Once Upon a Time: The Story of Magic x Mood
Updated: Mar 2
Hi! I’m Justine, a fashion designer and Disney fan-girl. This is my story. Let me warn you, though, it’s a bit of a downer…this is the story of how, and why, I created Magic x Mood (“Magic by Mood”).
I grew up watching Disney movies and sewing with my mom. She gave me a sewing machine for my 16th birthday. In my opinion, it was way better than a car. My love of fashion design continued to grow. When it came to time for college, I chose fashion design for my undergraduate degree. It was four years of pursuing my passion and creating every day.
And then, I grew up.
Working in fashion was nothing like college. I quickly realized it didn’t pay enough and I transitioned to a corporate job to make a living wage. At some point, I stopped loving fashion. The corporate job crushed my soul like a grape. I was living the adult life of 401k plans and health insurance. I was “successful” in the traditional sense of the word, but my passion was gone.
During my time in Corporate, I stopped revealing my love for Disney. You get a fair amount of judgmental side-eye from “real” grown-ups in the office for playing Disney soundtracks all day long and debating the best princess (Rapunzel, don’t at me).
Life came and went. I longed for adventure in the great wide somewhere. So, I found my new dream, got married, and left Corporate for a teaching gig in Japan to live my own happily ever after. In the land of geisha, ramen, sushi, and the greatest Disney park on the planet, it is not only acceptable for adults to fan-girl over Disney, but encouraged! I lived my best Disney life in Japan.
I still wasn’t designing. I missed it, but I didn’t make it a priority. By this time, I hadn’t designed anything for almost five years.
In January 2019, my world was turned upside down. When we decided to move to Japan, I had a discussion with my husband about scenarios that would force us back state-side. Our intention was to live abroad long-term. Our conversation included the passing of elderly family members, weddings, and paperwork for our visas. In all of these conversations, the plan was just a visit. Moving back to the states never crossed our minds. We thought we were prepared for the worst that could happen while living abroad.
(Spoiler alert: we were wrong.)
I got up that January morning like any other and got ready for my job as an English teacher. My husband and I had just come back from a trip to Tokyo Disney over Christmas break and I was looking forward to showing photos to my students.
I didn't plan to leave Japan within the week. I didn't plan to start designing again. I certainly didn't plan to start this blog to chronicle my grief and projects. But, when the unthinkable happens, plans change.
My phone had countless missed calls from my family when I woke up that day. This wasn’t too unusual considering the time difference.
My dad called again. I ignored it because I woke up a bit early that day and I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. It was a cold winter’s day and I wanted to stay in bed.
Then he called again. I started to panic as I answered his call. Dad never calls multiple times without a reason. I was running through scenarios as the call connected.
One of the dogs died.
There was a car accident.
Something happened to my sister.
When the worst day of your life happens, it starts like any other. It doesn't announce itself "WARNING: Worst Day of Your Life Ahead". You can’t predict it, you can't plan for it, you can't prepare an emergency supply kit.
I can’t remember the exact conversation I had with my dad. I couldn’t comprehend the words he was saying. He had to repeat himself several times. I was in shock.
“Are you f*ing kidding me?” I asked him.
He was not.
I don’t know how long it took reality to set in. I could have been sitting in my room for five minutes or five hours.
My brother-in-law had taken his own life.
Words cannot describe how I felt in that moment. I didn’t cry at that time. I could barely breathe. I immediately packed everything I owned and left my newfound home in Japan to support my sister.
I won’t lie, it has been a difficult year. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, along with repatriation. As much as I grieve my brother-in-law every day, I also grieve for my loss of Japan. It was home for me in a way that no other place ever has been.
At first, I lived in a fog. I don’t remember most of my early months back in the states. There are some things I remember acutely. The songs played at my brother-in-law’s memorial. The lipstick I wore to the funeral. The biting wind at the graveside. But, if you asked me during that time to sing my favorite Disney song, I wouldn’t have been able to remember the words.
My days consisted of supporting my sister. Anything she wanted or needed, I was there for her. I kept vigil while she had nightmares. I comforted her while she cried. I listened to her when she was angry. In those first months I put my sister above our parents, my husband, and myself.
I couldn't eat, I barely slept, it took everything in me to get up every day and face the world without falling apart. I remained strong for my sister, her grief was so much bigger than mine.
One day, she asked if I was okay. My little sister, suffering one of the worst tragedies that could happen to anyone, wanted to take care of me. It was in that moment I knew I had to take a hard look at myself and see what I needed. I had never been in darker or deeper place in my life and I knew I needed something to pull me out of it.
I couldn’t just pretend my grief didn’t exist.
I wasn’t always a believer in self-care. I didn’t have a big make-up bag or a skincare fridge (I still don’t have a skincare fridge). When I moved to Japan, I didn’t take any cosmetics or skincare. I thought it would be a waste of luggage space. There is a strong beauty industry in Japan and I resolved to be more invested in self-care while I lived there.
I developed a routine in Japan and brought all my self-care products back to the States. My routine fell by the wayside in those first two months as I focused all of my energy and attention on my sister. When she asked if I was okay, I knew returning to self-care was a good start. But, there is only so much that face masks, jade rollers, and bath bombs can do for a person.
I needed something more. I needed something productive that would give me a sense of accomplishment. I tried video games. I tried puzzles. I tried coloring. These activities were all things I enjoyed, but they weren’t leaving me fulfilled. They were momentary distractions from my grief, a band-aid when I needed stitches.
When in doubt, I consult Disney. I knew Tangled (my favorite Disney movie) wouldn’t provide the kind of advice I needed in this situation. I knew there had to be a Disney princess that could help me with these trials and tribulations. In that moment I knew where to find the advice I needed: The Princess and the Frog.
Mama Odie advises Tiana to “dig a little deeper” to find what she needs. I took this advice to heart and dug a little deeper to see what I needed. After a lot of digging, I found my answer. And that answer was fashion design.
I started by sketching some looks and I noticed they were all Disney-centric. For awhile, I just worked on sketches. I hadn’t sewn in five years and had no supplies. I was afraid that my skills would be gone, I was afraid that my work wouldn’t be as good as before, I was afraid my friends and family would judge me. I stalled in anxiety for awhile, but I knew I needed to do this. For me. It wouldn’t matter what anyone else thought.
On an otherwise uneventful Friday, I went out and bought myself a used sewing machine, some basic supplies, and picked a simple project to test my skills. You can see the full details of that project on the blog.
I wanted to design for myself, but I also wanted to share how this is helping me cope with grief. I know that there are lives changed everyday by suicide. There are people grieving someone they lost. I know that there are people contemplating suicide. I want to help and inspire others going through similar situations. I want you to know it’s okay to not be okay.
This is my personal journey coping with grief and recovering from a loss that changed my life. I thought nothing good could come from tragedy. But, my dream survived and crept out of the dark and it has kept me going.
This is how I hope to heal my heart and inspire others using fashion, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
If you’ve lost someone, you are not alone. Find support through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/.
If your loved one was military, contact the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: https://www.taps.org/