Guatemala is, in many ways, the hidden gem of Central America – sandwiched between Mexico to the north, Honduras and El Salvador to the south and Belize to the east. The Guatemalan people are friendly and hard-working. The country has a diverse culture, with a rich Mayan heritage – it’s home to Tikal, the ancient Mayan ‘city in the jungle’. In spite of poverty and high crime, Guatemala has a unique colonial charm.
Guatemala is also home to Isabel Tejada and her four children – the youngest, Isabella, was born on February 23, 1997. Typically, the ‘baby’ of the family is considered special. This was true with Isabella in more ways than one as she was born with Down Syndrome. She would be called Belita, a nickname for Isabella which means ‘Little Beauty’. Her mother would come to appreciate what a special gift Isabella would become in her life.
From an early age, her mother noticed her flipping through fashion magazines, looking at the clothes and tracing the pictures. Beginning at age 6, Isabella began to create outfits for her rag dolls – using bits of fabric she would come across. Her oldest sibling was her only brother. He would come to adore her and watch out for her. He found some of her writings and had her read them to him. A talented musician, he used those words as lyrics in a song written just for her – a gift that would touch Isabella’s heart.
Despite the challenges that come with Down Syndrome, Isabella lived a relatively normal childhood. She attended the local high school, graduating with all of her ‘normal’ peers. Her dreams of continuing on to university to study fashion were shattered when her admission was rejected based on her condition. Isabella made up her mind that she would turn that ‘NO’ into a big ‘YES’.
With the support of her family and driven by her determination, she began to learn sewing, knitting and fashion design. She discovered that her grandmother had been a fashion designer, owning a studio called Xjabelle. Between that fact and her brother’s musical talents, Isabella had no doubt that creativity and design ran in her genes.
The brightly colored fabrics created in Guatemala became the heart of her fashions. Isabella enthusiastically designed clothes for the mainstream population, but her greatest passion was to design clothing for people with Down Syndrome. Because of their unique physical composition, those with Down Syndrome have a challenge finding clothes to fit. Isabella was committed to offering solutions for that challenge.
Isabella started her own company which she called Down to Xjabelle – to acknowledge her condition and to honor her grandmother. In addition to clothing, she began to design bags and jackets. Her bold designs, use of vibrant colors and intricate embroidery earned Isabella the chance to display her designs at the Museo Ixchel, Guate Extaordinaria. Her clothes sold out.
In 2016, Isabella became the first designer with Down Syndrome invited to display her work at London Fashion Week. At the age of 19, she was also one of the youngest designers to be featured. Her designs received rave reviews – as did Isabella herself. Her designs are merely a reflection of the girl – bold, determined, lively and so very special. Isabella was included on the BBC 2016 list of 100 inspirational women. These results are due to the fact that Isabella Springmühl is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are not limited by age, physical condition or discrimination
After London Fashion Week, Isabella went on to showcase her “peace and love” collection in Rome. At the age of 20, Isabella Springmühl’s future is as bright as her smile and the Mayan inspired fabrics she uses in her designs.
Isabella is not just a fashion designer on the rise – she is a true example of what can be accomplished with an attitude of “Why not me?” Fueled by her talent and intense passion, she refused to be derailed from her dreams. To put it in her own words:
“Sometimes it takes us people with Down Syndrome more effort, more energy, but at the end, we can do it. Have dreams, and make them come true…see me? I am doing what I dreamed.”
There is something truly powerful and much to learn from a person so young in years yet so advanced in perspective.
Embrace your dreams – Some say find your passion – others, like Simon Sinek, say discover your ‘why’ – still others simply call it their drive. Dispensing with semantics, it comes down to your embracing dreams. Isabella knew that – she embraced her dream and is living a life of fulfillment and happiness. Her dream, in turn, is helping to inspire others. Dreams can do that – embrace yours!
We define ourselves – Isabella was refused admission to university, as well as two fashion schools, based solely on what others deemed was not achievable for a person with her ‘condition’. Isabella would have none of that – no one else would define her. No one else would tell her what she could or could not do. She knew that she was a talented and driven fashion designer – who just so happened to have Down Syndrome. Heed others’ advice and input – but it’s up to you to define who you are, what you can do, what you will do.
Strive to be ‘carefree’ – Isabella describes her fashions as “…carefree, just like me!” Being carefree does not mean that you don’t have issues and challenges in life. It’s more of an attitude. ‘Belita’ lives life on life’s terms. She is happy as she says to “learn from the University of life” and experience all that she can. The very simple formula for being carefree is to accept what you cannot change but change what you can. It works for Isabella and it will work for you as well.
Isabella Springmühl is deemed special needs by many people. In reality, she is merely special. Special in her attitude, her actions, her determination, her talents and her dreams. It’s what makes her a fearless brand. Those same attributes will allow you to also be a fearless brand. Be your special self.