A profoundly deaf student from Thailand has overcome her disability to see her fashion design collection take its place on the London catwalk at Free Range, a top graduate showcase event for a handful of invited universities and courses.
Seeing her designs on the professional catwalk was a huge moment for Nipa Yamjamnan, 28, a final year BA (Hons) Fashion student at Somerset College in Taunton, who originally came to the West Country in 2003 with support from the Thai government.
"I never thought as a child on a village farm, that one day I would have a fashion show in London," said Nipa, who first had to learn British sign language before she could go on to gain British qualifications all the way up from AS levels.
She is the first student to choose to come to England rather than America, under a Thai government scheme to support talented young people with disabilities.
She was selected in Thailand as the only student in her disability group, and initially learnt British Sign Language at Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, where she met her Communication Support Worker (CSW) Fiona Drew, one of several who has supported her in her studies ever since.
Although she had always enjoyed making things with her hands, it was only when she started studying in the UK that she became fascinated by fashion design, and her end of year collection reflects a love of glamorous Fifties style evening wear.
"Thai people like the femininity of Fifties clothes," says Nipa, who researched and adores Dior as well as Alexander McQueen and others. "It’s all new to me, all wow, I didn’t see this in Thailand."
She chose silk fabrics for her collection, very much part of Thai culture she says, and also researched a special project on traditional folding techniques, making clothes without stitches.
After her graduation, Nipa hopes to study use of laser cutting, printing and digital technology in fashion, before returning to Thailand to hopefully teach deaf students and start up her own fashion design business.