Senior Spotlight: Ysabella Delgado

A young woman with curly hair stands in front of a yellow background with lemon-shaped earrings drinking lemonade

Wednesday, April 6

Ysabella Delgado confesses she tends to let perfectionism get the better of her, but that hasn’t stopped her from reaching her goals. The Academy senior started her own fashion business, Kikay, in her freshman year, and has grown the company while juggling school over the past four years. In this interview, she talks about learning to be kind to oneself and accepting her own eccentricities, whether aesthetic or personal.

Tell me a little bit about your journey to the Academy?
I learned about the Academy during an information session visit to USC when I was 14 years old. My older brother was touring colleges and I was kind of dragged along. At the time, the idea of going to college really turned me off. I was a pretty good student but traditional learning just wasn’t for me, so I assumed that I wouldn’t ever find a university I’d really want to attend. IYA was so new back then that there wasn’t even any information about it on the admissions brochure. The person giving the presentation mentioned IYA at the end of his presentation, and I remember quickly writing it down. I looked it up later that night and fell in love. Nowhere had I seen a program that combined everything that I wanted to learn, everything that I felt was intrinsically me: creative, entrepreneurial and technologically aware. I decided then that IYA was the only place for me, and the rest is history!

What piece of advice have you implemented in your day to day life?
You can always be kinder to yourself. I’m a really intense and emotional person and I tend to let perfectionism and impostor syndrome get the better of me. Something I try to tell myself daily is that no matter what I’m going through, I can always do it with more empathy for myself. It’s so easy to be way more critical of yourself than of other people, so having the daily reminder to extend the same empathy I do to others to myself always makes my days a bit better:) 

Do you have a role model? Why do you look up to them?
My biggest role model in life is definitely my mom. She is the most creative and badass person I’ve ever met and she is the person who raised me to have the fiery spirit I do today. My mom is the kind of person who never takes no for an answer when she sets her mind to something. Her famous words are “how hard can that possibly be?” She is the most determined person I’ve ever met and as a young entrepreneur, I hope one day I can bring that same ferocity to the things that I do.

Describe one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’m actually a really introverted person. Anyone who knows me in real life knows I dress quite eccentrically and I tend to be a very loud person, but I think something I've really accepted over quarantine is that I’m actually SUPER introverted.

What’s one thing your parents taught you that you’d like to share?
“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Not for everything of course, but one thing they taught me was that sometimes you have to break the rules to make the changes that you want to see in the world. 

What is the biggest risk you have taken, and was the result what you wished for?
Starting Kikay in the summer of my freshman year is definitely the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. Looking back, it might not have been the smartest idea because juggling Kikay and school has really been a lot. In some ways I think it forced me to grow up faster than I would have and maybe I’ve missed out on the last couple of years of just being a college kid. But I really would not change anything about the path I took.

To be honest, when I started I didn’t really have a defined goal. I was just bored and wanted to spend my summer doing something creative. I randomly started making earrings and from there opportunities came along and things snowballed. Now I get to spend every day doing what I love, making art, and supporting my independence. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Young woman with curly black hair smiles against red background
Woman with blue hair smiles against pink background

What would you say is your defining achievement thus far?
My business Kikay is definitely my defining achievement thus far! I’m really proud of the success we’ve had over the last two years. But the part that I think makes it my defining achievement is that I made a space for myself in an industry where not a lot of people like me exist. Being a young Queer Asian in the fashion industry is really hard. There’s not a lot of representation and the reality is that there’s a lot of people who didn’t take me seriously. I carved out a new space for people like me in the earring and fashion world and I’m really proud of that. It’s hard to feel like there aren’t people like you in a world that you want to be a part of, so I hope someday if someone like me comes along, they can look at me and not only see that it is possible, but that they’re not alone. 

What advice would you give to freshmen?
Explore what you find fun, even if you suck at it! I personally thought in the beginning of college that if I wasn’t good at something I shouldn't do it out of fear of people judging me and thinking that I was bad at it. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was the one judging myself and that doing new things should be about fun, not about skill or success. University introduces you to so many new things to try, even if you aren’t the best at something, if it brings you joy then that is all that matters!

How have you evolved over the past four years?
Over the past four years I really grew into the idea of not doing things for other people. When I first got to college other people's opinions meant everything to me. I dressed for other people, I’d quiet my opinions so as not to be abrasive, I masked a lot of myself to be more digestible to other people. I think somewhere along the past four years I realized that when you’re always living for other people and what they think, it’s really hard to be truly content with yourself. When I started living for myself and who I wanted to be, for the first time in my life, my relationship with myself became a kind one.

What goals do you have post-graduation?
To be honest I hope to never write another essay again in my life. Besides that though, I just want to wake up every morning and do what I love. I want to make art every day and take time to just appreciate a bit of slowness! I have loved my time in school but to be honest running a business, being in school full time, and being chronically ill most of my time at college has been the world’s hardest sprint! While it was all worth it, I definitely will be taking full advantage of not having to wake up for class in the morning and never having to open another textbook!

A young woman in a black and white checkered coat leans on a white surface, head on her shoulder


What inspires you?
What inspires me the most in life is just making cool stuff. I really enjoy making physical things, no preference for what medium or anything. I like to play around with laser cutting acrylic, sewing, sculpting, anything that I can get my hands on. I love watching the progression of ideas from mind to a physical piece and the excitement of making things a reality really inspires me to create.

Favorite app or website? is by far my most favorite website on the internet. It’s just an organic svg blob maker but I think it’s my most used website in my design career, haha. You never realize how hard it is to draw an aesthetically nice blob by hand until you try, so this one's a life saver.

Favorite class at USC and why?
“SWMS 210gmw: Social Analysis of Gender '' is my fave class that I’ve taken at USC so far! It’s a great intro into the gender and sexuality department at USC and gives you a pretty accessible entry point into learning more about this topic. The readings are super interesting and not too hard to understand. This was my first class of this nature so I was really afraid going into it that I’d be behind everyone else or the readings would be too dense for me, but it’s a really wonderful course for people from all education levels on this topic.

What is your favorite hidden gem of LA?
Unincorporated Coffee Roasters in Altadena! I moved out to Altadena just before senior year started and Unincorporated is my go to stop every morning. They have the coolest and kindest baristas, the yummiest drinks, all their customers look like they are in the creative industry, and they also sell plants, which is everything a person needs.

If you had to get a tattoo what would you get and why?
I already have seven tattoos but I think my next one is going to be maybe a strawberry on my shoulder? So far I’ve gotten a fruit tattoo every year for my business as fruit earrings are a big part of our brand. For the first year I got a lemon, second year I got a blueberry branch, so next one I think I’ll either get a strawberry or maybe even a cherry!