Designing For Diversity: Isabella Springmuhl Tejada

Isabella Springmuhl Tejada

“It was a “NO” that I wanted to turn into a big “YES.”" Rather than give up her dreams of becoming a fashion designer, rejection prompted Isabella Springmuhl Tejada to take matters into her own hands. And courtesy of what she refers to as the “university of life”, the talented creative has since become the most recognized fashion designer in Guatemala.

When Isabella Springmuhl Tejada graduated from high school, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. As a budding designer, who at six years of age had been making clothes for her dolls, she was keen to study fashion. However, her dreams of following in her grandmother’s creative footsteps were dashed by the local university, who declined to accept her due to her condition – Isabella has Down's Syndrome. 

Undeterred, and with the support of her family, she began educating herself. And today, Isabella’s Down to Xjabelle collections have not only received acclaim in her native Guatemala, but on the international fashion stage too.

  Traditional Guatemalan textiles feature and inspire Isabella's colorful designs. 

Traditional Guatemalan textiles feature and inspire Isabella's colorful designs. 

Her designs are influenced by both her upbringing and her identity. An homage to traditional Guatemalan handicraft, they feature richly colorful textiles woven by indigenous Mayan women, which Isabella combines with modern silhouettes to create authentic yet contemporary clothing. Her collections also reflect the fact that she is inspired to create garments which will appeal specifically to others with Down's Syndrome, “Because of the physical characteristics we have, sometimes it is quite difficult to find nice clothing that fits us well,” she reveals on her website.

In 2015, Isabella was invited to showcase her work at Guatemala City’s Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena (Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing), which explores the Guatemalan traditions of dress throughout the country. The following year, at just 19 years of age, she was the first fashion designer with Down's Syndrome to take part in London Fashion Week, participating in the International Fashion Showcase, and was also among the list of inspirational and influential figures named among the BBC’s 100 Women. Later that same year, Isabella was also invited to showcase her collections in Rome.

  Modern silhouettes give Isabella's authentic designs a contemporary feel. 

Modern silhouettes give Isabella's authentic designs a contemporary feel. 

A true inspiration, Isabella now has an online store and continues to promote her fashion point of view and her message of inclusivity to a growing audience. “I wish that every garment I so lovingly work on warms the dreams of other youngsters who have different abilities … we can do it!” she says.