Everyone always wants to change something about themselves, be it straight hair when they have naturally curly, to be a couple of inches taller without the heels or to have emerald eyes without the contacts.
But the registered blind third year fashion student will not want to change her eyesight for 20/20 anytime soon to be like all the other designers out there.
“I don’t think I would be the same designer if I had perfect eyesight, I think I would be very different. Everyone is creative in their own way and none of us are the same anyway, you couldn’t even try to be the same. You don’t want to design like another designer that’s out there because you want to be original and originality is where it gets you,” Bianca von Stempel says.
“I think you come out as a designer in your drawings, that’s what I’ve learnt. You sort of find your lines, you find your pen brushes in how you put pen to paper and you’ll just draw what you feel. You’ll draw the opposite side of you, like who you want to be will come out in your fashion illustrations and that’s what kind of happened with me,” the 23-year-old says.
The Richmond native created fashion pieces that shortlisted her for the FAD (Faculty of arts and design) competition, a creative charity competition helping bridge the gap between university and the fashion industry, without the use of her fine vision.
“I rely on my touch, like everything is about touch. All my media that I use is mix media. I use pen, pencil, watercolour sticks and the papers that I use are normally quite textured. I’ve mastered sewing and drawing with a lot of help and patience when I’m shown new things, mainly, and doing it over and over again,” the womenswear designer says.
But while some would think minimal eyesight would put Bianca at a disadvantage, she thinks otherwise.
“I think I see the essential in what a woman would want to wear and what shapes fit them. I personally design very feminine and elegant pieces,” she says.
“My favourite design is a dress I designed for FAD which is asymmetric. It’s got sort of a loose strapped top, which is slightly wonky and a drape that falls down the whole dress to below the knee and over the top of that is embroidery and knit, like really thick, and on that is layers. It’s almost like a gathered shape that’s literally like a halo and it goes all around the dress and the waist and it’s all gathered in the center and it’s sleeveless,” she says.
Her eyes begin to move faster, giving away that something is on her mind.
“I think that any women’s body is beautiful, so I think you should really show off who you are. But obviously fashion has to a. look fantastic and b. feel amazing. You just really have to believe in yourself and I believe that what I design is positive and it gives positive vibes and you feel good in it and I would feel good in it.”
But not everything is as easy as it sounds for the designer who grew up loving altering her own clothes and adding a bit of sparkle to them.
“Everyday life is quite a challenge. I use my sight for pretty much everything that I can, but I do get really tired. I get a lot of eyestrain, so my eyes will just droop and go to sleep, and headaches,” she says.
Doing an undergraduate degree at one of the top three ranking universities in the world for its fashion program, that is incredibly fast pace, and keeping up with all the sewing, drawing, Photoshop and Illustrator work is stressful enough. But add in a disability, like being registered blind and it can get any person down.
“The visual side of it, like sewing, pattern cutting and all the computer software I find really difficult because I see better up close. So it means that I have to be so close to something that I lose the whole sort of surrounding and I don’t see periphery as well, so I lose that in the context of doing my work, so that’s how fashion problems come about.
“I have felt at a disadvantage with this course, like I felt like I wanted to drop out 50 million times because I just feel like I can’t do it, I can’t get it done in time and I’m just not good enough to do it. So it does really get me down, especially when I’m really tired, but it’s just sort of thinking ‘actually no, this can be done, it’s going to be done, and there is no other way’,” the designer says with a triumphant smile on her face.
But even with all the ups and downs that she has had to go through the years, there is nothing else she would rather be doing and Bianca would go through them again if it meant becoming a runway and womenswear fashion designer, like her inspiration, Italian designer Valentino.
“What’s the point in just kicking all the towels in and just not doing it anymore? I would miss it so much, I love the design process so much.”
But do not expect to see her designs down a runway with ‘The Blind Designer’ as her label’s name at a major fashion week in the not too distant future.
“I just want to be known as a designer. But it doesn’t bother me if someone tells me ‘oh you’re blind’, because I’m such a free person that I just let it wash over me and I just laugh about it, so I don’t mind,” Bianca says with a big smile.
‘The cat disease’
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that spreads from cats, undercooked meat or unwashed fruit and vegetables. Bianca’s mother caught the rare disease while pregnant. Toxoplasmosis can damage the baby’s brain, eyes or other organs.
“I was born with slightly more sight than what I have now, but it was not until later in my development that the loss of sight was detected,” Bianca says.
The disease affected each eye differently.
“I have no fine vision, so I don’t see anything at a distance, it’s a complete blur and I am also practically blind in my right eye because I had a lot of significant scarring in my right eye,” she said.
The scarring comes from the parasite being active in the back of her retina.
“I see everything with my left eye and it is basically blurred. I have no central vision and I’m forced to use my peripheral vision in my left eye. I’m unable to read text 20cm in height from a metre away.”