Update: In January 2017, RLSB merged with the Royal Society for Blind Children. Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following blog.
At RLSB, we know that blind young people have the potential to achieve their dreams and challenge negative perceptions of what they are capable of. We see it day in and day out at RLSB’s Employability Programme. Bianca Von Stemple is one such individual. She’s a 23 year old Kingston University fashion graduate who’s proving that a blind person can be a fashion designer.
Bianca’s work has already been featured at London Fashion Week, and she’s even worked with designer Mary Katrantzou whose collections are sold worldwide in over 200 fashion shops, including Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.
We spoke to Bianca about how her visual impairment has influenced her designs, and how she is proving to the fashion industry that a blind person can be a fashion designer.
How did you get interested in fashion?
“I always loved art because my mum’s an artist. I also really liked doing jewelry courses, which then led into textiles. I also did silversmithing, and I enjoyed making little hand bags and purses. After college, where I did foundations in art and textiles A Levels, I applied to universities and got into Kingston University to study a fashion degree.”
What is unique about your designs?
“I only do women’s wear, and all of my work is hand-made. It’s hand stitched with embroidery. I have a mannequin and I’ll drape the fabric over the female body on the stand and then once I’ve got a design that I like I’ll start sowing it together.
Due to my sight loss I use a lot of textured based material. I was a braillist until I was 13, so I’ve actually integrated braille into my collection. Instead of embossing braille I’ve actually reversed it, so it’s cut out holes. I have two dresses that are covered in raised braille, where I’ve laced stick-up braille all over the skirts. I’ve used silks, laces and nets. Every single fabric is chosen not only for how it looks, but also how it feels.
My inspiration is drawn from Helen Keller the blind and deaf writer. The quote that’s all over the clothes in braille says ‘The only thing worse than blindness is having sight but not vision.’”
What technology and assistance have you needed to complete such a visual course?
“The way that my sight works means that I have no central vision. I use the essentials of what I see to create a drawing or embroidery or a hand-drawing. When sewing, I use a large needle that’s clearly visible, with two coloured threads, one of which is brightly coloured. Once the gathering of the garment is complete, I pull out the brightly coloured thread leaving the thread that matches the colour of the clothing intact. I use magnification software and get assistance from support workers when sketching my designs on a computer, as programmes like Illustrator and In-Design are visual tools, and not accessible for vision impaired people.”
How can the fashion industry become more inclusive?
“The fashion industry need to give people a chance. They assume that just because you can’t see you can’t do anything. In my case, yes I used to read braille but I can also read and write print too, and I can draw. Fashion shows are also not very accessible for vision impaired people.
“When my designs were featured at London Fashion Week, I had to sit in the third row, which meant I didn’t get to see the models wearing my clothes on the cat walk. It’s really important to me that I can show my garments to people that are blind and partially sighted. In future, I’d like to put some of my creations on mannequins so that vision impaired people could feel and appreciate the designs.”
What’s your dream for the future?
“I’m applying to do a masters degree to continue my studies in fashion at the moment. My ultimate dream is to have my own label.”
If you’re vision impaired, 18-25, and live in London, you can follow Bianca’s example, and make your dream career a reality.
By taking part in our Employability Programme you and a support worker will work through an employability path to find out more about the career you would like, and the relevant workshops you can participate in to help you get ready for employment.
If you’d like to know more, fill in the form below and we’ll get in touch with you to arrange an induction session with you.
Image credit: bvonstempel