Natalie Trevonne is a true testament to not being defeated. At 11 years old, she was diagnosed with cataracts. Even through a host of surgeries, her vision continued to diminish, as she entered college. As Trevonne shared with BGN, “I chose, at that point, to just enjoy the rest of my life as a blind woman and enjoy the value of life.”
BGN had the opportunity to speak with Trevonne about being the first blind fashion designer to create her own NFT wedding dress, challenges that she’s turned into triumphs and the importance of networking and stepping outside the box.
While attending college at Cal State Poly Pomona, what were some of the challenges you faced?
I had no resources, other than a rehab counselor that was trying to walk me through the transition. I didn’t know at the time there were independent centers where you could go to learn how to cook, clean, and live on your own. So, I had to teach myself a lot of things on my own.
I was blessed because God allowed me to meet some really great girls. I never once had to go eat by myself. Even when I did learn about the campus, they still would invite me to spend time. I was never by myself like I thought I would be. I’m so grateful they saw me as a person and not my disability. I was able to excel because they were so accepting of me. That made my college experience easy, as far as making friends and being the only blind person in a school of 20,000 people.
It took me a long time to advocate for myself and let teachers know what I needed. Not every teacher was understanding, so I had to fight for myself. I’m more quiet, reserved, and introverted due to my disability. But as an advocate now, I’m learning how to be more social and outgoing. But it was very hard for me at first to make that transition and figuring out what it means to be an advocate. What does it mean to ask for accommodations? What does it mean to problem-solve and still turn assignments in on time?
Navigating through the workforce is a challenge within itself, but you were able to leverage LinkedIn to create your own NFT wedding dress. How did this opportunity come about?
I moved to the East Coast in early 2020 because I was thinking about going to the Fashion Institute of Technology and doing the fabric styling certificate. I’ve always had this passion for fashion, and it seemed like a vehicle to educate others. People would come to my closet and ask what they should wear. I was thinking, “I have something here.”
At the time, I was only working freelance and PR. There was no such thing as a blind publicist. Even though I was getting these cool interviews, I think people just couldn’t get past it. So, I thought, “Maybe I’ll switch gears and see if I can do some fashion styling.” Then, the world shut down [with the pandemic]. I was just sitting on the couch, in my uncle’s apartment in Philadelphia, quarantined. But I still wanted to do something fashion related, even though we were inside.
Initially, I was going to do a blog where I told the background story of different fashion creatives so that I could get to know the business better. My friend, Melissa Lomax, was going to do the editing, and we were so excited about the project. When we told one of our mentors, J.D. Michaels, she said that we needed to make a podcast because it sounds a lot better when you talk about it versus writing about it.
I thought, “How do I get in touch with fashion creatives?” The way that I was able to do it was just by reaching out to people on LinkedIn. People were willing to talk to us because they were sitting at home as well. We did two seasons of Fashionably Tardy, and we’re super proud of what we did. We’re on hiatus right now.
Because of the podcast, we were able to spread the news about what it means to be accessible within the fashion industry, how to ensure website accessibility for brands, and how to make products more accessible for people who are blind and low-vision — just all these really cool tricks and things to make your brand truly inclusive. That got the attention of Ernest Spicer, a digital artist in the NFT space. He asked if we could create an NFT. I wasn’t sure what that was!
For me, I’ve been to a lot of weddings but I’ve never seen anybody who was disabled portrayed as brides, bridesmaids, flower girls, or groomsmen. There were no disabled people in wedding promotions or print. So, that’s why I decided to make the NFT wedding dress to bring awareness that we want to be included in this too. Ernest really loved the idea. Cathy Hackl, who is the “God Mom” of the Meta Universe, her avatar wore the dress at the first meta-fashion week. Now, we’re working towards getting sponsorships to make the physical version of the dress.
These days, graduates have to think outside the box and be non-traditional. How important is networking? How do you think the pandemic has changed how college graduates and creatives navigate?
It’s 100 percent must-do. I wish somebody would have told me that when I first graduated because I was trying to do everything on my own. I struggled really hard because not only am I competing against thousands of other applicants, I’m also disabled, Black, and a woman. Once I realized the power of networking, it was super helpful. My advice for people graduating is to connect to people who work in your industry. Ask them for informational meetings. Come with a plan and something you can offer.
I reached out to people and said that I was trying to bring diverse voices to the entertainment industry, and I ended up doing a presentation at Netflix on hiring people with disabilities. I found a fashion editor from Pop Sugar on LinkedIn and told her I wanted to write about disabilities and the relationship to fashion. She leaned into what I was trying to do. I’ve written two articles with them so far.
I think the pandemic has been very positive, specifically for the disabled community. Employers see that we can work from home. I think we have more authority now of what we will and will not do, as far as work ethic. You’re not lazy if you choose to work in an environment that is comfortable for you as long as you’re being productive and getting the work done. I’m able to do a lot of things because I don’t have to go into an office. It’s allowing creatives more time to create. The pandemic has changed the mindset of what a career looks like. It’s about having confidence in what you do.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.