For Project Runway's 17th season, the show made majors changes upon returning to Bravo. First and foremost, supermodel Karlie Kloss replaced Heidi Klum as the host. Second, designer Brandon Maxwell and Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth joined Elle editor-in-chief Nina Garcia on the judging panel. Last but not least, season 4 winner Christian Siriano became a mentor to the designers throughout the season.
What stayed the same was the talent of the contestants, with a variety of heavy hitters showing their stuff throughout the competition. However, it was NYC's Garo Sparo, Fort Lauderdale's Sebastian Grey, and Santa Fe's Hester Sunshine who were selected to show their collections at NYFW. Take a look at our interview with finalist Hester Sunshine and tune in to see who takes the title on June 13th at 9/8C.
When did you first develop an interest in fashion design and which designers inspired you to pursue this career professionally?
I've wanted to be a fashion designer for pretty much my whole life. When other little kids were dreaming of being pirates and ballerinas, I already knew I wanted to be a fashion designer and show at NYFW. I basically never really had any other career goal or interest, aside from fashion. Well, in high school, there was a moment when I was interested in fashion journalism, but that was short lived.
Take us through your experience working as a designer in NYC and summarize your first ten years in the industry?
I come from the old school punk rock world and started my fashion career working for independent designers, vowing never to sell out. But, as I got older and needed the money, I found myself going more mainstream/ corporate. I did some time at Betsey Johnson, Coach, Kate Spade, even Banana Republic before going into private label and working for big box stores. I really found in my career that there’s no real creativity in working for big name brands, since all your doing is making their vision. The lower market I went, the more I was able to actually design what I wanted.
What led you to create Sunshine by Hester and what are the pros/cons of creating your own line?
I started Sunshine By Hester sort of by accident. I had a cooperate private label job doing Halloween accessories for big box stores. When I put in my notice to leave that job I had planned on seeing out the Halloween season, but my bosses freaked and fired me on the spot. I think they were scared I’d steal my whole team if I stayed my full two weeks. Leaving without finishing the season ,I felt this need to do my own Halloween line, almost as this cathartic end to this job.
I made a little eight look collection, really just to have for myself, but I got such a big response that I realized people wanted to buy what I was making. I'm a big advocate of size inclusivity in fashion and at the time I wasn't financially able to produce clothing for every size, so I decided to start with accessories since they fit everyone. Since then, I’ve just been working as I go. I’ve been lucky enough to gain a pretty dedicated following and have been able to support myself and my brand as I go and grow.
How did you develop your signature style and where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I think my style has developed over a long time. When I was in high school, I got super into old school, late 70s punk and glam rock. Living in a small town pre-internet though, I really had no connection to mainstream punk style and ended up making my own weirdo version out of thrift store finds. When I did make it to NYC for college and found the punk scene, I really realized I was way out of left field with my hodgepodge style. For a while, I tried to make myself fit into that specific mold and then I finally gave up and just gave into what I wanted. I get a lot of inspiration from vintage fashion history and movies. I’d say my biggest influences are Fran Fine (The Nanny) Tank Girl, Barbarella and Party Girl.
What led you to go on Project Runway and what were your initial thoughts on the show’s major change ups?
I've pretty much always wanted to be on Project Runway, but it took a while to for me to feel ready, both skill wise and emotionally. I actually applied three times to the show, the first was season 16 with Lifetime. I got to the finalists round when I had to pull out due a sick family member (my dad). I then got on again for season 17 with Lifetime right before the show was sold to Bravo (where I got on a third time). I have to say I'm excited by the upgrades of the new season and I definitely think all the work that went into getting on the show was worth it.
What was your favorite challenge of the competition?
The print challenge, for sure!
What’s the hardest part about being on the show?
The short time frames at Mood. It’s such a complex store and there’s so much to see, 30-45 min is just not enough time to get fabric in my opinion. I would always end of having to choose between a color I liked and a fabric I could use for the project in mind, and that definitely led to some issues in my work in the competition.
Regardless of how you place in the finale, where do you hope to go from here both personally and professionally?
Well, honestly, I have some pretty big goals to achieve from here!
First of all, I want to continue Sunshine By Hester and keep it as my lower priced, more accessible line. Right now, I'm getting ready for Halloween, working on some new accessories, as well as, getting a mini Halloween clothing line off the ground. I also want to push forward with a high end namesake brand, Hester Sunshine, and create a full ready to wear line, as well as, doing crazy custom avant-garde stuff.
I also hope to do some brand partnerships and licensing. I want to design everything! Eyeglasses, Ski/snowboard wear, Hiking gear, swimwear, home goods... you name it! Also of course as a TV show when I can make that happen!
Outside of designing, what else should we know about Hester Sunshine?
I'm a pretty serious athlete and am OBSESSED with making attractive and functional sportswear for fashion conscious folk. I used to be a competitive snowboarder and in high school, won best in state. I was also on the swim team for years, am an avid hiker, and outdoors lady. I have some big ideas for the winter, outdoor, and competitive swimming worlds, so Speedo, Burton, REI, if yours listening please give a gal a call!
What’s up next for Hester Sunshine?
I hope a whole lot! I'm working on getting some of my designs from Project Runway into production, gearing up for Halloween with Sunshine By Hester, and hoping to design some eye and sunglasses in the near future. Follow me on Instagram at @besta_hesta for updates and check out my YouTube channel for new videos, since I'm also going to start working on those!