Breaking Barriers Through Fashion: Nasheli Juliana

By: Yadira Y. Caro

The world of fashion is quite alluring yet seems unattainable. For Nasheli Juliana Ortiz, the road to become a fashion designer has not been easy but has been very successful. She is the Chair of the Fashion Design Department at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and is now getting ready to present her designs at Paris Fashion Week next month.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, she overcame health-related obstacles which ultimately lead her to this world thanks to her persistence, hard word, and talent. After completing studies in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, she held several positions as a university professor and worked with multiple well-known designers. I asked Nasheli about her childhood challenges, misconceptions of the fashion industry, and how famed designer Oscar de la Renta gave her the first break. She gave great advice which can be applied to anyone in any industry.

 

Why did you wanted to be a fashion designer?

I had developing problems went when I was growing up: I had meningitis when I was 2 years old so I was in a coma. I’ve always had (learning) problems in school and my mom forced me to be in painting, drawing and dance to help me develop fine motor skills. The only thing that I knew how to do was doing clothes for my Barbies. I spent hours and hours doing clothes for my Barbies with paper towels or whatever I found around the house. When the time to select my high school came my mom said ‘you’re going to the vocational school.’ I didn’t want to go to the vocational school because none of my friends were going. But she enrolled me and I remember the first task was to do short pants and a waistband. It was the first time that I understood something completely. So I think my mom forced me to be a fashion designer. It was because she saw that something in me that I didn’t discover it until that moment.

How do you know that you could make a career out of fashion designing?

I did not knew that, really. We do not have a lot of Latino fashion designers to feel represented. I was very ignorant about the fashion industry. I started as a seamstress and then when I went to the university was when I learned that fashion design is a whole industry. I went to the Dominican Republic and studied at Altos de Chavon. I learned there all the things that you can do inside of the industry. That was the moment I said ‘oh I can still make a living being a fashion designer and not die,’ because in Puerto Rico there is still the idea that if you are in the fashion and art industries you are going to starve. That has not happened and I am happy as a fashion designer (laughs).

What do what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the industry of fashion design?

That is glamorous (laughs). Fashion design is not glamorous at all. Its very mean, classist, sexist, and as a Latina it has been very difficult to achieve anything. I’m not in any way what people think about of a fashion designer: I am a Latina with a very strong accent and I am even fat; fat people are not allowed in fashion. It’s a very mean industry. Even though I love it I am very aware of all these sad parts of the fashion industry.

What are two or three key things a person needs to make it in the industry and be successful?

You need to be disciplined. It is very hard to make it and you need to be very disciplined, be open to feedback and you need to be willing to work with other people. This is a collaboration field.

How do you describe your designing style?

As a fashion designer I work two sides: I work ready to wear, daylight wearing clothes. I like to use a lot of stretch bands; these are very comfortable clothes. On the other side is the most conceptual side. I present social problems in my conceptual work which I present in the runways. My work is very conceptual and political.

What are you communicating through your designs?

I just want people to understand that fashion has a lot of power. Fashion is seen a lot of times as very vain, but we communicate who we are and we make statements through our clothes. Clothes have been in power in the political aspects, how to use uniforms, women liberating themselves from the corset as empowered groups. even the people that are anti-fashion are making a statement and that is fashion. I want to keep that message right. Clothes have a message and that is very powerful.

33343550_10155334039336373_9116351016730624000_n
Part of the collection Breaking Arrow…PR, inspired by tumultuous historical episodes between the US and Puerto Rico.

 

Can you describe example of a failure that you learned from that turn into something successful?

My career started when I was graduating and during my final presentation one of the critics that came to see my work was Oscar de la Renta. It was a critique in front of all my classmates. I was pregnant with my first kid at the time and Oscar de la Renta said ‘you are going to be a great designer.’ Nobody in my classroom knew that I was pregnant, only my professor. When Oscar de la Renta said that, she (the professor) said in front of everybody, ‘first she needs to be a mom.’ Because it was so mean and Oscar de la Renta heard that he said, ‘well I am going to give her her first internship.’ That is how I landed the first job. People want to get you down but karma is instant (laughs).

32919673_10155334039356373_2599453274285277184_n

What would you recommend to anybody who is thinking about being fashion design or in a related field?

I believe in academia. I believe is very important to have that formal education, that safe space to make mistakes and to have a group of people there are searching for the same goals that you are searching.

I think education is very important. A lot of people think that because they know how to sew that they are fashion designers and its a very big step and very big path to get from one to another. Education is one of the biggest things that we’re missing now in the fashion industry because fashion is a reflection of society. You need to have an anthropology context, a history context, a psychology context to understand what is design, it’s so unique and you can only have that in academia.

Are there are any two or three resources you recommend?

I am reading two books now: The Latin American Fashion Reader and Liberated Threads, Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul. With all the things happening now in the United States, I think its very important that we understand about appropriation and empowerment of black women and Latin American women through fashion.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Communicate Blog is Back (plus Lessons from Interviewees)

Communicate Blog is back! Since I posted my last interview in 2015, a lot has changed: I moved to Germany, Europe for a work opportunity, I shifted jobs (twice!) as a US Department of Defense consultant in the field of knowledge management and IT, I completed new certifications including my PMP (finally!) and Security Plus, plus had a new baby.

Even though I have been quite busy with all of these changes, I still felt the urge to connect with professionals in multiple fields, and highlight their accomplishments and lessons learned. So after some hesitation figuring out how to find the time, I decided to venture into blogging again! Every two weeks, I will be publishing new content with interviews to people not just in the field of communications, but in the areas of management, technology, art and many others. The topics have expanded to reflect my new interests and the realization that no matter our chosen professions, we have lots to learn from each other.

While I continue working on my next post, I wanted to give some updates on some of the people I interviewed 3 years ago.

Justin George, journalist

Back in 2015, I had a great conversation with Justin about the challenges and the value of journalism. After leaving The Baltimore Sun, Justin joined The Marshall Project, a not for profit non-partisan news organization covering the US justice system. He covers criminal justice politics and policy, particularly anything related with criminal justice reform, and improving opportunities of prisoners.

13332974_10157095269570165_2177528391160834175_n
Justin George

Today, he is a busy as ever especially during the current political climate in the country and recent violence where journalists have been the victims. What has he learned recently? “I’ve learned that great journalism takes great support. From editors and photojournalists and graphic artists, etc. The cutting of staffs at local newspapers has decimated the industry and what people are losing is quality and the ability to truly have important issues in their communities investigated thoroughly. Which is why nonprofit journalism such as The Marshall Project and Pro Publica is so important – to fill in for legacy media institutions that are getting gutted by greedy corporate owners or due to losses in readership or advertisers.”

Alan Taveras, entrepreneur

In our interview, I spoke with Alan about a new start-up his brother Guarien and him were launching: Brands of Puerto Rico. This ecommerce platform provides the opportunity to local businesses and entrepreneurs to sell their products globally. The reception has been so great that they also launched five more markets where local businesses in each area offer their products to the world: Brands of Mexico, Brands of Nicaragua, Brands of Dominican Republic and Brands of El Paso.

28953704_10160090783850361_7928263122171607019_o
Alan Taveras

I should also highlight the devastation Puerto Rico experienced last year during Hurricane Maria did not stop them. Furthermore, Alan put together brigades to collect and bring food and first-need articles to areas where governmental aid had not reached. Per Alan, the most valuable lesson he has learned in the past yew years “is the importance of having the financials in place to look for funding that fuels growth.”

Vanessa Vazquez, journalist turned developer

My longtime friend Vanessa was one of the first interviews for this blog. Back then we were talking about her journalism career, but today she has shifted to a career as a lead software developer for Johnson and Johnson focusing on online marketing. She is also a certified Scrum Master.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Vanessa Vazquez

Her advice? “You always have to be able and willing to learn something new. Adapting is the key to stay ahead in technology and in your personal life as well.”

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!

Time to learn more

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Interviews have been one of my preferred ways of learning. It’s very compelling to hear stories on how others achieve their goals, how they have dealt with challenges, what processes they use for learning, what compels them to do more. I was excited to finally be able to ask some of these questions to a few great communication professionals this past summer through this blog. Communicate has being a vehicle to learn many lessons and share them with the public.

images-2

A repeated theme in the interviews has been to always seek learning. This is why I decided to go back to school for a few months to hopefully gather the skills I can put to practice in my career and future projects. Since launching a blog and making it successful relies on consistency, I’ve decided to put the blog on hold while I take some courses: full time job, family and school will leave me with very limited or no time to publish on a regular basis. Since the list of people I want to pursue for interviews is too long, I am hoping to retake the interviews next year.

Thanks for reading and sharing the content.

Let’s communicate via Twitter @yadicarocaro.