She’s one of the most recognized fashion designers in all of Guatemala, and she’s just 19 years old. But her age is not the only thing that makes Isabella Springmuhl stand out in the fashion world. She also has Down syndrome.
The talented teen was the first designer with Down syndrome ever to show her work at London Fashion Week, according to the BBC, which recently included her on its list of 100 inspirational women.
Springmuhl expressed an interest in design when she was in high school, she told Metro. Her influences reach back to her grandmother, who had an atelier that made clothing using traditional Guatemalan fabrics, which are known for their vivid hues and vibrant designs. But because of her chromosome disorder, Springmuhl hasn’t had an easy road pursuing her passion.
The girl was rejected by two design schools, her mother, Isabel Tejada, told the BBC, both of which felt that she “would not be able to cope.” Though angry, Tejada didn’t let that hold her back from encouraging her child’s creativity and talent. “I was furious that these institutions did not give Isabella a chance to learn. It was so sad, but it made her change everything. She then decided she wanted to learn sewing, so I took her to a sewing academy for women,” Tejada told the publication.
A quick study, she soon became fluent in digital pattern-making. Her process, as she explained to Metro, includes drawing designs in her “mannequin book,” coloring them, and then using special software to create three-dimensional printouts. After that, it’s off to the atelier, where she instructs the seamstresses and embroiderers to transform her visions into tangible garments.
Springmuhl launched Down to Xjabelle — “Down because I have Down syndrome. Xjabelle was the name of my granny’s atelier,” she says — where she has sold one official collection, “Peace and Love,” and has another on the way. Her clothing is unique to her specific aesthetic, which includes modern silhouettes, floral embroidery, and plenty of playful, one-of-a-kind Guatemalan fabrics, which she describes as “carefree … just like me” on her website.
The textiles, which she gets from a supplier in Antigua, “are woven by Mayan indigenous women who live in the rural areas of my beautiful Guatemala. Each community in Guatemala has different patterns and colors that identify them,” she says, adding, “Using the Mayan textiles in my designs, I honor all these women that for ages and ages have been weaving Guatemala’s history in clothing and textiles.”
On her site, she says, “I wish that every garment I so lovingly work on warms the dreams of other youngsters who have different abilities … we can do it!”
When she’s not mingling with her peers and design mentors or showing her work at fashion week, Springmuhl spends her time taking sewing lessons and Zumba classes, and going horseback riding, she tells Metro. “In the afternoon, I learn more about fashion design on the Internet.”
Springmuhl, whose signature pieces include embroidered bolero jackets, ponchos, handbags, and cushions, has high aspirations. “I want to export my brand Down to Xjabelle all over the world,” she told the BBC. “I want people to know my designs and to know that people with Down syndrome can do what they set out to do … I want people to know me for my work, and what is inside my heart.”
And Springmuhl is grateful for what she’s achieved thus far. She tells Metro, “I feel happy for all the love that I receive from so many people worldwide.”