be in Barbie 2. Because Wunder is always shaping the conversations that really do affect our world, I'd like to start with a quick vocabulary lesson, hopefully a helpful one. The first word that I'd like to bring to your attention is the word handicapped. I would love to strike it from your vocabulary. I'd like to give you a little bit of the history of the word handicapped. It actually started centuries ago when people with disabilities were only considered beggars, that they could only be on the street holding a cap in their hand and ask for money. That is how the word handicapped came to be. So really would love that not to come out of your mouth anymore. Also, the R word. Let's strike that from our language. And also, let's think about the word normal. It could be a really, really tough word to hear. Let's think about replacing it with typical. It's a nicer way to address something that normal could have been used for. The current approved language in the world of disability is people first language. You would say a person with down syndrome, as people with disabilities are people first. Next, let's talk about some mind- blowing statistics. One in four people have a disability, which is about 1. 8 billion people on our planet, garnering$ 13 trillion, you heard me right, of spending power. And it's also the only minority that every single one of us could be a part of at any point in our life. You cannot say that about any other minority. My journey started 32 years ago in the world of fashion when it was run by images of Mark Wahlberg and Brooke Shields. 21 years ago, I became a mother for the first time, and I'm lucky enough to actually have my daughter in the room here today. 10 years ago, my worlds collided as my middle child, Oliver, was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. And when he was eight years old, he came home from school and said, " Mom, I want to wear jeans. I want to wear jeans like everybody else gets to wear," but Oliver couldn't because his form of muscular dystrophy really affected his muscle strength, it distorted the shape of his body, affects his pulmonary system. So when he first went to school, kindergarten age, which generally you don't have to think about things like this, my husband and I had to think about how he was going to be able to go to the bathroom on his own, because he couldn't do buttons and zippers and he couldn't fit his leg braces under pants. So he wore sweatpants every single day, until that one day when he came home and I looked at that little eight- year- old face and I said, " You bet you're wearing jeans to school tomorrow." And I said, " You better go to sleep because it's going to be a huge day tomorrow." And he went to sleep. And admittedly, now that we're all really getting to know each other, I cried my eyeballs out at my kitchen table, because how in the world did I miss this? As a seasoned designer, I dedicated my career to the fashion industry, and I needed my eight- year old to remind me of how powerful clothing is to who you are as a person, how you show up to the world, your self- confidence, your self- esteem. And Oliver reminded me that just because he had a disability doesn't mean he has to dress like he has a disability. So I took a pair of his jeans, I ripped them apart, took out the zipper and the button, cut up the side seams. I don't know if there's any designers in the room, but if there are, please close your ears, because I used peel and stick Velcro. It was horrible, I understand this, but you know what? It worked. And the next morning when he woke up, it was the first time he had ever been able to independently dress himself in anything that had buttons or zippers in it. And the immediate transformation that I saw come over him was palpable. I saw him hold his head up a little bit higher. He had a spring in his step when he went into school because of a pair of jeans. And what this experience did was really opened my eyes to the fact that if Oliver was struggling with this at eight years old, how in the world did that 1. 8 billion people on our planet, how were they showing up every day? How were they going on first dates? How were they going to interviews? What were they wearing on the first day of school? So this was in about 2013, and I decided to have a teeny tiny little small goal of changing the fashion industry to be inclusive of people with disabilities, but I knew that I certainly couldn't go to the industry unless I knew what I was talking about. And at that point, I only had eight years of experience with one disability. And even in the world of muscular dystrophy, there's 40 different strains that affect the body very differently. So I did a year's worth of research. I went to schools, I went to hospitals, I ran focus groups, I did surveys. I literally chased down people in the street that even had a slight limp to ask them what their clothing challenges were. Fortunately, I was able after that year to really understand that there were commonalities between vastly different disabilities and clothing challenges. So I developed modifications that could be implemented into mainstream clothing. And in 2016, we partnered with Tommy Hilfiger and made fashion history by developing the first ever mainstream adaptive clothing line. And like many, many, many things in the fashion industry, the place that anything can happen is during New York Fashion Week. So I knew that I had to get the attention of the industry during New York Fashion Week. So Runway of Dreams, as I so aptly named the foundation, we decided that we were going to take on Fashion Week. So like many other things, everything happens on a runway. Runway of Dreams Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works towards the future of inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities. Founded on a basis that clothing is a basic human need, the foundation develops, delivers, and supports programs and events that celebrate people's differences, break down stereotypes, highlight the need for mainstream adaptive apparel and showcase people with disabilities in fashion.

Speaker 4: The sides of my top here have snaps so they open up so it's really easy to put it on.

Mindy Scheier: We are always looking for ways for him to express himself even if he couldn't do it with words. And that's something else that clothes allow him to do.

Speaker 5: Living life is so much easier if all of my clothing is inaudible.

Speaker 6: We love fashion. And thing about clothes, when you look good, you feel good and you want to feel good.

Speaker 7: Runway of Dreams honestly changed my life.

Mindy Scheier: So it's so important to show the fashion and industry and the world that people with disabilities are people first and we have to rebrand who they are in the public mind. And no better way to do that than on a runway.

Speaker 10: No other show has brands share the same runway for one mission.

Mindy Scheier: JC Penny, Tommy Hilfiger, Khol's, Zappos, Target, inaudible.

Speaker 11: Walking on the runway is probably the best experience I've ever had. I had so much support and inaudible forever.

Speaker 10: This event means that we can show off all the abilities of people living with disabilities and how special all of the people that walk this earth truly are.

Speaker 12: It gives me strength and drive to walk down that runway and show people that we want to be loved and see that we are beautiful.

Mindy Scheier: With your support, Runway of Dreams will virtually ensure that adaptive apparel will become as commonplace as petite or plus sizes, and that the over 1 billion people around the world living with a disability will be empowered with confidence, independence, and style. This is Runway of Dreams. So with the success of Runway of Dreams, suddenly so many other brands and even other industries started reaching out to Runway of Dreams to ask, " Well, how can I get involved in the world of adaptive, or connect with people with disabilities as I'm starting to understand and learn that they're consumers?" So it became very clear that a second company needed to be born, and that was Gamut Management. In 2019, we launched as the first of its kind consulting and talent management company exclusively working with people with disabilities and only working with brands to help them either modify or create adaptive products or services for this population, and also to become what we like to call disability confident, as it's as important to be inclusive externally as it is internally. Now I see some of your faces and some of you're going a little pale in that you're thinking, " Well, how's my company doing on really including people with disabilities? How are we really servicing this, now I just learned from Mindy, huge population?" Not to worry. This is at the point where many brands come to Gamut because they want to have that question answered. So let's get intimate. About a year ago, Victoria's Secret came to Gamut and said just that question. " We know that we're missing out on a huge amount of our customer base, women or those that identify as women with disabilities, but we don't know anything about them. We need to learn." So that's exactly what we did. We introduced them to a tremendous amount of women with all different disabilities, ethnicities, ages, because it was so important before anything could happen that the brand really understood who this consumer was and what her needs were. However, before Victoria's Secret came to Gamut, the product development team had actually started to create product. And then once they started learning about this woman and this consumer, they realized the product they developed wasn't going to work, so they had to start all over again. Listen, learn, and develop with the consumer right by their side, from beginning all the way through. And I know we have a room full of marketers here. Probably one of the most important parts of the process is really, really understanding marketing to this population. They're so eager. They want it. They want to know that brands are thinking about them that are developing for them. And I love the notion of talking about technology, because actually technology plus design equals adaptive. It's innovation. It's rethinking the way that things are done. Now we're going to have a little audience participation. Who knows when the button and the buttonhole was developed? Take a guess. We're all best friends now. 1850? 1920? One more. Nice. It was actually developed in the 13th century. So the fact that I am looking out into this audience and seeing a lot of buttons is quite mind- blowing, that we can run our lives through our phones, but we're still using technology that was developed in the 13th century. So as we are introducing the population to the team at Victoria's Secret, they started to understand the needs of this woman. And I always like to say that many times Oliver is more my teacher than my son, as we won't be able to walk, crutch, or roll in someone else's shoes to really understand what they need, but we most certainly can ask and understand and learn what this consumer needs as it relates to products that they will be using. And that actually is exactly what happened with Victoria's Secret. They started to learn and understand. So now we knew the who, and we had to move on to what. The product team at Victoria's Secret started to understand that it wasn't a bra or underwear, it was both. This is what the population needed and wants, so they started to develop both. And while the product teams were working on their what, the internal teams, HR, customer service, sales were working on theirs, as again, it's equally as important to have the inside match the outside. So now here we are, I would say by that point we know the who, we know the what. We're about eight months in. So now onto the how. How do we do this? How can we create something that is going to help so many different types of disabilities? This, I think actually, is probably one of the reasons why it took so long to really get into this space, because it was so overwhelming and so mind- blowing that something could be developed that could help so many different people with so many different challenges. But when we broke it down and thought about it and listened to the customer, they just wanted to have a way to get it on and off the body easier. I want you all to think about for a second if you were missing limbs, if you had low muscle tone or lack of dexterity, how difficult it would be to do a hook and eye. Almost impossible. And for those in the audience that do wear bras, you know how difficult it is on a good day to put on a bra when it's in the back and it's a hook and eye. So really, again, rethinking the way that things have been done and being innovative, the how became, let's replace it with magnets. Let's put the closure in the front, number one, and let's replace it with magnets. So when we think about it, actually having a magnetic front bra not only helps the one wearing the bra, but it also helps the other one that's trying to get it off. So here we are, the product is on its way, and I want to bring up some important things that are products that were actually developed for people with disabilities that we are all using now. First one, texting. Texting was developed as an alternate way to communicate for those that couldn't communicate in a typical way. Now it is the most used form of communication by everyone. Eyeglasses. Eyeglasses were considered a medical device. I see quite a few out in that audience. Now it's a multi- billion dollar category that is solidly embedded in the fashion and accessories space. There are even people out there that just wear glasses because they're fun or they want to see a computer screen a little bit nicer with a blue light. So when we think about that, we have so much opportunity to develop something that ultimately is going to help everyone. When we at Gamut were readying the world for adaptive products, whether we were creating them or they were already in development and we were helping with the marketing aspect, we were constantly being asked two questions. The first one was from the population, how do we know a brand didn't just put magnets in a garment and call it adaptive? Or how do we know that a company isn't just putting a person in a wheelchair in their ad campaign because they want to check a box to include everyone? Fair. And on the other side, brands wanted to know how can we best communicate to the world that we really spent a lot of time, energy, resources, money, we worked directly with people with disabilities, the whole process, and we did this the right way. So we all know the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and now we have certifications for everything from gluten- free to animal free testing, but yet in the adaptive space, there was nothing that showed the population that this product was developed with and for them. There was no fast pass, there was no symbol. So we created the Gamut seal of approval, which is the first certification mark in the adaptive space that certifies product or services by vetting it with people with disabilities, PTs, OTs, and experts in this space. And I'm so excited to show you two of the products that were launched with the Gamut seal of approval. The first is the Adidas adaptive backpack, which Gamut worked side by side with Adidas to help develop it. And the second is the Adidas adaptive sock, which I will show a little video on. And the amazing part of the process and the work that we did with Adidas is they, and of course we, feel very strongly that these two products are going to add tremendous market overlap, as if it works for somebody with a disability, it could work for everyone. Back to our case study. So now here we are, we're 11 months in with Victoria's Secret. And I'm so excited that this September 13th on the Runway of Dreams runway during New York Fashion Week will be the first time that Victoria's Secret is debuting their adaptive line. And it will be inaudible. I know I'm so excited. And this is an open invitation. We would love all the Wunder family to be there to witness this moment in history. And why is it a moment in history? There are certainly other brands that have entered this space, but Victoria's Secret is the first one that will be launching it both online and in store. There are no other adaptive products at this current time that actually has it in store. And I want you to think about that, that people with disabilities don't have a typical shopping experience like we all get to do. They didn't get to have the joy of finding this cape and saying, " Oh my gosh, I can't wait to wear this at Wunder." And that is something that we are working really hard to make it even and really give this amazing population the same experiences that everybody else gets to have. And not only will they be launching both online and in store, but they will be launching with the Gamut seal of approval on every product in all the stores, really clearly identifying that this product was developed with and for people with disabilities. So before we move into more of an interactive moment, I want to end with this story. It's about a teacher who is in a wheelchair and he rolled up to school on a very snowy day, and the custodian was there shoveling the stairs, and the teacher looked at the custodian and said, " Could you do me a favor? Would you mind shoveling the ramp so that I can get in school?" And the custodian said, " Absolutely. Let me just finish the stairs and then I will absolutely get to the ramp." And the teacher looked at the custodian and said, " But if you do the ramp first, everyone can get into school." So Wunder family, I challenge you. I hope that we can do this together. Let's build less stairs and innovate and create more ramps. We can do this. You can do this. Thank you.