Madera grad enjoying life as a fashion designer
Courtesy of Sophia Vega
Former Madera High School graduate Sophia Vega stands next to one of her dress designs. Vega has had her dress designs featured by Macy’s, Dillard’s and Nordstrom.
For as long as Sophia Vega can remember, the only thing she wanted to be was a fashion designer.
After graduating from Madera High School in 2007, she did everything she could to become a fashion designer and now she is with her dresses featured in popular stores like Macy’s, Dillard’s and Nordstrom’s.
“I’ve been in the industry for 10 years, now,” Vega said. “I got my first job when I was 20. I wasn’t even old enough to have a drink with my co-workers. I always knew what I wanted to do. For me, it was just getting in there to put my hours in, working late and starting from the bottom. It’s exhilarating to see my designs those big stores’ sites. I completely forgot that I had stuff come out now. It’s just exciting. I feel like the little girl in me is telling me I’m doing it. To know you wanted to do something since you were a little girl and now you’re doing it, it’s a really amazing feeling. I’m really fortunate because not everyone gets to that point in their life.”
Vega, who also played on the Coyotes’ volleyball team, graduated at 17-years-old, then drove down to Los Angeles and began schooling at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
“I did a two-year program there and got my associates degree in fashion design,” she said. “Right off the bat, I started in the industry. My first job out of design school was at Forever 21. I was an assistant designer for them. I was there for a couple of years. I had amazing mentors. After Forever 21, I ended up working at well-known dress house. They were known in the early 2000’s. I worked there for a while. After that, I was at a company doing private labels. It’s a company who is designing a bunch of products and you would have the stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s buy your product to put in their store. I was at that company for five years. I got a job at Halston. I am the dress designer for the Halston Heritage Line, which is what is on Nordstrom’s website.”
Vega currently lives in Inglewood with her boyfriend.
“My boyfriend and I just bought a house last year in Inglewood. We’re right in the middle of L.A,” she said.
After 10 years in the industry, Vega is right where she thought she would be and couldn’t be happier.
“I’m at the designer level,” she said. “After that, you get to senior designer and director. I am where most designers are at my age. I’m in the middle.”
However, building that foundation began at Madera High School with fashion teacher Janet Seibert.
“I have a lot of new friends from Los Angeles and from the United States and I tell them I was in the fashion class at Madera High,” Vega said. “I was in the fashion club. They were stunned. I was with Janet Seibert. I knew going into freshman year that I wanted to be a fashion designer. When I signed up for classes, I made sure I was in art and when I was a sophomore, I went into fashion design class with Mrs. Seibert. I made sure I took sewing. I made sure I took all the classes I knew would help me get to that point of being a fashion designer. I was so blessed that Madera had those classes when I was going to get me to the point where I wanted to be.
Vega credits Seibert and the fashion classes at MHS to where she is now.
“They helped me knowing what things were,” Vega said. “They helped me build confidence. Mrs. Seibert was one of my mentors. I let her know I wanted to be in fashion design. I used to do projects with her outside of Madera High that were done through Fresno City that were fashion design competitions. I got medals from the competitions. It was having someone telling me I could do this and believe in me. She saw the passion and talent in me. She had the confidence in me to go into fashion design and to leave Madera.”
Vega sometimes looks back and can’t believe what she is able to do. She sees what she does as a fashion designer a mythical career. A lot of people say they want to do it, but not many can.
“It’s sort of surreal,” she said. I have to pinch myself. I have been in the industry for so long. To me, I’m just a fashion designer. When I talk to people back home, they think that’s insane. A fashion designer is a mythical career. Some times I have to sit back and think back and tell myself I have designs for Macy’s, Dillard’s and Nordstrom. People buy my clothes. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do what I loved and to have the family support and the support from the community. I have the support from my coaches who have pushed me all the time.”
Vega can recognize her designs and randomly ran into a person wearing one of the tops she designed in Pittsburgh.
“I was walking through the Andy Warhol Museum there,” she said. “I saw this woman wearing one of my shirts. I design so much stuff and it takes so much time between when you design it until it gets to the store. I saw a woman wearing my top. It was pretty cool. I always come back to reality when I see someone wearing what I designed. I told the woman that she was wearing one of my designs. She was in shock, too. It never feels normal.”
Vega’s background is mostly contemporary with a specialty towards evening and cocktail gowns. This also can be traced back to classes at MHS.
“It’s funny because I remember in classes at Madera freshman and sophomore year and asking the girl next to me their favorite color and what their prom dress would look like.” she said. “I always had my sketch book with me. I tell them I’m going to draw you something. I would sketch out a dress for these girls. I gave it to them and they enjoyed them. I used to do that to random girls in my classes. I gave them their prom dresses that I designed.”
Eventually, Vega can see opening her own dress studio, but those thoughts kind of slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, maybe in a few years, she can open her dress line.
“I have some very close friends that are designers. We have talked about opening our own office,” she said. “Our industry took a big hit with the pandemic. Clothes, in a pandemic, people aren’t concerned about. Things are going to get back to normal. I hear people are saying they can’t wait to get back out and dress up. I’m just hopeful for that. In the next 5-10 years, I’ve communicated with my girl friends to start my own dress line. It’s about getting the money to do that. In the future, that would be something I would be interested in doing. Until then, it’s working with companies.”
However, until that time comes, Vega is trying to soak up everything she can.
“I’m still learning. Even though I’ve been in the industry for 10 years, I learn something new every day from talented people,” she said. “I love it.”
After thinking about doing something else, Vega felt like being a fashion designer was the only thing she wanted to do and it tok the pandemic to realize that.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life,’” she said. “That’s what I feel about fashion design. I’ve worked for very little pay for hundreds of hours a week. I did it because I love what I do. I knew I had to start somewhere. I’ve put in my time. I can’t see myself do anything else. There was a moment to where I thought about changing careers. This was not possible in the environment we were in. Then, I said I wasn’t going to be happy doing anything besides this. Things are going to get back to normal.”
One of Vega’s dream is to see Jennifer Lopez in one of her dresses. Until then, she will continue doing the work she loves.
“Jennifer Lopez one of my idols since I was a little girl. She can be in anything and look amazing,” Vega said. “I’m living another life somewhere else.”