Guest Blog: Joanne Weis Interviews Project Runway Contestant, Zach Lindsey

1 Zach Portrait.jpg

JW: Tell us a little about yourself.

ZL: I just graduated from Du Pont Manual High School/Youth Performing Arts School majoring in design and production, the behind the scenes parts of theater.  I mostly focused on costume design. We did 4 shows a year and 16 in my high school career. For the majority of the shows I was part of the costume team. Our teacher, Amy Berry, would design the costumes, then we would make them, but when she saw I had a passion for those areas, she started using me more. When she learned I could do patterning, when she didn't have time to make a pattern or to resize a pattern, I would do stuff like that. Or there are little fun tasks, like in Shrek, for the witch's costume, she gave me the opportunity to design that one. She told me the colors and the ideas and told me to look up the original costumes to see how they interpreted it, but then to come up with a look and present it to her.  That was the one piece from my high school experience where I co-designed with the teacher. 

During the actual play, the way it works, there are two crews - the "crew crew” makes the costumes and sets and the "run crew" actually runs the show. To do the "run crew", you have to have good grades and just want to do it. You take care of the whole run of the show, you're in charge of making sure the things are on stage where they need to be and that everything is kept up. I mostly did the costuming, keeping track of all the costumes, who they're supposed to be worn by and if something rips or gets broken, fix that; washing out costumes between shows, making sure they stay fresh and clean. You also take care of quick change, a change that happens in less than a minute. I was usually the lead dresser for the lead actresses. There are a lot of times where changes happen in less than 30 seconds, full head to toe clothes, shoes, hair, accessories and all that. That's the fun time of the whole theater, like behind the scenes.  Making it is fun and all but being in the whole mix of things when it all comes together and you sort of have your own stage time. That was the fun time.

5 Zach Project Runway Garment.jpg

JW: How did you move from that into having your own custom-made garment company?

ZL: With costuming, you are working around a character.  With fashion, you are working with a woman in mind.  My mom taught me how to sew.  When we were living in Chicago, she taught me how to make pillows so I had a little pillow company for a while but I kind of got bored with that. 

Originally, I wanted to be a lawyer. I interned for a day under a lawyer and we went to court and it was the most boring thing I ever did and I figured I have to find something different.   I also played saxophone and every time my family would say to go into music I would say It's fun and I like it but it's not where my heart is. At that time, I knew how to sew but never thought of that as a career. I like to dress nice so fashion sort of crept up in my life and it took over. When I got to high school and started to learn the proper way to sew clothing, I just took it from there.

I love making gowns but most women want something they can wear over and over again so they can say "I'm wearing a Zach Lindsey" to everyone and they're not always going to a formal event where they need a gown. So, I don’t get to make as many gowns as I would like.

JW: Many of your garments are constructed using "unconventional" material. Tell us about that.

ZL: My mother used to work for Kentucky Museum for Art and Craft (KMAC) and in the spring, they have a major show called KMAC Couture where artists and designers create wearable works of art. My mom thought I might be interested in that so I did it.  The first one I did that walked the runway was a burlap mermaid with the fish tail part of the dress made out of tulle and the whole dress itself was covered in small burlap flowers where I cut and hand dyed the petals.  The flowers at the bottom of the dress are in browns but as the flowers move up the dress toward her face, the flowers turn pink. Then she has a big, three-yard-long veil made out of coffee filters, 1600 coffee filters, all hand dyed and cut into four different sizes. In front of the veil is a big flower head piece that fits over the brow.  The whole dress symbolizes the changes of the seasons, the bottom symbolizing fall and winter, going into spring and the head dress being summer. The second time I did KMAC Couture, that dress was inspired by storms. This was after I was put off of Project Runway Junior.

I decided to do KMAC Couture again this past April and the jacket and hat and waistband of the pants are made out of wood. I drew patterns, fit them to my model and then cut those patterns out of plywood. I cut up the plywood and then fit the pieces of wood together to make the look.  They are all drilled with little holes and wired together.  The hat is made out of a single piece of plywood.  The jewelry is screws, all stitched to a piece of leather, then spray painted gold.

In these garments, the model never sits down in it, never uses the restroom, won't eat.  You just do it and take it off and let the moment live again in your head through photos and videos. 

3 Zach KMAC 2.JPG

JW: Who are your models?

ZL: I have a younger sister, she's fourteen and she was my first model.  But then we started getting into fights and then she moved into puberty and her body started to change and I would say "you got fat" and "this won't zip up" or "you broke the zipper" or something. So, my mom told me we couldn’t work together anymore, and that I had to find friends that would model for me. I ended up finding a couple of friends who would model for me. One of them has become the face of the company, in most of the photo shoots and things like that.

JW: What inspired you to apply for Project Runway?

ZL: After my first KMAC Couture, I ended up googling around and found Project Runway Junior. I applied for that and ended up getting in.  I got to be one of twelve kid designers aged 13 to 17.  Project Runway Junior was an amazing experience and taught me a lot about myself!  As I was designing, the main thought in my head was to not get eliminated. I just wanted to present designs that represented me as a designer. While on the show I also wanted to try new things, and push myself. I had never patterned pants before and the first time I did it was on the show. It was a big risk to take, especially since I did it on the third episode, but it worked out and I did it a couple more times. Towards the end of the competition I began to get tired and that's what lead to my elimination. I had designed multiple strong looks for the challenge that I was eliminated on, but for some reason I went with the simpler design and it bit me. 

When I first got put off the show it was sort of like a heartbreaking moment but I told my mom I didn't want people to think I was quitting my career just because I got put off a TV show. So, I ended up designing and releasing a collection and announcing the start up of my company the night that the finale aired. Sort of like my rebel moment, "so you took me off the show but I'm going to try to steal the spotlight from yours".

2 Zach KMAC 1.jpg

JW:  Now you have your own company, "Zach Lindsey", who are your customers and where do your ideas originate? 

ZL: When I first started my design career my focus was mostly on making regular clothing but after doing KMAC Couture for the past three years, I sort of like doing the unconventional type stuff. You can just be more creative.   Then when I come back to conventional materials, the unconventional reinvigorates me, helps me think outside the box. I am still designing for conventional use, that's where I make my money, and I like to focus on high end woman's wear.  The unconventional is for fashion shows, where I put lots of money into it just for the fun of it.

Right now, I'm working on a Mother of the Groom dress.  This came from a man at a Rotary Club where I spoke.  The man told me he would like to have a custom dress made for his wife's birthday in February.  Their son was getting married so we decided to make a Mother of the Groom dress for that.  I had sent her a set of sketches to look at. When they came over to look at sketches, I was working on a new collection and had those up on the wall. She saw the sketch for the finale dress of the new collection and said "I want that".  I said "OK"! 

The original dress was embellished with tree limbs so we just changed that to beaded pearls. She wanted a color between navy and royal blue, an a-line dress with cap sleeves and on the right side of the dress, an asymmetrical ball gown kind of effect with hand sewn beaded pearls on tulle. I don't usually do a lot of hand work but when a woman wants a gown, I do a lot of beading and handwork. Those pearls come up onto the dress so that it incorporates it between the tulle and the dress.  There are also pearls beaded onto the neckline. The weight of all the pearls caused the dress to pull weirdly and I couldn’t let her walk out of my house in that condition so I ended up doing some research and talking with some other sewers and I learned that I had cut the fabric wrong. After re-cutting & reassembling the gown it looked gorgeous!

I also do alterations; I have one client who buys all these clothes off a website and they come in, like they're four sizes too small and she comes over and says "Zach, can you fix this?" and I say "Sure". The first time I said "I can do it" because I didn't want to destroy the image that I can do it and I didn't want to disappoint her.  I thought maybe I couldn't do it but I would figure out how. Some of the clothes have large seam allowances so you can adjust the garment a few sizes. As long as it isn't a crazy print, I can usually find a fabric to add in by recutting the pattern or just adding in. Some of them are pleated so you can redistribute the pleats to enlarge the garment. I enjoy this because it's like a puzzle, you can fix it so it looks like it was made that way.   It has helped me improve my skills as a sewer and learn new skills and tricks and it helps me on patterning and to learn how things are patterned. It's a cool experience.

4 Zach Project Runway Junior.jpg

JW: What's next?

ZL: I was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.  I'm supposed to go next week but I decided to defer for a bit because I hadn't saved up enough money and they weren't giving me enough scholarship money.  Instead of starting fall of 2017 I plan to start in the fall of 2018.  This will give me a chance to save some money, get a job in New York and get more settled there before school starts.

I don't have a full-time job in New York yet but I will be going up on September 4th to work for a week in Fashion Week.  I learned about this last year when I went up to look at New York Schools.  I asked my Project Runway Producer "hey is there a way I can get a ticket to Fashion Week to see the Project Runway Finale?" and she told me "better yet I can connect you to the lady that puts Fashion Week together and runs it all and she can give you a job and you'll get paid to work other shows". So this year I get to work the show again for the whole week and see even more shows this time. If by the end of that week I get a job I would probably stay in New York.  I most likely won't get a job so I'll come back here and hopefully be employed by the end of September. My Project Runway producer isn't hiring right now but she said she would contact some of her friends to see if they are hiring so I may be able to find a job in New York.  When I move there, it will probably be a hodge podge of different jobs because you can't get along there on just one job.

JW: What's your plan for the future?

ZL: When I design, I design around three principles of femininity, sophistication, and glamour. I believe that the female form is beautiful and love to show it off and celebrate it tastefully in my designs. Everything happens for a reason and I have had tremendous opportunities and created my best work after Project Runway Junior, so I wouldn't change anything about the experience and its outcome. My vision for the company is to expand into a life brand, where a woman could come to our store and could furnish her entire life besides the home, car, and appliances.