Australia’s first legally blind fashion designer Nikki Hind reflects on why her disability has not held her back

Tuesday 17 October 2023

For a masterclass in what it takes to a pursue your dreams when the world seems to have other ideas about where you belong, we give you fashion designer Nikki Hind. When doors slammed shut, she found another way forward.

As far as worst-case scenarios go, Nikki’s might just take the cake. “My children were one and three-years-old and I found myself at the end of my marriage and in a difficult financial situation,” she says. She felt crushed and isolated. And if that wasn’t enough, during her second pregnancy Nikki had a stroke that left her with just 50 percent vision in only one eye. “The thought of not being able to see my baby’s face was very depressing,” she recalls.

Nikki had always had an eye condition, but she had sufficient eyesight to have a driver’s license and build a successful career in event management. Now, she faced a whole new set of impossible challenges. “Initially, because I had a brand-new baby and another small boy, I was hyper-focused on their care,” she says. Mothers of young children know that routine matters - but when you’re legally blind, the logistics are next level. Nikki needed to anticipate every single need and possible challenge before she left the house. Living in a world built for people who can see, she had to be a step ahead at all times.  

She tackled every day with best efforts, but still, there are some days she just can’t forget: “One of the hardest was when my boys were every little and I needed to catch the bus to get them to a GP visit. I woke up early and was super organised. We arrived at the bus stop in time to meet the bus and the bus driver told me I couldn’t get on with a pram and drove off!” 

Nikki also found the financial pressures mounting. “I thought I’d go back to my job and use a driver to get around, but when they found out I was legally blind, I was unable to go back to that role.” At the time, she saw this as a setback and threw herself into looking for a job, determined to support her family. “I would sail through to the last round interviews, but as soon as I was asked about medical issues and explained my eye condition, I would never progress.”

Even the system designed to support her wasn’t always what she needed: “A psychologist advised me that I would not ever be able to work again.” She felt utterly alone and depressed. “Without a job you feel worthless,” she says.

“To me, feeling empowered is to be valued, trusted and supported in and by society.”

- Nikki Hind

Still, there was no hiding from her obligations. “Intuitively as humans we avoid scary situations in life,” she says. “But I couldn’t avoid this, and I knew it was going to take something enormously powerful to get me out of it.” One thing that helped her stay positive was comedy. “I found strength and beauty in so many comedians – they gave me a positive outlook which I still use every day now.” And her ability to dream big also held her in good stead. “I forced myself to do be creative and energetic,” she says.

First, she enrolled herself in TAFE and studied fashion part-time. “I had always loved fashion and so I decided that if I could learn how to sew properly and make patterns, I could find a sense of purpose,” she says. Ultimately, her study and tenacity led to Blind Grit, the fashion label she founded during this time. The business name perfectly captures the focus and determination Nikki needed to rise above the challenges she faced. “I found that when you need to accomplish something that is emotionally difficult, having blind grit is critical.”

In 2015, Nikki became Australia’s first legally blind fashion designer - and it means so much to her. “I am both delighted and proud,” she says. “I have a desire to change the fashion landscape – ideally, I would like the industry to be more inclusive.” For Nikki, real inclusion is demonstrable action that allows all people to have access to information and opportunities. “This looks different for every organisation, but it should not be done in a tokenistic way.”

Today, Nikki’s fashion business reflects this strong sense of purpose and her own unique perspective. Blind Grit comprises a team of people with lived experience of disability and trauma. And of course, she gets to do what she loves every day: "Working in fashion is childlike and playful – it allows you to explore different personas and strengths in yourself.”

“As a person living with a disability, I have solved ten problems before I’ve had my morning coffee. Our world is built for able-bodied people. I am constantly living outside of my comfort zone.”

- Nikki Hind

One might argue inner-strength building was something Nikki has done every step of the way. When asked what qualities are required to live with disability and survive trauma, Nikki says creativity and problem solving are at the top of her list. “As a person living with a disability, I have solved ten problems before I’ve had my morning coffee. Our world is built for able-bodied people. I am constantly living outside of my comfort zone.” 

The designer’s commitment to inclusivity - not to mention stepping into the unknown - also made her the perfect author for a new children’s series from Vision Australia featuring different careers. The first book, about blind surfer Matt Formston, was released in March. And Nikki’s will hit bookshelves this October at the same time as a new Blind Grit collection. “The most powerful stories are the ones that provide new perspectives and help to shift opinions are often those that are true,” says Nikki, who loves that the Big Vision series has been written about inspiring Australians living with blindness or low vision. “The books give the reader three new role models who are determined, resilient and successful.” For Nikki, after years of feeling alone, finding her own sense of value and worth through sheer determination has been empowering. “To me, feeling empowered is to be valued, trusted and supported in and by society.”