By Chelsea Ma
The Mirror Staff
Winning Project Runway Junior Season 2 was never something even conceivable to me during the first episode.
Tips for Dominating “Project Runway Junior”
March 23, 2017
FIRST PERSON:Second season winner Chelsea Ma reveals what it took to come out as the top designer on the Bravo fashion design competition
“Project Runway” has been and will always be one of the most significant changes in my life. It has given me experience and opportunities I could’ve only dreamed of just six months ago.
It all started in April 2016 when my design teacher told me that there were auditions for “Project Runway Junior” Season 2. She insisted that I audition regardless of whether or not I would get on. Since she told me only two weeks before the audition deadline, I had little to no time to prepare my portfolio.
I spent the days doing school work and stayed up nights for the next two weeks making clothes. I finally sent in my portfolio including pictures, a video, and a questionnaire, which they required.
I waited for about two weeks before I got a call back from a talent producer. He requested an over-the-phone interview with me. From there, I had several more video calls with other producers to talk about myself and my work at the time, helping me make it to the semifinals!
The semifinals was our first time meeting the producers in person. We had to bring our clothes and talk about ourselves on camera in front of two judges.
Walking into the room where the semi-finals took place, my confidence slowly deflated after noticing the other designer’s work and how much more experienced they were in the fashion industry than I.
In the back of my head, I thought, “I made a mistake. There’s no way I can compete with the other candidates.”
When it was time to go into the room to decide my fate, I told myself, “You’ve already made it this far. Just do it, and leave with no regrets.”
It was another month before I got the call from them saying, “You got in! You’re going to be on ‘Project Runway Junior’ Season 2!”
I was dumbfounded. It had been the single best and least expected phone call in my life. From that point on I had one goal, and that was make it at least halfway through the competition!
I remember my dad begging me not to get eliminated the first episode. He said, “after the first challenge you can go, but please don’t be the first!”
The first time filming for me was, to put it nicely, rough. It was a struggle adjusting to the new conditions we had to work under.
Each challenge required us to finish an outfit within 10-12 hours. We had to work in a group setting and had to adapt to using industrial sewing machines instead of home sewing machines.
For the first episode I decided to use organza and vinyl (not user friendly) which didn’t help my situation with the construction of my garment or my time management. Fully recognizing my lacking in technical skills, I didn’t think I would make it far.
When it was time for the first runway of the season, I almost vomited. Naturally, your first runway show should be one of the most anticipated and exciting events in a designer’s career, but I couldn’t feel more opposite of that feeling if I wanted to.
When I was called up as either one of the bottom or top three, I’m sure everyone, including myself, believed I was in the bottom. I’ll never forget when Hannah Jeter called my name, paused, and said “We loved it!” Every ounce of doubt I had disappeared, and I transformed into a different person. I wasn’t someone making clothes anymore. I was a fashion designer.
Before “Project Runway,” I had never pushed myself to think outside of the box like I did. I never had the courage to bring forth unique and technically difficult designs when I was at home.
Watching Ruby go home during the first episode for doing something the judges called “simple, and basic” was a red flag for me. My new motto became “go big or go home.” There was no just sliding by.
There were many times when neither the other contestant nor Tim Gunn understood or liked my designs. They were either too unwearable, ill-fitting for the challenge, or unrelatable. It made me doubt myself countless times, but it also made me a better designer.
In the end, no matter what I did, I always stuck to my gut instinct because if there’s anyone I can trust completely, it’s myself. There were many moments when I would scrap a look and completely restart. I’m sure everybody else thought I was insane, but if I was going to be eliminated, it was not going to be for a look I wasn’t proud of.
One of my proudest accomplishments on the show would have to be my surprising track record.
I was safe three times and on the top two times. I won four times, and I was never on the bottom. Also, I’m proud to say that since the first episode, I have never sewn a model into an outfit.
In total, I won four challenges: the fourth (“Step It Up From Day to Night”), seventh (“High End Italian Fashion”), eighth episode (“Race to the Finale”) and the finale. Looking back, I’m always reminded of how even when I thought I couldn’t do something, I really could.
The show taught me that I am strong-willed, talented, and capable of making it in the fashion industry.
Coming into this competition, everybody’s main goal isn’t necessarily to win as it is to be able to show a collection at fashion week. We were used to working ourselves so hard on a day to day basis, but the finale was a whole new ballgame. There was no challenge brief we had to fulfill, and we had an insane budget of $4,000. We were also given five weeks to work (during school time).
I used a clip from the video game, “Overwatch,” as inspiration for my story line. From there I made about two collections, which I ended up not using. I disliked my collection, my grades were dropping, and the finale was getting closer by the day.
During the last week before we had to return to the show, I stayed up sewing day and night, finishing about four-and-a-half looks—which was risky because I needed six.
When we were all unveiling our finale collections, I felt deja vu. It felt like the first episode all over again. I almost vomited. There was this constant drive in the back of my head saying that I needed to continue being the frontrunner to win. I didn’t want to let myself down knowing that I could do better. I ended up hustling the entire week to get things done.
This had to be one of the hardest times of my life, but I made it work, and I won.
Winning “Project Runway Junior” Season 2 was never something even conceivable to me during the first episode. I am beyond thankful to my parents, my teacher, the cast, crew, producers, judges, and most of all Tim Gunn for always being the most sincere and loving mentor.
I’m excited to make new leaps and bounds into my career and I am forever grateful for Project Runway for making this possible