Runway of Dreams: Duke Engineering & NCSU Textile Design Student Collaboration
Emma Steadman '22, co-founder and president of Runway of Dreams at Duke, shares the story of the club's founding and partnership with NCSU textile design students in advance of "Coming Together, Creating Change," a virtual adaptive runway show premiering Thu, Feb 11.
We all have that one outfit that makes us feel unstoppable. Maybe it’s a power suit, a little black dress, a comfortable pair of jeans, or the most supportive running shoes. Whatever it is, clothing has a direct impact on how we feel and how we express ourselves. Unfortunately, however, mainstream clothing can present challenges that prevent people with disabilities from having choice in what they show up to the world wearing.
To solve this problem, fashion meets engineering, innovation, and accessibility.
After taking the Writing 101 class “Disability and Representation” taught by Marion Quirici (lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program and co-director of the Health Humanities Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute), I realized my passion for advocating for people with disabilities. As a mechanical engineering student and the kind of girl who loved playing dress up as a little kid, I became consumed with the idea of creating innovations that would give people with disabilities autonomy while dressing themselves and the ability to feel confident in what they’re wearing.
Looking for a way to tailor my Duke experience to this passion, I co-founded Runway of Dreams at Duke. We are an organization associated with the national nonprofit foundation Runway of Dreams, whose mission is to lead a movement of inclusion and innovation in all aspects of the fashion industry. Our club works on adaptive design projects, raises money for the foundation, and so much more! While being club president, I’ve loved seeing other Duke students also find an interest in empowering people with disabilities in the fashion industry.
We don’t have a fashion or textiles department at Duke, but luckily our neighbors at NC State do, and they also happen to have a Runway of Dreams club on their campus. While their club is within the Wilson College of Textiles and ours is affiliated with the Pratt School of Engineering, we both have the same mission: to revolutionize the fashion and apparel industry. With this cross collaboration between designers, engineers, activists and more, there is so much opportunity to initiate real change.
“I became consumed with the idea of creating innovations that would give people with disabilities autonomy while dressing themselves and the ability to feel confident in what they’re wearing.”
Our close relationship in the Research Triangle has presented an exciting opportunity for working together, especially during the pandemic. We are jointly hosting the premiere of Coming Together, Creating Change, a virtual adaptive fashion show this Thu, Feb 11 at 7pm, to showcase people with disabilities and educate the rest of the world. Our models have a variety of disabilities, range in ages from three to thirty-six, and are strutting down their own personal runways from all across the country. We hope the Duke community and beyond will join us on Thursday at to cheer on our models and learn more about the need for adaptive clothing and disability representation.
The impact of representation is undeniable. The parents of our models have sent us messages about how excited their kids are to have this opportunity—something they may have never thought possible. I hope young people with disabilities see people who look like them in the spotlight during this show, and see that their own potential is limitless.
Representation matters, and this is only the beginning.