How I Made It On Project Runway

We’ve all watched Heidi Klum “auf” someone on Project Runway before. We’ve enjoyed seeing inside the design process and see people create amazing designs with little time, sometimes weird inspiration, and people’s favorite…the unconventional materials. Many enjoy being a spectator and many are hopefuls that they will someday be given the chance to walk on that runway. In all fairness, I haven’t been much of a spectator of the show since the earlier seasons and being a business owner I didn’t really ever see myself as a hopeful. This of course all changed April of this year.

Mid-April, friends of mine from graduate school thought that it would be a fantastic idea to apply to Project Runway after seeing an advertisement. We enjoyed the thought that we could all compete against one another. I submitted my application on the day that it was due, to find out my friends didn’t submit theirs. Two days later I was asked to come to the semi-finals in Seattle (as seen on the “Road to the Runway” episode), which was the following week. The process seemed to move extremely quickly, probably because my submission was last minute. One week after that found out I was in the finals, two weeks from that I was casted.

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The day I received the call that I had been casted was completely surreal. Never in a million years did I think I would grace the catwalk alongside fifteen other talented designers on such a well-known show. The most difficult thing was to celebrate this and be excited without letting anyone know. We all treated this with the utmost secrecy and rightfully so. It took a long time for it to actually hit me that this was happening. Film crews came into my home to film my apartment and closet tour. Prepping my office for my extended stay away from operations and not having any ability to contact anyone. It really was the support of my family and senior team members that made it possible for me to be away from my business. There was a moment that I almost didn’t continue the application process; it my team that pushed me to do it. Pushing me to do this for myself and make our company proud! Their sentiments were to become an understatement for my “auf-ing” on episode five.

Reaching NYC, where filming was taking place, I had to say goodbye to phones/ipads/tv/radios…everything. It actually became quite refreshing. I was terrified to live with people, since I have never attended sleep away camps or dorms. My roommates, which were randomly assigned, suddenly became my good friends and support system during this journey. Still to this day we are quite close and keep communication going. We’d be sounding boards at night and each other’s coffee makers in the morning. We all knew we were competing against one another but competitions always have room for good sportsmanship.

Stepping Up to The Challenge

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Getting the first challenge under my belt was unbelievably rewarding. It was the dreaded unconventional materials challenge. I joked during my interview that I would never be invited to another cocktail party ever again. The second challenge I made top three for the “Everyday Woman Challenge” which meant so much to me. My company loves designing for the everyday woman and are now size inclusive. Here came the third challenge, this one was so out of my element. It was so exciting and fun, but terrifying at the same time. Fourth challenge hit and that was a swimwear challenge with an added component to design a textile…back on top and now top two! This is where Runway and real life differ, I looked at all the challenges and was so proud of my ability to adapt. Once you have a clientele and loyal accounts, you don’t immediately jump into swim if you are evening and vice versa. No matter if the designer was eliminated first, fifth, last, wherever… it wasn’t a testament to your ability to design. This competition was fierce and amazing to be a part of.

Feeling victorious after episode four and being top three with two of my other roommates and friends, runner up to one, we now were entering the fifth challenge, the group challenge. With the ability for us to choose our own teams, we immediately went for our room first, since we all had amazing communication and have celebrated several top looks at this point. Needless to say, it was such a multi-faceted challenge we all needed to communicate effectively and efficiently. Our team now was at six people, with six people on the other.

In forty-five minutes, we had to come up with four looks, a team name, and create a pitch to an unknown panel of investors for money. When I knew that there was a business component, I immediately stepped up. I built a company from the ground up; I was used to pitching business needs to investors and felt confident in my ability to do such. Well…plot twist…we didn’t end up with as much money as the other team. We didn’t let that get us down; we took it in stride and reexamined how to do our presentation. This is when it becomes increasingly important to understand the difference between responsibility and accountability. Responsibility is when you have the ability to delegate; accountability is a personal thing you cannot. The responsibility of our team was to deliver an outstanding capsule collection, I was soon going to take accountability for a dress and the pitch I had done. Long story short, we lost.

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When you hear your team lost, there is a wave of emotions and thoughts that suddenly start occupying your mind. How do you divide the four looks amongst six designers? Who participated more? Who participated less? At the end of the day, I needed to take accountability for the work that I put into our team’s effort.

In business, it is increasingly important for owners to take accountability for their mistakes, judgment calls, and actions. This showcases to their employees, teams, and clientele they are honest, have the capacity to learn from mistakes, and rectify the situation. This is exactly how it played out as all six of us were in tears on the runway, supporting one another, while gazing into the judge’s eyes in disbelief of how surreal this moment was. We stood united even in the toughest of times, much like I would expect from my team/company, my students, and my loved ones. I took accountability for my looks (the only look that was a singular effort) and for the pitch that resulted in a less than favorable result.  Needless to say that was the ending of my time on the show.

Leaving the Show

I left elated. I was so proud of my team, what we delivered, and most of all how we worked together. My final moments encompassed so many emotions, most of which was an incredible sense of self and understanding. Then there was my full circle moment with Tim. Who at one point urged me to go back to school (approximately 10+ years ago) and knew that there was more in me than what I was able to see in myself at the time. Tim Gunn’s words changed my life and for that I will always be endlessly grateful. I left the lounge and crewmembers came to shake my hand, show their support, and say goodbye. That was the last time I would see everyone for weeks.

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Flash forward to the airdate of my final moments on Project Runway. No one will ever understand the stress the morning of, knowing that the episode was on that night, aside from people on the show. We don’t watch the episodes until the public sees them. The first episode I was so anxious and nervous. Now that my time is over, it is surreal and unbelievable. I dreaded my elimination episode, nervous what my team, friends, and family would think of my elimination. Finally, the band aide was ripped off and episode five was over. The next morning I was inundated with an incredible amount of support and outreach of people’s reaction to that episode. It was so incredibly humbling to hear parents who used it as a learning lesson for their kids to take accountability, from people who were hoping that I would end up at NYFW, and even people who said I wasn’t their favorite but this was an incredible moment.

What I’ve Learned

I look back and I took away so much from the show. For the time that I was there I was pushed to my limits. I created things in such a small amount of time that I didn’t even think I would ever be able to do. Was able to open up in ways that I hadn’t before. Most of all, however, was being able to watch how far I have come professionally and personally. My parents were in tears when they called me, as they couldn’t have been more proud of my ability to acknowledge accountability. My team was so supportive and couldn’t have been more proud that their “boss” did on TV what he would do everyday in life. As ugly as some reality shows could get, Project Runway has an incredible sense of integrity, support for their designers, and really wants to showcase talent. Of course there is the sprinkle of drama, but that is much like life. There are sixteen people with different personalities and backgrounds that all come together in this pressure cooker to compete.

It was never about winning for me, honestly the prizes seem so surreal that you don’t even consider them half the time. For me this was about having fun and doing something different. In business, we continue to do what we do because we, as a team, have fun and love it. Since the episode, I do get recognized a lot and always to the support of the episode and what happened. Mary Kay came forward after the episode in support that I lived up to the values of their company, values that all companies should have. In business, whether it is in the fashion industry or not, you should never be afraid to take accountability. Always remember that it might not work out the way in which you would want, however it is the way in which you deal with it that showcases your ones true self. The journey isn’t over, we are still creating and making amazing things. Getting ready for market and I am elated how amazing my team is now. Follow us on our journey, on Youtube, with our weekly series “Inside the Atelier”.

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