The Fashion Designer Who's Bringing Visual Impairment Into the Fashion Industry

Bianca Von Stempel is a fashion designer motivated towards changing perceptions of visual impairment through her love for fashion design. Raising awareness of sight loss through her creative and dynamic deisgns. Out to prove that sight loss isn't a barrier to achieving your aspirations in life.

Bianca Von Stempel is a fashion designer motivated towards changing perceptions of visual impairment through her love for fashion design. Raising awareness of sight loss through her creative and dynamic deisgns. Out to prove that sight loss isn't a barrier to achieving your aspirations in life.

Stempel, aged 20, is a London based student studying a degree in fashion design. She's currently in the stages of completing her final collection for her degree and her designs have been featured at London Fashion Week.

Stempel was born with a condition that affects her sight, leaving her with no central vision in one eye and only light perception in the other. She also has Nystagmus-an eye condition that causes the eye to move involuntarily, making focusing difficult. Yet, Stempel is determined to pursue a career as a fashion designer, by showing how her visual impairment provides her with a unique perspective into art and the world of fashion design.

'I've always had an interest in fashion and the visual arts,' Stempel says. 'When I was a teenager I started to take more creative pathways in my education, I started with Jewelry making, textiles, embroidery and gradually worked my way towards fashion. I look through magazines, Instagram and online just like any other fashion enthusiast to see what's going on in the fashion scene. I absolutely love embroidery, drapery and the use of different materials.'

Stempel began to adopt an interest in fashion and design when she took a course in basic Jewellery making, from there she began to take courses in design, art and textile. She then applied to study fashion at university and was accepted to study a Degree in Fashion at Kingston University where she is due to showcase her collection on the university catwalk this summer. Best known for her quirky edge and her flare for Raw Couture, Stempel's designs are all about femininity, indiviudality and expressing her perceptions of the visual world as someone with sight loss.

'For me my designs are based on personal experiences,' she says. 'I base my designs on the way I see the world, my designs use a method of hand embroidery in a zig-zag irregular pattern to mimic the way my eyes move from having Nystagmus. It looks like a frustration and it very much is and it is something very personal to me. I wanted my designs not just to reflect what I love most as an individual such as art, nature and beautiful drapery that hangs off the female form in a sculpted way. But, I also wanted to use fashion to bring the topic of visual impairment to the forum, so that's why I decided to embroider my designs using this unique method to show how I perceive my surroundings.'

Stemepl's collection is emphasised on the difficulties of her not being able to access a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition due to visual impairment. She has created a collection using embroidery, drape, silk, lace and paper silk to make her designs a tangible world that appeals to the sense of touch as well as sight. Stempel also draws a lot of inspiration from shapes, nature, architecture and texture for her designs. Her designs are made by pinning fabric onto a clothes manequin and hand sewing them around the shape of the mannequin. Her designs are focused around accentuating the human form and celebrating the beauty of women with a desire to be unique.

'Unique is our greatest power,' she says. 'That's what I want my designs to show, they are about expressing yourself and showing the visual world from a different vantage point.'

Throughout her studies Stempel has discovered tricks and methods of being able to create her designs that are accessible to her. She uses her remaining vision to hand stitch her designs. She uses two different colour threads along with a large needle which is clearly visible to the eye. One thread is in a colour which corresponds to the colour scheme of the garment and the other is in a brighter colour which is easily visible to see. After she has completed the sewing and gathering of the garment, she pulls out the brighter colour thread leaving the other intact. She also works closely with two support workers who were both fashion students previously under education at Kingston University during the photographing and digital stages of her course. She uses a large computer screen with magnification and a magnifying glass when looking at smaller details like patterns or embroidery.

During her time at Kingston University, Stempel has received a hugely positive response from her fellow students and the staff of the university.

'The response has been amazing! I can't believe how great its been, so many people have liked the message I am trying to spread through my designs of how my visual impairment enables me to see the world through a unique perspective. Although, I always hear people saying, "oh wow you don't look blind!" which baffles me because why shouldn't I want to look nice as a human being? But, overall the response has been great and I'm looking forward to showing my friends and family my collection in June. It's been lots of hard work and I'm so relieved I'm almost at the finish line.'

With her degree drawing to a close, Stempel has high hopes for her future in fashion design. She is currently looking into pursuing a masters degree and has aspirations to have her own clothing label. Determined to make her mark on the fashion scene with her own unique viewpoint. She is also geared towards making the fashion industry more inclusive for people with sight loss by being an active presence in fashion scene, representing the sight loss community. Stempel believes that the fashion industry should be doing more to make fashion accessible both online and at catwalk shows; by having accessible online portals for people to find out about upcoming trends and for there to be more awareness of visual impairment and disability at catwalk events.

'Being visually impaired doesn't mean you can't be fashionable, creative or individual and I really want people to see that. My sight loss gives me my own unique little twist on my creativity, but that's just it. It hasn't stopped me because I wanted to pursue my love for fashion and I will continue to do so.'

To hear a full interview with Bianca check out the Fashionability podcast channel.

You can find out more about Bianca Von Stempel and her work on her website and Instagram.


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