Faith Guilbault has been walking the runway since 2016, modeling clothes designed for people with disabilities on behalf of the Runway of Dreams Foundation — even taking part in New York Fashion Week in 2019 — but the Bel Air teen hit the runway in the hallway of her family’s home this year for a virtual version of Runway of Dreams’ annual Adaptive Fashion Show.
The Summer Intern Virtual Adaptive Fashion Show, which was produced by the New Jersey-based Runway of Dreams’ summer interns, happened live online Aug. 4. The nearly 27-minute show is available on the Runway of Dreams YouTube channel; Faith and her eight fellow models appear just before the 21-minute mark.
Faith, a 16-year-old rising junior at the Maryland School for the Blind, moves with the aid of a walker and wears a dark-colored polka-dot dress. She walks forward to her mark, stops and strikes a pose with a hand on one hip, cocks her head to the side, flashes a big smile and waves before turning and heading back up the hallway.
“I like modeling for people with disabilities,” Faith said the day after the show. “I like advocating.”
She said her favorite items of adaptive clothing — garments designed so people with disabilities can easily get on and off without assistance from a caregiver — are dresses, as well as jeans and other types of pants; she also likes dressing up for church.
Faith gets around using a wheelchair when on her school campus in Baltimore County — classes were virtual during the past school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — or she uses a walker and quad-canes, plus she wears braces to support her feet.
“Whenever we’re going out, we have a ton of equipment,” said Faith’s mother, Karen Guilbault.
Her daughter has several conditions, including cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment and epilepsy, Guilbault said. She noted “the struggle to get pants over her braces is real” and that having adaptive clothing is “a lifesaver.”
“It’s so important for her to have clothing that’s easy to get on and off,” Guilbaut said of her daughter.
Faith has been in a number of fashion shows in which she models adaptive clothing, and she has been part of campaigns for major designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger, showing their lines of clothing for people with disabilities.
Runway of Dreams mission
Runway of Dreams was founded by Mindy Scheier in 2014. Scheier is the CEO of Runway of Dreams, and she has worked as a fashion designer. She initially wanted to develop clothes that her son, Oliver, who has muscular dystrophy, that were like the jeans his friends wore, but designed so Oliver could get them on and off without dealing with zippers and buttons.
Runway of Dreams was founded after Scheier considered how many other families around the globe deal with the same struggles related to clothing. The organization “works toward a future of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities,” according to the Runway of Dreams website.
Scheier told The Aegis that Faith and Karen Guilbault “have been really important in that process and helping to continue to further the mission” of Runway of Dreams.
The nonprofit works with clothing and footwear designers and retailers, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Kohl’s, Target and Zappos, to develop and promote lines of adaptive apparel. Nike also sells “amazing” adaptive sneakers, according to Scheier.
“Our runway shows are really the crown jewel of what we do,” she said.
Several guest speakers took part in this year’s show, which was held virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The speakers included Derek Flores, representing Zappos Adaptive; Gabe Adams, who was born without arms or legs and is a motivational speaker, social media influencer and dancer; plus Kaycee Marshall, who uses a wheelchair and designs adaptive clothing.
“Everybody deserves to wear mainstream clothing, and by making modifications to what already exists, that can make it more wearable for all,” Scheier said.
Commonality in adaptive clothing
Scheier learned, through her research, that there are “three categories of commonalities” in terms of what people with disabilities need in their clothing.
One commonality is buttons and snaps, which Scheier said are “almost 100 percent of a challenge across the board” and can be modified with magnets behind the buttons, so a shirt or pair of pants is much easier to open and close.
Shirts and pants also can be designed with modified openings at the neck or the bottoms of pant legs so they can be pulled over braces. Karen Guilbault noted adaptive pants have been very helpful for her daughter in situations such as when she uses the bathroom, and they help Faith feel more independent as she gets older.
“I guess it gives me confidence,” Faith said about adaptive clothing, noting that it makes her “feel better about myself.”
Another commonality in adaptive clothing is designing garments that are adjustable to fit different body shapes. The clothes “still maintain the same style and look” of non-adaptive wear, but different ways of getting them on and off, closing and adjusting are incorporated within, according to Scheier.
Scheier stressed that “clothing equals confidence,” and being able to dress oneself is a key confidence booster for people with disabilities, such as those who developed a disability later in life through an accident, illness or injury.
“That confidence is something that is incredibly important with going forward with their new normal,” she said.
Inspiring the next generation
Scheier expects that adaptive clothing will, within five to 10 years, “just be another category in the fashion industry, no different than pluz size or petite.” She stressed the need to inspire younger generations so they understand the need for “including people with disabilities into the fashion conversation.”
To that end, Runway of Dreams’ 2020 show was wholly produced by the nonprofit’s summer interns. The college students created, developed, edited and produced the content, plus they promoted the show, created a social media campaign for it and worked with the models to prepare for the event.
“Every aspect of this event was done by our summer interns,” Scheier said during the show, noting their work will “pave the way for our big virtual fashion show” happening Sept. 14 during this year’s Fashion Week.
Intern Sami Wolk, who lives in Short Hills, New Jersey, is going into her sophomore year at Syracuse University, where she studies communications. Wolk worked on the advertising and social media aspects of the show, plus she interacted with Faith and Karen Guilbault, conducting interviews and getting to know mother and daughter.
Wolk said she has “really learned and have gotten a feel for what its like” to live with a disability and how having adaptive clothing helps people such as Faith “feel so much better when she wears clothes like this.”
She and the other interns spoke during the show about their experiences this summer and the need to support organizations such as Runway of Dreams. Wolk and another intern, Duke University student Ali Rothberg, encouraged viewers to make a donation and support Runway of Dreams’ wardrobe grants program.
“This gives those in need of adaptive clothing the opportunity to have life-changing garments,” Wolk said.