An Open Letter to <em>Project Runway</em>

Hah, I didn't need you,! Like a spurned lover, I needed the rejection for motivation.
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Dear Project Runway,

I am a young, talented, environmental and feminist fashion designer who wants to change the world. And you've rejected me. Twice.

Last spring, I tried out for Project Runway Season Three. I sewed, stressed and didn't sleep for a week to get two minutes in front of Tim Gunn. I'd spent hours on my 20 page application, slaved away sewing my three garments, and stayed up all night at the 24-hour Kinkos making my portfolio. I forced a model friend to wake up at 8 a.m., zipped her into a dress made entirely out of Metrocards, and dashed off to Macy's in Herald Square.

After waiting for hours, we met with the first-round judge. She looked me directly in the eye while turning the pages of my portfolio. She didn't even glance at the photos! I started to sweat when she picked up my two garments, a dress made from old shower curtains and t-shirts, and a top made from a vintage slip and salvaged material. She asked my model wearing Metrocards to spin around, hopefully noticing the flawless execution.

Afterward, she motioned for me to go to the next room. I hoped that was a good sign. There, a man with an earpiece was interviewing the contestants one by one. "What is your design philosophy?" "Why do you want to be on Project Runway?" Now, I'd been told to be really enthusiastic for a good TV presence, so I took a deep breath and gushed:

"I want to change the world! I'm a socially conscious, environmental and feminist designer that wants to revolutionize fashion! I'm opposed to the mass production, mass consumption, wasteful, sweatshop labor-filled industry but making clothes is my passion! I have the talent and motivation to make it in the industry and make a difference! And I need Project Runway for the exposure."

He smiled and put a check mark next to my name. I made it to the final round.

I was sent to another room to wait. After a nerve-wracking 15 minutes, a man put on my mic, wished me luck, and sent me into the filming room. I stepped into the blinding light, walked past the cameras, and positioned myself on the duct tape X next to my model, smiling eagerly. I handed my portfolio to the judges, including Tim Gunn and Daniel Vosovic. And then, all the hours of work, stress, and anticipation were over. Within two minutes, the judges knew I wasn't what they wanted. For one, they frowned when I answered I didn't go to design school. For two, they weren't pleased that I was only 22 and had no industry experience. And most importantly, they were not hip to the eco-fashion, socially-conscious concept. Tim Gunn shook his head and said, "It's just not what we're looking for." I was sent out. Rejected.

Even though thousands of people were auditioning in four different cities and you would only choose 15, I still felt personally offended I didn't make it. So, I didn't let up. I wrote your producers, the Bravo TV staff, and sent Tim Gunn a personal email. I argued that I was more creative than any of the other contestants and that I was the most unique person you could have on your show. "Yes," I wrote, "I'm a young, environmental fashion designer who wants to change the world. Big deal. I am also a militant unshaven feminist who paints with her menstrual blood. Yep. I save it after every cycle in a film canister and dip my paintbrush in it like its watercolor. Really. And the paintings are even in a museum." Take me now Project Runway! Take me now!

You didn't take me. I was crushed. I'd have to do something else, something better, to raise awareness about eco-fashion. I had to get my clothing out there some other way, and I did. In October 2006, I opened up my own clothing store, AuH2O, in New York City's East Village. I sew every one-of-a-kind piece right at my store, and my designs have been selling well. Hah, I didn't need you, Project Runway! Like a spurned lover, I needed the rejection for motivation.

This year, my friends encouraged me to give it another shot. I said I didn't have time or want the stress. Plus, what did I need from you? I already had my socially conscious, eco-friendly boutique. And on the one-in-a-million chance I did get on the show, what would I do with my store? Close up? How would I come up with the New York City rent each month? Then, a week before the Season Four audition, I went to a fashion show where Malan Breton, a contestant from Season Three, showed three looks. During intermission, I gathered my courage and spoke with him for a few minutes (and heard his adorable laugh!) He had tried out twice before getting on the show, and as a result he's had great press, opened up his own boutique, and shown at Fashion Week. Dewy-eyed Malan motivated me. I had to try again. There's nothing to lose except for a few hours out of my life. As for closing my store if I did happen to get on the show --we'll just cross that hypothetical bridge when we get there.

I followed the same routine as last year, but gone was the dress good for two hours of free transfers. This time, listening to the experienced wisdom of Malan, two of my looks fit together to resemble a collection and one stood out, made of a pink skirt and vintage lace.

Once again, I made it past the first round judge, got check mark from the interviewer, and was sent into the bright room with Tim Gunn, this time with Laura Bennett at his manicured right hand.

I had changed, but my lover had not. You asked the same questions and frowned at my answers. I didn't go to design school, I was still too young, and my design philosophy wasn't consistent with the fashion industry. You didn't see reworking old into new as fashion design. You didn't think it was practical to sew every garment myself. For the second time, you didn't think I was what you were looking for. Tim Gunn told me very matter-of-factly, "We're going to pass." Rejected. Again.

But everything happens for a reason. If a little rejection is good incentive, where might a lot of rejection get me? Last year, I opened up a clothing store without Project Runway. This year, I might even get to Fashion Week without you.

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