Isabella Springmuhl is a 20-year-old woman from Guatemala. Ever since she was a little girl, she had one dream. She wanted to be a fashion designer one day.
However, Springmuhl came across a hurdle or two in her quest to design clothes for a living. And the worst part was probably the fact that one of the things that seemed to hold her back was totally out of her control.
Springmuhl applied to a few fashion schools in Guatemala. But unfortunately she was in turn rejected by two different institutions. The reason why, apparently, was because she has Down’s syndrome.
Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of extra chromosomes. Sufferers usually experience mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and are at risk of developing health complications. But Springmuhl didn’t want to let any of that get in her way.
Of course, the fashion schools’ rejection was a blow. Especially because they had told her that she “would not be able to cope.” But she was determined to learn how to design clothes.
At the time, Springmuhl’s mother was naturally upset that her daughter hadn’t been allowed into fashion school. “I was furious that these institutions did not give Isabella a chance to learn,” she told BBC News in November 2016.
However, it seems that this setback would only serve to fuel her daughter’s passion even more. “It was so bad, but it made her change everything,” her mother recalled. It was time for plan B.
Next stop for Springmuhl was a sewing academy instead of a fashion school. At first, she was asked to produce outfits. But the problem was that the outfits weren’t for humans – they were for traditional Guatemalan worry dolls.
Ambitious Springmuhl had her sights set much higher than that. She wasn’t satisfied designing clothes for dolls. So she thought outside of the box and made some life-sized dolls that she could design clothes for instead.
From there it was an easy transition to begin designing clothes for real people. Real people with Down’s syndrome, to be precise. She stuck closely to the traditional Guatemalan patterns and colors, creating some beautiful pieces. And it wasn’t long before Springmuhl got noticed.
Her big break came in the form of an invitation to London Fashion Week in 2016. At just 19 years old, Springmuhl would be the first fashion designer with Down’s syndrome to ever be involved in the high-profile event.
London Fashion Week’s International Fashion Showcase curator Cecilia Santamarina de Orive was the person that spotted Springmuhl’s talent. “Thank God I got an opportunity from Cecilia, who looked deep into my heart and recognized my value,” Springmuhl told A Mighty Girl, an organization which celebrates the achievements of girls and women around the world.
And from then on, Springmuhl’s career went from strength to strength. When asked by Metro US in January 2017 what she regarded as the best part of being a fashion designer, she said, “Being known for my heart and work. I feel happy for all the love that I receive from so many people worldwide.”
Having spent her life struggling to find clothes to fit, Springmuhl had taken matters into her own hands and designed them herself. She told BBC News that her mother always had to alter her clothes, explaining that people with Down’s syndrome have “a different body constitution; we are shorter, wider, or very thin.”
Not only was Springmuhl simply creating fitted clothing for people with Down’s syndrome, they also happened to be beautifully designed pieces. But where did she get the inspiration from? She revealed that her grandmother, an atelier, was a big part of her development as a creative. It had been written in the stars – and her genes – for a while, it seems.
In fact, her grandmother was even incorporated into the name of Springmuhl’s clothing line. She called it “Down to Xjabelle.” In an interview with Metro US, the designer explained, “Down because I have Down syndrome. Xjabelle was the name of my granny’s atelier.”
What has been perhaps most impressive about Springmuhl’s work is the message behind it. The 20-year-old carried out an interview with MSN in which she outlined the ethos behind her clothes line. She encouraged people not to give up on their dreams just because they are “different.”
Springmuhl didn’t give up on fashion designing just because she had a genetic condition or because a couple of fashion schools rejected her. She was able to rise above it and turn her negative experience into a positive one. And her success continues today.
At the end of 2016 Springmuhl was officially recognized by the BBC for her contribution to fashion. She featured in the British news corporation’s round-up of the 100 most inspirational women of the year. Not only that, but she has also been invited to numerous other international fashion shows.
Springmuhl’s story just goes to show that anyone can achieve whatever they want if they have enough determination. She wasn’t phased by rejection and kept on working towards her goal of becoming a fashion designer. And only a few years on, she’s nailed it.