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Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be a Project Runway contestant? Ever asked yourself if you have what it takes to create designs on a tight deadline and stay true to your own ideas when everyone else has an opinion?
Katie Kortman, Spoonflower’s first Ambassador, and Project Runway Season 19 contestant, shares what it’s like to create under the pressure cooker of reality television and after the show airs, how she stayed true to her creative voice and what she’s up to next.
Spoonflower: Where did your fashion designer journey start?
Katie: “I started designing and sewing things in college and experimented for years and years, not really knowing what I was doing. I made some wearable stuff that I liked over the years, but I still wasn’t super confident in my skills.
In 2018, I decided not to buy any clothes for the whole year, so that I would be forced to learn how to make everything. That was a really pivotal year in my current career, as I both learned how to make so many things, and also learned how to design fabric as the result of another goal I had.
But I didn’t become a fashion designer who designed clothing for OTHER people, until after this TV show! The best thing to come out of doing this show was that I reignited an old dream of mine to be a fashion designer. It gave me the platform to launch my brand and have the world know about it!”
Spoonflower: We’ve heard you say that one of the Project Runway casting directors reached out to you to audition. How did they discover you?
Katie: “It was the craziest thing! I was actually at Spoonflower headquarters doing a meet-and-greet and a class when I received a phone call from a casting person for the show! They said they found me on social media, so yes it was based on what I had been doing and sharing online. It had always been a dream of mine to go on that show, but I never would’ve applied on my own since I didn’t have a degree in fashion or my own line at the time.”
Spoonflower: After you agreed to audition, you then had to learn how to draft patterns. What was that process like? What resources did you use?
Katie: “It was up to me to actually send in a video and do the audition process, and I didn’t want to tell them I didn’t actually know how to design my own clothing patterns! I knew how to sew very well, so that really helped make the learning curve a lot quicker. When you have stared at pattern pieces many times, and constructed as much clothing as I have, it helps a lot!
I got online and ordered textbooks, drafting tools and supplies, and a dress form. From the time I sent in that first audition video to the time I drafted and sewed my first mini “collection” to show them, it was about three weeks. Later, after Covid ended up postponing the show, I used some online classes (like Craftsy, YouTube and Creative Costume Academy) to help supplement the textbooks.”
Spoonflower: The show feels like it’s a pressure cooker on purpose. How much time did you have to create your designs and what was the feedback loop from others?
Katie: “Yes, I am sure it’s on purpose, it makes for good TV! We had about 12-14 hours to draft, sew and complete a look (as mentioned on some of the episodes). You got feedback from Christian Siriano, the show’s participant mentor, a few hours into the challenge and then again when the models came a few hours (or more) after that. And then again on the runway.
I had time to listen to my own thoughts, but it was mostly at the same time I was rushing to complete everything! So I couldn’t think really clearly all the time, because I didn’t have time to just sit and stare at my work and do more sketching or anything like that.”
Spoonflower: Season 19 was the first season designers could bring their own designed fabric. What substrates and designs did you bring and why did you choose them?
Katie: “Yes it was! I was SO EXCITED when I found out!! We could only bring one fabric to be used on only one challenge. I only had two weeks to have a fabric made to bring, and I live in Japan, so my sources were limited. I ended up getting a cotton fabric just because it was the most versatile of the fabric choices I had.
I didn’t know what I would end up using my fabric for, so I wanted to make sure I had a fabric that had both drape and structure. I chose a print that I thought was the most indicative of me as a designer. It was a print I created from a watercolor painting of mine.”
Spoonflower: Describe your process for transforming your fine art paintings into repeating patterns.
Katie: “First, I take a high-quality photo of them and next, I start “cutting” parts of them and repeating them to the edges so that I can blend them into the center of the image. I continue this process until all the edges create a seamless repeat, and the “pasted” pieces are blended into the whole painting.”
Spoonflower: People online and judges can be the worst. How do you handle that?
Katie: “At first it did feel painful to see what people were saying about me online. But then I decided to stop letting it get to me.
Not one of those people have even BEEN on this show. Most probably have ZERO idea how to do what we did on that show, let alone in the time frame and circumstances we were under. And so what if they didn’t like what I did? Plenty of people did, so I decided to focus on the positive instead of the negative, which was very hard to do.
The judges, well, all I can say is that Nina Garcia loved what I did. She got me and told me not to change. So I’m choosing to focus on that.
I do think that I learned a lot since going to the show, and then rewatching the show. I had so much to learn about doing a runway, what was “runway” fashion vs ready-to-wear fashion, and just how I could’ve “elevated” my stuff to meet the needs of the show, rather than trying to make the show just appreciate my normal work for what it was.
If I get a chance to do Project Runway All Stars, where past contestants from different seasons compete against each other, I would totally do it again!”
Spoonflower: As a viewer, at times during the show it seemed you struggled to listen to your own creative voice. Was that something you had dealt with before? And what helped you to hear your own voice both in that environment and after it aired?
Katie: “It was easy for me at the beginning, because I felt confident in my work. After that second challenge (streetwear) when I was on the bottom, but thought I was on the top… I began to have more doubt when I was given feedback. I hadn’t really dealt with this before other than in group project type things maybe?
I am a people-pleaser so I tend to go with the flow over stuff, and let louder voices take charge. I think some of those personality traits came to play here when I was being given so much feedback. Other designers told me just to ignore it and I couldn’t!
After the show aired, again I did see lots of negative feedback from commenters on pages about how my style was “clownish” and “childish.” This did momentarily make me question my design aesthetic. But not for too long!”
Spoonflower: In an Instagram post about being eliminated from the show, you shared the following list of five things you’d learned from being on the show. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Katie: “When crappy things happen in my life, I like to try and look for something good that came out of it. Sometimes it’s really really hard to find something! But I find it helps to focus on that instead. I was incredibly disappointed to not make it to New York Fashion Week, where the final three-four contestants get to show their work.
I had dreams about what I should’ve done differently, over and over after the show. But focusing on this list of good things, helped me to push those thoughts aside. After all, it’s not like I could change anything!”
Spoonflower: What’s next for you?
Katie: “I came home from filming the show, and I got right to work and to launch my first fashion line! Katie Kortman Clothing is now available on my website and it is like a dream came true! I also came out with an online “Wear Happy Color” class to accompany my book by the same name!”
Betsy is a writer and stitcher who joined the Brand Marketing team in July 2021. In her spare time, she talks to people about their choice to make things by hand and related lessons learned for her project Dear Textiles. She also aims to befriend all the dogs she meets and is forever looking for the perfect dress pattern with pockets.