Grad Creates Adaptive Apparel Collection Inspired by Her Own Journey
Alyssa Chavez was born and raised in Houston, Texas where she attended Klein High School. She first heard about FIDM in eighth grade after being given an assignment to research three colleges she wanted to attend. “FIDM was my first and only choice,” said Alyssa, who took a fashion class in tenth grade. “My teacher Mrs. Villa furthered my spark and pushed me into getting scholarships to attend FIDM.” Then at age 15, Alyssa’s life was forever changed after experiencing a high fever, multiple infections, and a slew of neurological symptoms that affected her ability to speak, process information, and even move. After seeing “every kind of specialist,” Alyssa was diagnosed with chronic active Epstein-Barr syndrome, and later chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy, and a brain tumor.
“I thought I had a rare disease, something doctors had not seen, but then I went online and found people all over the world living with the same symptoms, similarly isolated, similarly in disbelief,” said Alyssa, who thought of the idea for an adaptive clothing line when she was a junior in high school. “Fashion brands never address customers' disabilities. And if they do, it is more of tokenism, not something reflected in the clothing. This brand, CHA, I’m creating is adopted on the idea of living your best life despite your disability.” After earning a degree in Apparel Industry Management, Alyssa continued her education in FIDM’s Advanced Study program in Menswear. We recently chatted with her to learn more about her unique design vision and how FIDM is helping her get closer to her career goals.
When did you develop an interest in design? I think I’ve always had an interest in the fashion industry since I was a little kid. At a very young age, I was making my designs and putting on little homemade fashion shows with my twin. No neon sign suddenly lit up and told me I had found my passion. It was quite calmer. One day, I was just sewing one of my pieces, and I looked around my room filled with garments and everything inside of me felt safe. And I knew this was it.
What led you to the Menswear program at FIDM? I wanted to challenge myself and explore new and exciting options in this field. Being multi-skilled is extremely important to me. I currently hold a degree in Apparel Industry Management, Menswear, and will further my studies in the Bachelor of Science degree program in Business Management.
Tell us about your work for the recent Menswear Student Exhibition: What was apparent to me is that the majority of Americans have a disability, but our clothing lines in every industry do not cater to them. There are more dog lines than adaptive ones. Clothing affects self-esteem and getting dressed is a process of self-expression. So, not being able to perform this simple task of dressing put me in a state of hatred towards myself. And I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way with their disability.
In my menswear collection, I designed and made three looks. The first one is chemo/radiation focused; second is wheelchair/prosthetic focused; and look three is designed for the vision impaired. Each look was designed and purpose-built to facilitate effortless dressing with magnets, velcro, buckles, and magnetic zippers. I’m allowing my community to feel more like themselves in order to find their confidence once again.
What is your unique design vision? CHA is an adaptive clothing brand aimed at the growing disability community. CHA’s mission is to serve as a tool to empower peoples' unique abilities allowing them to become more independent and to inspire others towards a more inclusive universal design. My brand goal is to make CHA the go-to adaptive line for people with disabilities.
What is a valuable lesson you’ve learned in this Advanced Study program? Hard work and determination pay off, but it’s also okay to take a break from time to time for your health.
How is FIDM helping you get closer to your career goals? I have made so many incredible connections here that I wouldn’t make anywhere else. FIDM has opened many doors for me. especially in Menswear, the amount of compliments and recognition I have received since has been a dream come true. Little me would never have thought I would be living my dream.
Anything else you'd like to share? Not only is my brand designed for the disabled community, but it’s also universal. Anyone can wear my brand due to the unique trims my brand carries. I have received feedback from people outside the disabled community that love my clothes due to the different unique closures you don’t see. Everyone loves anything that makes everyday tasks much easier.