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when Pratt meets fashion

Emma Steadman, Runway of Dreams

Pari Goel
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When was the last time you had to consider if those adorable, perfect-fitting jeans had a zipper? When was the last time you had to consider if your dress for the party was going to get stuck in a wheelchair or if your shirt had buttons you couldn’t clasp? 

For many individuals, these are frequent questions they need to ask themselves constantly. The world of fashion often excludes those with disabilities, only creating products from their own privileged perspectives. From the run-way to the actual clothing items, the industry excludes people with disabilities both in service and representation. While adaptive fashion is slowly becoming main-stream, the reality is that individuals are forced to make the choice between confidence and style and utility. There are not enough options within this field and that needs to change. 

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Emma Steadman, a senior at Duke University, recognized this challenge and decided to take action. Experiences such as taking Professor Quirici Writing 101 on Disability and Representation and interning at a startup that was creating high-functioning, low-cost prosthetics inspired her to think about representation and empowerment for people with disabilities. She soon became involved with Runway of Dreams, a national non-profit organization that aims to expand clothing options for people with disabilities. Emma wanted to make an impact in her college community, and decided to start a Runway of Dreams chapter at Duke with her friend Abigail. 

The philosophy behind the club revolves around the fact that fashion provides confidence and is a form of expression: one that should be accessible for everyone. Emma utilizes her Pratt Engineering background to prototype and create various adaptive fashion pieces. The club consists of various perspectives and strengths, allowing them to consider everything from price, personal experience, to design. 

Just last year, the club hosted a virtual fashion show that featured individuals from the local Durham community. Prior to the show, club members interviewed the models on what they hoped to wear and their visions. After months of hard-work, the club put on an incredible show that was sponsored by Zappos. Models’ parents expressed immense amounts of gratitude because for many of their children, the fashion show was the first time they felt represented in the fashion industry. 

Fast forward to just last month where Emma was recognized for all her hard work and innovation. She was invited to attend Runway of Dreams New York Fashion Week. Emma reflected on how her favorite part was seeing the models’ faces light up as they confidently took on the runway. She noted how this was just the beginning, and soon, models with disabilities would be able to walk any runway show they wanted. Huge industry leaders such as Tommy Hillfiger, JCPenny, Zappos Adaptive, and Target showed their support and even launched adaptive clothing lines. 

It was at this event that Emma received the Fashion for All Award, as she was the winner of the Adaptive Fashion Design Competition. Emma had created a prototype,  Starry Night Super Socks, which will allow women on wheelchairs to wear heels with ease and comfort.


This spring, the Duke Runway of Dreams will be hosting their own fashion show, which will feature college-aged students from Duke and the Durham Community. The clothing will be sponsored by Zappos and Emma and the rest of the organization is working hard to make this plan come alive. 

Emma has already made an incredible impact and is changing the world, and will continue to do so after college. When asked what her dream job would be, she immediately answered, eyes beaming: bringing adaptive fashion to a major company. 

At the very beginning of her journey, Emma thought to herself: “I like things that are pretty but I also wanted to make the world a better place.” Emma Steadman has surely made this into a reality. 

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