The Fight for Fashion
IADT- San Antonio Fashion Design Alumna Mandi Gallegos overcomes illness to follow her love for fashion.
Words by Cynthia Chapa
Photography by Jennifer Crowder
Born to a musically inclined father and a fashion forward mother, Mandi Gallegos seemed to be set up for an artistic future from day one. Since she can remember, she has had a knack for art and fashion. From an early age, Mandi’s mother would lay out hand-sewn Barbie clothes on a regular basis as a means to save money for her two young girls. Mandi was a self-proclaimed tomboy, and while she often found excitement in discovering the creations her mother had awaiting her when she got home, she was more focused on sports. Mandi’s father also had a powerful impact on molding his vivacious daughter’s future path. He studied and composed classical music and in the early 1990s, he invited Mandi to move to Santa Barbara, California in hopes of enriching her mind with new creativity in an innovative atmosphere. This was a big turning point in Mandi’s life, largely due to the culture shock of moving from Texas to California. She had the opportunity to study multiple creative outlets – from dance to music theory to acting – but in the end it was art that won her over.
When she turned fifteen, she began sketching shoes, and it was at that time in her life that she knew she wanted to become a designer. Five years later, Mandi was filled with joy when she found out she would give birth to her first boy. She decided to put her career on hold to raise her children. As her mother had done when she was young, Gallegos began to sew as a hobby.
In 2007, at the age of 31, Mandi’s life took an unexpected turn. She was diagnosed with Central Nervous System Vasculitis, a rare illness in her brain which caused her to re-evaluate her life’s path. After months of chemotherapy, she made a promise to her family that if she survived the illness, she would make them proud.
Months into recovery in early 2008, she noticed a mannequin in a window display within the same building as her physician. After her appointment was over, she walked across the hall and into the reception area. It was then that she discovered the International Academy of Design & Technology in San Antonio. She took the coincidence of this door opening right in front of her to a world of fashion as a sign to revisit her passion for fashion. Mandi enrolled in evening courses at IADT- San Antonio at that very moment.
She took her learning experience and education seriously. She was there not just to learn the techniques, but also to put them into full practice. She took part in many local fashion shows, and even held some of her very own. She especially enjoyed showing her collections in what IADT- San Antonio has deemed, “Fashion for a Cause.” It has continued to be important to the school to not only show the talent of its students, but also to give back to the community and show them what fashion in the city is all about. Her recovery inspired her signature style bringing a unique blend of nature, structure and grace into every collection. During her years at IADT, she started her own label, Mikailee Alton. The Mikailee Alton label strives to be known as a community leader utilizing its brand to assist non-profit organizations such as Make-A-Wish, San Antonio Food bank, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and many others.
After two years, Mandi graduated from the International Academy of Design & Technology with a GPA of 3.91, reached the Dean’s List several times and was presented with the 2010 President’s Award. Mandi has also recently been published in the United Kingdom’s 2011 September issue of Unfolded Magazine, 2011/2012 issue of Downe Fore Magazine, 2011 December issue of Missfits Magazine, several appearances in San Antonio Trends 2009-2010 issues, along with various other media and social media arenas. Mikailee Alton has carved its signature in San Antonio and the fashion industry.
Mandi hasn’t slowed down a bit. Her illness is not in remission, and while raising her sports-involved sons, she holds post at a full-time job and continues to design. Just this past February, her collection was selected to be featured as one of only thirty-six designers at the PLITZS show at New York Fashion Week 2012. Her fall collection debuted on Saturday, February 11, 2012, at the Warwick Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The designs were showcased on the runway to retail-store and boutique owners, potential clients and investors, trade organizations and the media. Her Mikailee Alton Collection featured an array of dresses and skirts made in silk chiffon, baby silk and bridal satin in hues of burgundy, magenta, pink champagne and teal. During New York Fashion Week, a potential investor and a Project Runway casting director approached Mandi. The opportunities continue to present themselves as she works hard to show her love of fashion through her innovative, gorgeous designs.
Gallegos collections are Indie-inspired, and she makes it a point to not follow trends, but to create a new look for fashion that sets her apart from the rest. She wants to continue to build her fashion dreams in San Antonio and looks forward to inspiring other designers in the city to make the most of their talents and show the world that San Antonio is exploding with fashion and style. “This is something that is in my heart. I can only dream big and hope for the best,” said Mandi. “I love my family and need to make a mark for my kids.”