Lexine Schumm (Right) with the model wearing her beautiful dress created with hearing aid batteries and copper wire.
Lexine Schumm is a woman of many talents and dimensions. She is a student who is about to start a career as a technical fashion designer. She designs fashion pieces that are both functional but also imaginative. She is multi-talented, center-brained, and creates her own rules for life.
She is making history in both the d/Deaf and mainstream communities with her ingenuity and forward thinking. Get to know this amazing woman in VZP Digital’s recent interview with her to learn about this inspiring figure in the fashion community.
When did your interest in fashion begin?
I’ve always loved getting dressed, that’s really where I see my interest in fashion beginning. I started sewing in middle school, in my Home Economics class. I really started developing my skills when I made a renaissance gown for a ninth grade class project.
I’ve always considered myself creative, but not artsy. Fashion and sewing are the perfect outlet for my creativity, making something beautiful that also serves a purpose and solves a problem.
How difficult was the process of designing and building the hearing aid dress?
Designing and building the hearing aid dress was incredibly difficult. As I said before, for me design is about solving a problem. The class project of making something from unconventional (or non-fabric) materials, that was more of an art piece than something to be worn and used, was very challenging. We had to come up with designs that were inspired by Andy Warhol and were self-portraits that had an element of reflection on consumerism. I really had to push myself to design an art piece for the runway which is very out of my comfort zone. Working with a really personal topic, an invisible ‘disability’ and identity between being d/Deaf and hearing, helped to push me even farther and gave me a problem to solve. I wanted to symbolically represent my place between the hearing and d/Deaf worlds as well as project the strength in the d/Deaf community and the strength and confidence that my place in the world has forced me to develop. The concept and design of the dress challenged me as a designer intellectually, and emotionally.
Constructing the dress was its own kind of challenge. I had to get my hands on a lot of hearing aid batteries by calling medical supply centers and hearing aid centers. In the end, my audiologist from Iowa City hooked me up with my largest donations from a hearing aid company and a hearing aid rep. I used three different sizes of batteries, 10, 13, and 312. To make the base of the dress, I used heavy black canvas and I attached the hand shaped wire to plastic window mesh that I sewed by hand onto the black canvas base. After the 40 hours of wire work, I moved into the batteries. I glued each battery by hand with industrial auto adhesive and alternated battery sizes as well as which side of the battery was showing to give variation of texture. Construction alone took well over 100 hours and hundreds of batteries, not to mention countless hours of design and thought behind the dress to make it possible.
Who are your current idols/mentors in the fashion industry?
I can’t think of anyone specific at the moment, but I really admire people and companies who have a very clear vision for what they want to do and they just go for it and do it as well as they possibly can.
If you were able to collaborate with any company or influencer in the fashion industry, who would it be?
I actually have had the amazing opportunity to be involved in an exhibit co-curated by Tameka Ellington and Stacey Lim called (dis)ABLED BEAUTY which is an exhibit exploring themes of disability and beauty and moving beyond the traditional approach of hiding one’s ‘disability’ and instead working with it and showing the beauty and strength of the person instead of only seeing the disability or medical device. I was able to have my dress on display in this exhibit at Kent State this last year and my dress will be moving with the exhibit to Central Michigan University for this next year. Being involved with this incredible exhibit is such an honor and I can’t think of anything else that I would rather be involved with.
My dress is some of the only student work in the exhibit and is on display along with some amazing work from companies like ALLELES Design Studio who do incredible prosthetic limb covers. Their work is so beautiful and really embodies what the (dis)ABLED BEAUTY exhibit is about. Being a part of something like this has been incredible and I would love to work more on these ideas in the future or collaborate with any of the companies or artists featured in the exhibit.
What are your current career aspirations? Are you seeking to become an entrepreneur and start a company?
At this point I currently want to work as a technical designer. I’m really open to where I want to go and what I want to do but I am really interested in technical design and continuing to develop that skill set.
How can businesses support Deaf designers and artists?
Probably just by being open to different points of view and valuing what can come of that. Not looking at us or our work as a charity case but being open to seeing our work as valid and worthwhile.
What is the most widespread myth or stereotype that the mainstream community has about the Deaf community?
I haven’t ever really spent any time in the Deaf community so my answer to this is coming from my perspective of being in between the Deaf and mainstream communities. I’d probably say the biggest misconception I’ve seen is that d/Deaf people are slow or unaware or something like that. I think that one of the biggest problems with this is the assumption that you can tell from the way someone acts or speaks if they’re d/Deaf or not, yet you really can’t. And if mainstream people were constantly adapting to a different social community and way of communicating, they’d probably seem ‘slow’ too. For me, it’s a matter of constant adaptation to being around fully hearing people or even to being around d/Deaf people since neither group is really centered around my set of circumstances. I also think that the idea that d/Deaf people are automatically disabled and would probably want to be ‘normal’ is a big misconception. It’s only a disability if you’re looking at hearing as the norm when in the Deaf community being d/Deaf is the norm so you’d be at no disadvantage. I have a hearing aid and have single sided deafness but I wouldn’t want to be ‘normal’. My hearing loss has helped make me who I am and I’m proud of it.
How has your university experience differed from your fellow non-Deaf students?
Mostly just in the way that everyday life in the hearing world is different for me. It’s all in the little things, how I’m more reserved in large groups, needing to see people’s faces when they’re talking (but not being able to lip read like magic), using subtitles on videos, and just having to expend extra energy trying to hear and trying to listen when there’s some background noise. I think that the last one is the thing that often affects me the most, I often have to spend so much energy trying to hear in small group discussions in class that it can be harder for me to meaningfully contribute when I’ve spent all my time and energy trying to hear them rather than listening to what they’re saying. It gets exhausting and is especially hard when people don’t want to repeat themselves.
What is your life motto?
I’m not sure I have a life motto, but I try to keep steady and remember that things will even out in the end.
It is currently Deaf History month. What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in Deaf awareness in the next 5-10 years?
I think that one of the biggest hurdles is for people to be able to move past seeing Deafness as just a disability. I think it’s important for people to be able to see the value of the Deaf community and understand that being d/Deaf doesn’t have to be something to be pitied or looked down on.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
You should pursue what you love even if it isn’t obvious how it benefits the world. Doing something you’re passionate about or even just enjoy is going to give you so much more capacity to do good than halfheartedly doing something that seems good or noble. Do what you love and pursue your own happiness and you’ll be able to find a way to change the world for the better even just a little.