Earlier this year, Guatemala was represented at London Fashion Week 2016 by a young designer with Down syndrome named Isabella Springmuhl.
Not held back by Down syndrome, Isabella first debuted at London Fashion Week’s earlier incarnation in February — where she was one of the youngest designers attending the prestigious event. Her mother, Isabel Tejada, told La Nación that her daughter’s childhood in Guatemala was full of hints of her future success.
“She had about 16 rag dolls and asked me to buy cloth, which she cut and pinned to make dresses for her dolls.”
In Guatemala, Springmuhl faced frequent barriers that prevented her from realizing her dream of entering fashion. After finishing high school, she was rejected from higher education fashion programs because of her Down syndrome.
Though it was a blow to Isabella at the time, she was able to work at her own pace and create an impressive portfolio without schooling. No doubt a surprise to the design academies that rejected her, she’s now set to conquer the world’s great fashion capitals — London, Rome, Paris, and New York.
— Miradas Compartidas (@micompartidas) September 9, 2016
Isabel’s mother was aware of her daughter’s gift for fashion from a young age, and it wasn’t a surprise either. Her grandmother runs a well-known fashion label in Guatemala called Xjabelle. Through that connection, Springmuhl was able to create her own line of clothing for people with Down syndrome, a field severely lacking in options due to the odd sizing required for people with the condition.
Aside from the way Down syndrome has shaped her work, Isabella is also inspired by the styles of her native Guatemala, she told Look.
“I prefer to use local fabrics to design because they have beautiful colors, since everything I do has a free spirit. That’s why I use pompoms, leather and embroidered adornments in my designs.”
— REMEZCLA (@REMEZCLA) September 14, 2016
Down syndrome is the most common genetic condition in the United States, with an estimated 400,000 cases. Around one in every 691 children are born with it, reported National Down Syndrome Society. Guatemalan experts estimate that the numbers are about the same in the Central American nation, but admit that reliable statistics are hard to come by, reported Emisoras Unidas.
Far away from London Fashion Week, the Down syndrome designer’s home country is currently undergoing a political upheaval. Assisted by the United States, Guatemala is going after the organized crime that mandates it. A recent editorial in the New York Times argued that these efforts faced unique challenges, including endemic government corruption, but that continued commitment to eradicating the violence could have positive repercussions across the Americas — even if they do face a steep uphill battle.
“Much of their initial success was built on the element of surprise. No one expected such a forceful assault on corruption. But organized crime won’t make the same mistake twice. Its leaders have publicly threatened the lives and reputations of the attorney general, the presiding judge in the corruption trials, the United Nations commissioner in charge and his chief political officer, aiming to strip them of the will and credibility to do their jobs.”
— MarceloClaure (@marceloclaure) September 5, 2016
Those intrigued by Isabella Springmuhl’s designs don’t have to make it to Guatemala or London Fashion Week to take a look at her merchandise. Her brand already has a strong presence on social media, including her clothes for people with Down syndrome.
[Image via Instagram]