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Isabella Springmuhl, the first fashion designer with Down syndrome, talks her budding career

She's fighting stigma — with style

Isabella Springmuhl has faced her share of obstacles, but the 19-year-old has since become the most recognized fashion designer in Guatemala. Despite being unable to finish her fashion course at a local college and the ongoing Down syndrome discrimination she faces, Springmuhl’s work has appeared at the U.K.’s International Fashion Showcase in 2016 and at London Fashion Week.

Her brand, dubbed Down to Xjabelle, is her homage to traditional Guatemalan handcraft. She combines it with colorful and authentic contemporary silhouettes. With two official collections and an online store, Springmuhl aims to promote her fashion point of view worldwide.

When did you discover your love for fashion?

I discovered it as a little child. My grandmother had an atelier, which made clothes using Guatemalan fabrics, so I think that fashion design is in my veins. My mother told me to read fashion magazines for hours. After that, I started making designs on paper and creating dresses for my dolls. I didn’t know how to sew, so I attached them with pins.

When I was in high school, I had to do a “life project.” I had to identify what things I had to do in short, medium and long term. Doing that, I discovered that I loved design. I wanted to be a fashion designer and have my own brand.

What’s your daily routine like?

After breakfast, I take sewing classes, or I do horse riding. I also take Zumba classes. Everyday I go to my atelier to create pieces. The seamstresses make [my drawings come to life]. In the afternoon, I learn more about fashion design on the internet.

What is your dressmaking process?

I have a mannequin book, where I draw my designs. After that, I color them. Later, in my computer software, I make them 3-D and print them. In the atelier, I give instructions to the seamstresses and embroiderers. With their help, my designs turn into reality.

Where did the name for your label come from?

My brand is called Down to Xjabelle. Down because I have Down syndrome. Xjabelle was the name of my granny’s atelier.

What has been the best experience you’ve had as fashion designer?

Being known for my heart and work. I feel happy for all the love that I receive from so many people worldwide.

Shop her line

You can shop Isabella’s creations at downtoxjabelle.com:
—Prices range from $65 to $300.
— Springmuhl adapts traditional native pieces and creates contemporary and versatile pieces like jackets and vests.
— She also mixes traditional Guatemalan embroidery with modern fabrics.

 

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