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Zoë told me over the phone that she started her eponymous fashion line, Zoë Damacela Apparel, when she was 14 years old. Taking a school sewing class led to her first creation—pajamas—but what really turned heads were her dresses, which she liked to wear herself. “I had never really thought seriously about becoming a fashion designer until people started telling me I should be,” she says.
Since realizing her creations could create a cash flow, too, Zoë, now 21, has built an awesome business crafting beautiful clothes. Zoë describes her aesthetic as “really girly and feminine but also sort of eclectic.” Bright colors and interesting textures inspire her line, which you can find almost exclusively at www.zoedamacela.com (though she does create custom-made apparel, such as the occasional wedding dress!).
“The type of girl who would like Zoë Damacela Apparel is someone in her late teens or early 20s,” she shares. “She’s girly, and she’s romantic, but she’s also a little bit edgy and likes things that are a little different.”
Zoë has caught the attention of far more than her classmates. Winning second place in a national business contest led to her meeting President Barack Obama in the Oval Office when she was 17 years old. How cool is that?
But wait, it gets better—none other than Tyra Banks herself saw Zoë on TV a year later and invited her to come on her talk show. Zoë thought she was showcasing her designs in front of an audience, but she got a bona fide mentor out of the opportunity, too. “[Tyra] is the most helpful person,” Zoë says. “I talk to her every week. She models my clothes and introduces me to people in the industry. She writes letters of recommendations for me and gives me boosts whenever I need it.”
Do you see a trend here? And I don’t just mean trendy—which Zoë’s creations definitely are. So many people have realized how awesome Zoë’s venture is. She even was on the cover of Seventeen magazine after winning its “Pretty Amazing” contest.
I am inspired by how far Zoë has come, all through hard work. She told me that she grew up in a single-parent household with her South American immigrant mother. They were “extremely poor,” living on government assistance in Section 8 housing. They lived in 22 different places by the time she was 17 years old. They were even homeless for a while.
But Zoë was resilient. The hardships actually led to her interest in entrepreneurship. And it all began with a Razor Scooter when she was 8 years old. When her mom told her that she couldn’t afford to buy her one, Zoë didn’t take no for an answer. Finally, her mom told her that if Zoë could raise half the price of a Razor Scooter, she would pay for the other half.
“I went into my room and looked around, and I grabbed some construction paper and art supplies and made greeting cards,” Zoë remembers.
And guess what? She raised the money in a few hours. “When I got the scooter, I really didn’t play with it,” Zoë says with a laugh. “I was much more interested in continuing this business.”
That business didn’t last for long, though: Zoë turned to fine art, then hair accessories, and finally something stuck: her fashion. I love her piece of advice that you don’t hear often: It is ok to quit. In fact, quitting can lead to some amazing learning experiences and opportunities. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I weren’t a quitter,” she says.
This fashionista has big dreams for her business. But first, she wants to finish college before she can get things rolling. The Northwestern University senior double majors in History and Political Science. Not what you’d expect from a fashion entrepreneur, right? But for Zoë, it’s all part of the plan.
Zoë aims to adjust her current business plan after graduation to help women in third-world countries by offering them fair trade relationships—microloans and sourcing, as well as offering them management and finance classes. The ultimate goal? To enable them to “build their own independent businesses to supply fabric to my company in the United States.”
Her family’s roots in South America opened her eyes to “so many interesting textiles and indigenous ways of making fabric that are dying out,” she says.
“I didn’t want to go the route of being a traditional fashion designer,” she shares. “Unfortunately, the [fashion] industry can be a little bit shallow and selfish. So, as opposed to making clothes and money for myself, I wanted to create a way to express my creativity and come up with designs and help people in the process.”
Another awesome piece of advice from Zoë: you can tailor your life the way you see fit. “College gave me the opportunity to rather than learn about broadly subjects, tailor the classes I took to ultimately reach goal of having double-bottom-line company.”
Did I mention that Zoë will also be designing for Macy’s Department Stores starting October 2014?
Told you she was pretty amazing.