HOUSTON — Sometimes, losing sight of nearly everything helps you see things you never knew were there.
Tricia Waechter is a Texas fashion designer living in Houston. She spent 35 years in the fashion industry traveling around the world to see clients and attend numerous shows in her industry. She was considered "The Eye" when it came to colors and trends in her field.
Over the years, she realized her vision was not what it once had been and while that happens to many people as they grow older, Waechter knew this was something more. After seeking out medical advice, she was told she had a rare eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
"My job was to be able to call trends going from 12 to 24 months," Waechter said. "After that time I continued to lose vision in that period really rapidly."
According to the National Eye Institute, this condition involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. The condition affects nearly one in 4,000 people and is incurable.
In an industry where having "the eye" is so important, a condition like retinitis pigmentosa may seem like the end of a dream.
"That's what you get hired for, having a great eye," Waechter said. "I applied for jobs and then when I would read the specs of the job, I realized I could no longer do the job."
Waechter's eyesight is now at about 10% she said and she mainly can see in the daylight. She no longer has the ability to look at 100 or 1,000 apparel items daily like she once did.
Eventually, she lost her job and it took a mental toll on her as she transitioned to becoming blind. She said in the fashion industry, walking into an interview with a 10 foot cane was like rejection before making it all the way through the door.
"It completely devastated me, not only personally, professionally but you know financially," Waechter said. "I went from really high flying successful to just unearned."
Waechter said she wasn't the only one who struggled with her new way of life. Some of her close friends didn't want her to use her cane when working with clients.
"That itself was soul-crushing," she said.
But just when she felt as if her world was disappearing as fast as she felt her sight was going, she decided she was going to get back to living her life.
"One day I just woke up and said screw it," Waechter said. "I'm just gonna tell everybody I'm blind. I'm not gonna try to hide it. I am the blind girl."
Waechter started therapy and she said her life turned around slowly. But she didn't leave the fashion industry.
Far from it.
"I just decided to start a company called Blind Girl Designs."
Blind Girl Designs is a clothing brand based in Houston. She hand designs and produces clothing like sweatshirts, dresses and hoodies. The company also sells hats and accessories. With the help of her niece, Molly Lauren, the pair launched their new business on January 1, 2021.
"We did our first really really big event called 'Let's Go Shopping' which is an audio only Zoom event for blind people," Waechter said. "Just anybody who thinks they can't make it across that line and make it to that next level, we can."
Waechter even created an entire holiday line of sweatshirts featuring the use of canes.
She said there were so many times she wanted to give up and she had to push herself to keep going while her eyes were hurting. However, she learned to embrace the obstacles she was facing were going to be a part of her life. Losing her sight never meant she had to lose her vision.
"Shed the negativity and be optimistic, believe in yourself," Waechter said. "A year ago I was crying about the loss of my vision and my career and now I'm going to be an exhibitor."
In July, Blind Girl Designs will be the first exhibitor and only apparel line at the American Council for the Blind Convention. Find more of her designs at her website and follow her on all social media platforms @BlindGirlDesigns.