A Fashion Designer’s Journey; Overcoming Challenges & Hitting Targets

Keryn Nelson
Keryn Nelson


Overcoming Challenges & Hitting Targets

Sometimes, heading down the path to dream actualization means committing to seasons of discomfort and trial.
Sometimes, watching a friend trudge that path is as troubling as going through it yourself.

About eleven/ twelve months ago, Kumi (Kumiko Yamaguchi to the less familiar), decided to take the first step towards making her dreams of becoming a Fashion Designer come true. Months into her journey however, I watched as she, one of the first friends I made while studying abroad in Taiwan, courageously confronted the aftermath of having a key element of her *Plan* fall through the cracks.

Throughout University, Kumi and I bonded over two things; one, despite coming from different parts of the planet (Kumi, Asia, myself, the Caribbean), our mixed heritages were often at the center of our deepest conversations. She would share with me how being the daughter of a Japanese father and Taiwanese mother resulted in her living with “exclusion” as a recurring theme in her life. I never said this to her, but I wondered if that was what fostered the awareness she showed towards others’ identities; something I concluded while observing her appetite for learning about different backgrounds and cultures. A habit that would even translate into her introducing a segment on the school, radio program she hosted where she conducted interviews with members of the student body from various countries, having us share the ins and outs of our cultures with her predominantly Taiwanese listeners.

The second, was on fashion. Though I would not dare claim to be in anyway fashion forward, Kumi always referred to my lax mode of dress as “a mixture of street and hippie fashion”. She, on the other hand candidly affirmed her unique style, the evidence of which was apparent every time she would walk into a classroom.

Her colour combinations screamed non conformant and were hardly subtle; greens, yellows, reds, pinks laced into her hair, looping over and around limbs, draping right down to her toes. She toyed with shapes, a T-shirt never just a T-shirt and never paired with its popular ‘go-to’ counterpart, jeans, instead it was loose fitting trousers and skirts of varying lengths and patterns.

Her style choices were always bold, a contrast I felt to her delicate demeanor. However, per our heart-to-hearts, the depths of which we often found overselves swimming, emersing, exploring, I became and remained aware of the vigour, self-awareness and bravery packed inside her 5’3” frame. “That must be what is at the core of her mixing and matching” I would think about the audacious way she outiftted herself.

Aware of Kumi’s love for fashion and of the openness with which she explores the world’s cultures, I was more excited than surprised when she told me of her post University plans to take Fashion Design courses in South Africa… Months later, I was equally devastated as I was previously excited when she informed me that in that familiar whirlwind which catches us off guard, sweeps us off our feet and into a different direction than what we had envisioned, particularly in the weeks and months after graduation day, her plans had gone awry.

Kumiko would remain in Taiwan, but instead of putting off her decision to pursue fashion design, she enrolled in the ‘Tuiguang Fashion Design 2’ course at Shih Chien University, a worthy substitute as the school is famous for its Fashion Design programs.

Yet, it did not take long for her world to overturn; things were not going as expected, personal plights reared their heads and once again “exclusion” slithered into the picture. Although Taiwanese in her own right with a solid command of Mandarin, Kumi was born and spent just as much of her life in Japan as she did in Taiwan. During classes with unremorseful students whose Chinese Language abilities reflected the fact that not only did they spend their whole lives in Taiwan speaking Mandarin but also that they (unlike Kumi) did not dedicate four years to improving their English, undergoing a degree program in a language other than their mother tongue; Kumi was made to feel like an outcast. She was even subjected to insensitivities from one of the fashion experts conducting her course.

Months into her program it seemed a thick, black fog filled the open spaces of her world and began smothering her. But later, I realized what I thought had been fog was in fact dark clouds of smoke emitting from the fire that was burning inside my resilient friend.

Not only did she complete her program and end of year project; sketching, printing and stitching her pieces herself (a triumph that not all who were on the same journey could claim), but in the end everything came together in wave after wave of success. She created a complete and cohesive collection relevant to her theme “Welcome to My World”; a commentary on the noninclusive standards set by “Barbie” and the world’s acceptance of her features being the default image of ‘beauty’. She also got a diverse group of models to appear photographed in her designs as well as to walk at the school’s popular runway show presentation where she won the prize for “Best Fabric Design”.


I cannot think of a better end to this “first-step” chapter.

From my point of view, Kumi’s journey thus far is a true testiment to the personal and phyisical rewards that one acquires after relying on perseverance, purpose and dedication to a vision to see them through setbacks.

Although I am oceans away I want to lead the toast in congratulating a dear friend for successfully completing her first official collection and stomping over her challenges like a real badass.

Here’s to more!

More triumphs…

More KumiKo collections..

More memories

and More growth!


Leave a Comment