Fashion designer Mandi Gallegos. (Photo/Courtesy Mandi Gallegos)

New York Fashion Week: Texan cancer survivor credits fashion for moving her forward

Every evening, Mandi Gallegos leaves her job as a purchasing agent for Toshiba and heads to the sewing machine in her San Antonio, Texas home. Over the past few months, she’s deftly created an array of garments: dresses, skirts, pants and jackets – and her favorite piece, a futuristic svelte dress with puffed sleeves and a cozy detachable hood– which she hopes will make a splash during her very own runway show in New York City.

“I want to make women feel beautiful and empower them to stand out without going overboard,” explains Gallegos, who will be presenting her ready-to-wear women’s line as one of 18 invited designers at Nolcha Fashion Week. “My clothes are meant to enhance the woman within.”

For Gallegos, the single mom of three teen boys, presenting her garments during New York’s legendary Fashion Week offers her a chance to develop what’s currently a commission-based collection into a larger line available to clients worldwide. While in New York City, she hopes to attract a financial investor with her fashion-forward yet feminine designs. The money would be a huge help, says Gallegos, especially because she’s spent her savings on preparing herself for this very moment.

“I promised my parents that if I survived, I would make them proud of me,” shares Gallegos, who in 2007, at just 31 years old, was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called Central Nervous System Vasculitus. “I knew I had to leave a legacy for my boys as well – and show them that dreams are worth chasing.”

For Gallegos – who has always loved sketching – a chance walk by a mannequin in a display window after a chemotherapy session inspired her to live up to the promise she made to her loved ones. That mannequin was part of a display for the International Academy of Design and Technology San Antonio, and after an impromptu tour, Gallegos enrolled in night classes. Within a few weeks, Gallegos fell in love with cutting patterns, designing women’s wear and refining the sewing skills she had learned from her mother as a child.

“Clothing became a kind of armor during a difficult period for me,” says Gallegos, who was approached by a casting director for the fashion design competition “Project Runway” last year. Gallegos turned down the opportunity to pursue reality television stardom because “fashion should be about the person wearing the clothes, not the personality behind it,” she explains earnestly. “I don’t want be famous for my personality – I want to be validated as a designer. That’s what I want.”

Towards that end, Gallegos founded her label Mikailee Alton (“a blend of my boys’ and nieces’ names,” she explains) while still in design school and upon graduation in 2010, earned the Academy’s President Award for enterprising design. Three years later, the 36-year-old continues sewing for San Antonio-area clients but is taking a leap of faith by sharing her edgy, structured garments with the highly-critical New York fashion set.

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