Don Aretino

I moved to Germany when I was 17 with a dream to study fine art. I applied everywhere. Frankfurt, Dresden, Potsdam, Hamburg, Münster, Düsseldorf, Krefeld, München, Nürnberg. Every new application required a completely new portfolio. I was rejected 21 times over the course of 5 years — I still keep every single letter.

Each time felt like a stab in my heart. I would call my mother crying and she would tell me to come back home. On 3 different occasions the legal authorities told me I had outstayed my visa and threatened to deport me.

Giving up on my dream was never an option. Left with one final chance and in a state of desperation I applied for fashion design. I had never considered fashion before, but with nothing to lose, I gave it a shot — and got accepted on my first try.

On the first day of class I had no idea what I was doing. I spent the nights in the lab teaching myself how to sew — while working 40 hours a week to cover my living costs. At the end of the first semester my professor told me I was the most improved student she had taught in 20 years. Everything began to flow: it was as if it had always meant to be.

I produced some collections that were published by magazines. Soon after I began working for SADAK. We worked hard and showed at Berlin Fashion Week. Some of the designs were later seen on Chris Brown and Rihanna – which felt surreal. Next year I’m going to finish my bachelor.

My journey taught me to value the process more than success. I get satisfaction from continually growing and learning and I now see every rejection as an invitation to do better next time.