Designing woman

Jacqueline City has overcome many obstacles to reach fashion’s biggest stages

Jacqueline City
After only one year in business, Jacqueline City’s brand, Jacqueline City Apparel, was showing at ‘New York Fashion Week: Ones To Watch,’ appearing in Vogue and soon will do Paris Fashion Week. | Image courtesy: Veronica Zin

Jacqueline City not only has overcome many challenges in her life, she now is taking the fashion world by storm.

City is a 23-year-old disabled fashion designer and CEO of Jacqueline City Apparel. She grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and currently resides in South Philadelphia. Because of her disabilities, City stresses the importance of inclusivity; her brand has options for women, men, unisex, kids and plus sizes up to a 5X. 

Jacqueline City Apparel is currently featured in British Vogue (August to October) and recently made its runway debut just one year after its launch. The show was in February at NYFW as a “New York Fashion Week: Ones to Watch.” City was invited to show at Paris Fashion Week this upcoming spring at the Ritz Paris.

City pours her heart and soul into the brand and immerses herself into all aspects of  Jacqueline City Apparel. From designing, sewing and painting items to modeling her clothes for the ads and website she runs herself, City does it all. Jacqueline even finds time to include handwritten thank you letters in many of the orders to connect with her customers – whom she calls citizens.

City is proud to be a disabled girl boss and focuses her time into her brand. She suffers from dysautonomia and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) which affects her blood flow and which left her bedridden for some time. Now that she is able to take on more, she chooses to turn her pain into art to inspire others dealing with invisible illness as well as mental health struggles, even doing public speaking engagements.

Philadelphia Weekly recently caught up with City to talk about her career and all things fashion.

When did you first become interested in fashion? When did you know that you wanted a career in the fashion industry?

I only started my brand, Jacqueline City Apparel, in 2019 so I’ve only been taking fashion seriously for a little over a year. I have always been interested in fashion. Before I could even talk or walk I was pulling down dresses I saw into store carts. I even taught myself how to sew from a book when I was 6 and was a fashion designer for my second-grade career day. I went to school for music industry because I love art in all forms, from music and writing to sketching and designing. I have since found a home in the Philadelphia fashion scene. 

How did Jacqueline City Apparel come about? Did you anticipate the level of success you’ve achieved after only about a year in business?

Jacqueline City Apparel started with an idea of starting my own small business since my disability did not allow for me to hold a 9-5 job. I needed something flexible where I could work on my good days since I am frequently sick with migraines, delirium and brain fog. I saw many “Instagram Boutiques” and T-shirt lines and thought if they can do it, why can’t I? 

I thought it would be nothing more than a small T-shirt brand, but one year later I was showing at “New York Fashion Week: Ones To Watch.” Now I appear in Vogue and soon will do Paris Fashion Week. It’s been an incredible year that I never thought possible.  

Are there any designers who influenced you, either early in your career or today? 

Coco Chanel is my main influence. I really admire her story of overcoming so much struggle in her early life and creating herself the life she always imagined. I love her feminine but powerful brand aesthetic. 

I also am influenced by other strong females in business today like Donatella Versace for her resilience, Paris Hilton for her branding, and Stella McCartney for her authenticity. 

Jacqueline City has overcome a number of challenges in her life and now is taking the fashion industry by storm. | Image: Masters of Light Photography

How have the pandemic and all of the closures that came with it affected your business and the fashion industry as a whole?

The pandemic has been hard for every industry, but it has made us all come together, pivot, and see where we need to make changes. I have to cancel my first Philly runway show as well as many trips. I also was unable to do any photoshoots, so I had to take all of my summer line’s photos by myself at home. JCA also had to push back our Paris Fashion Week debut to next season which will be March 2021. However, I have chosen to take this time to reflect to find safer practices, value my health, and learn new skills like how to take an entire collection of photos by yourself. 

How would you describe the Philly fashion scene? Is the city a “place to be” in the fashion world? What exciting things are happening locally?

The Philly fashion scene is definity emerging as a place to be. I have attended Philly Fashion Week for the last two seasons and I love it! We have so many amazing designers – especially in streetwear. Philly also has so many great fashion schools and programs in the area which often get to showcase with PFW as well. I love to go to all the fashion events in the area and see what trends are local to Philly. I’m glad local designers and students have such a great platform to showcase their work on the runways. 

You suffer from dysautonomia and POTS, which left you bedridden for some time. Now that you are able to take on more, you have chosen to turn your pain into art to inspire others dealing with invisible illness as well as mental health struggles. Talk a little about, first, your struggles and, second, your efforts to inspire and help others.

Dysautonomia and POTS really took over my life for quite some time. I had a brain injury in 2014 that left me very confused, sick, fainting daily and unable to hold down food – this eventually led to an accidental 50-pound weight loss in just a few months. I was bedridden and dealing with PTSD from the incident. I found hope in a team of doctors at Jefferson Hospital here in Philadelphia. Through many different types of treatments like physical and occupational therapies and medications, I was able to improve my symptoms each year. 

I believe we often are too ashamed to speak out about invisible illness, disabilities and mental health struggles. But just like I have brown eyes, I have a disability or I have PTSD. These struggles are just characteristics of me that do not define me. Too often people think “disabled” means someone is confined to a wheelchair; however, there is a spectrum of unique disabilities. I find it important to educate people where possible and be a voice for those with physical and mental struggles. Disabled people can still achieve their dreams – we just might need a few accommodations. 

What’s ahead for you? Where do you see yourself in five years?

This year I will be focusing on working from home and staying safe during the pandemic. Jacqueline City Apparel will still be releasing a fall collection in September, then a holiday collection in November. 

In March 2021, JCA will be showing at the Ritz Paris in Paris Fashion Week. 

In the next five years, I hope to keep expanding my brand. I hope to dress celebrities for performances and red carpet events. I also hope to continue to make strides towards slow fashion, “see now, buy now” styles, gender and size inclusivity and vegan options in fashion, which Jacqueline City Apparel is very passionate about. I hope in the next few years I can continue to share my story and inspire others to follow their dreams despite any struggles they might face. 

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