HOUSTON - A local designer recently launched her fashion line in Houston. She's creating comfortable, eye-catching looks, all while legally blind and using her disability to power her dream.
Tricia Waechter has a form of retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable, rare genetic eye disorder that has left her with only ten percent of her vision.
"I’ve heard somebody call it a slow-moving train wreck. It progresses like [multiple sclerosis]," explains Waechter.
"You don’t know what’s going to happen, and what symptoms are trying to come out, when it’s going to happen or if it’s going to happen."
After her diagnosis in the late '90s, her deteriorating vision threatened her three-decade career in fashion as a merchandising officer and wholesale buyer.
"I’m flying all over the world. I’m going to London once a month, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. I’m going to figure out how to make it work for me," she says, "so I did for a really long time."
Waechter hid her disability, doing things like counting the steps to the bathroom in her New York office until her employer was bought out and her son got a job offer in Houston. She followed and eventually learned to embrace her authentic self.
"You know what? I’m just going to tell everybody I’m blind! I am visually impaired," she says.
"I got on a plane. I went to New York. I bought a bunch of fabric."
She founded Blind Girl Designs in January 2021 and officially launched in March using a "fabric first" approach by selecting the materials before researching trends on her high contrast computer, then using bold sharpies for sketching. She typically uses a headlight while she’s working so that she can see clearly.
Family and friends help her out, making patterns and driving her to mail orders that are produced locally.
"It has really restored my confidence because a lot of what I do is in my intellect and my visual memory knowledge of the industry," says Waechter.
She’s making a comeback in an industry that relies on more than sight.
"When you go to any of the fabric shows, people stand at all the displays with their eyes closed and touch fabrics. It’s a surprising thing, you have all these people from all over the world, and they’re all touching fabrics with their eyes closed."
Cardigans carry red, white, and black buttons as a nod to her guide cane. They also have enormous labels that are easier for the eyes of people with impaired vision. They read, "Proudly made in Houston, Texas".
With steady orders and a boutique deal in the works, Waechter is adding flair to an increasing number of wardrobes, including her niece's who is also diagnosed with RP.
Waechter says she is hoping to blot out stigmas towards blind people and promote disability access all while creating bold looks the world can't wait to see.