By Sarah Tinoco
April 2, 2014
“I am double Dominican!” Sr. Xiomara Mendez-Hernandez exclaimed of her Dominican nationality and selfhood as a Dominican sister.
With her Dominican connection and her notable background in fashion design, Sr. Mendez-Hernandez was selected to serve as one of five jurors for the apparel department’s jury review on March 25 for this year’s fashion show, “Reveal.”
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sr. Mendez-Hernandez was the second of five children. Her passion for fashion design began at a young age as she watched her great-grandmother work as a tailor and her aunt work as a seamstress.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez’s interest in designing clothing sparked when she saw a filthy man on the street in her neighborhood.
“That man was treated very badly because he was dirty, smelly and drunken,” Sr. Mendez-Hernandez said. “I always dreamed of him being well-dressed because I always said that if someone is well-dressed and well-presented, people will treat them differently.”
While not a common reason to enter the fashion world, Sr. Mendez-Hernandez wanted to work in the field to become a designer to promote social justice.
“I [wanted to]…to transform people from [being] poor to getting an opportunity because how well you dress in [the Dominican Republic] is very important,” she said.
During her freshman year of college, Sr. Mendez-Hernandez met a group of sisters and was inspired by the love and prayer they shared with her. Her encounters with the sisters started a 13-year struggle of choosing between becoming a sister and following her dreams to become a fashion designer.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez chose to follow her dream and pursued a degree in fashion design at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. She continued her education with a master’s degree in mass production from the National Institute of Technical Professional Training (INFOTEP) in the Dominican Republic.
Afterwards, she taught high fashion, or “gala,” to students from the Caribbean region for two years at INFOTEP, a professional technical school in the Dominican Republic.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez carried on her dream and developed a business with a good friend based in Santo Domingo called “Xissors Couture.”
“You need a pair of scissors to work. One cannot do it alone, but with two, you can do a lot,” Sr. Mendez-Hernandez says of the name of the label. She operated “Xissors Couture” for four years until deciding to come to the United States to become a sister.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez started her selfless work in Chicago, working with the Grace House to teach formerly-imprisoned women how to sew clothes and work on other skills needed to help find a job. She then moved to Alaska where she used her talents and expertise in fashion design to produce an annual fashion show fundraiser called “Clare to Clare” that raised money for Clare House, a women’s shelter in Anchorage.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez has since returned to Chicago and is currently working as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, all while obtaining her master’s degree in theology at the Chicago Theological Union.
While volunteering at a conference for Dominican high schools in Chicago, Sr. Mendez-Hernandez met Claire Noonan, vice president of mission and ministry at Dominican. After sharing her fashion background with Noonan and others at Dominican, Tracy Jennings, chair of the apparel design and merchandising department, asked Sr. Mendez-Hernandez to be juror for the fashion show.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez felt it was a privilege to serve as a juror and found it a special and exciting experience for both herself and the apparel students.
“What they give is a preaching,” she said of the work that the design students have completed.
Sr. Mendez-Hernandez was able to fulfill both of her callings as a fashion designer and as a sister. Although she is sister now, she believes that students who share a similar love for fashion should follow their passion.
“If you believe…you feel something special when you see a runway, clothes or a fashion magazine, follow that feeling. Follow your heart because you will be good. You will need to practice and you will need to work. But that first spark, that first fire as a Dominican, let it ignite,” Mendez-Hernandez said. “All the work around you will help you to continue igniting that fire within you. Trust in yourself, believe in yourself and go forward.”