Project Runway’s Lone Sustainable Designer Gretchen Jones


With the eighth season of Project Runway debuting this Thursday (for the first time on Lifetime Television), a new crop of designers will once again have to woo host Heidi Klum, mentor Tim Gunn and judges (designer Michael Kors and Marie Claire Fashion Director Nina Garcia).

As this season’s 17 designers make this the largest amount of designers thus far in Project Runway history, we wondered if there were any sustainable designers we’d be able to cheer on to the end. Luckily there was one shining glory: Portland, Oregon’s Gretchen Jones, designer of Mothlove, a label we’ve written about a few times here on the site.

We’ve watched Gretchen evolve over the past few seasons into an even more contemplative, artistically and aesthetically sound designer who’s only negative was that she needed more investing in to continue manufacturing her line.


Will Project Runway be her Golden Ticket? I certainly hope so.

I recently caught up with Gretchen via a phone interview. Here’s what she had to say.

Were you the only sustainable designer on the show?

As far as I know, I was the only one that focused on sustainable materials but as I’ve said many times before, I think sustainable business practices go beyond materials. For example, I still believe that small scale production and producing locally is also very sustainable.

Was it hard to be on Project Runway as a designer who uses sustainable materials and practices with what was available to you?

When I was going through the application process, Tim Gunn’s first concern was my intention to stay sustainable on the show. We only shopped at Mood or used the alternative materials offered to us for challenges but Mood uses over-run materials from high-end designers so that sort of fit into my idea of sustainable. To represent myself as a solid designer was to let go of some materials I was used to using though.

Does a show like Project Runway accurately represent the fashion industry?

Some ways yes and some ways no. Being challenged continuously on the show represents a designer’s adaptability whether on the show or not. There are a number of factors that can make or break you. Having a strong enough conviction to stay true to one’s original concept and not second guess yourself as a designer. Articulating your vision especially in an economy and industry collapsing and being mindful of the choices you make is similar to being on Project Runway.

Without the ability to articulate perspective you can’t move forward to win on the show OR be a successful designer. And a big one, judges hold your fate just as a customer does.

Did the letting go free you to be a better designer?

Again yes and no. Using sustainable materials and the different low toxin dying processes I use off the show actually enable me to be very creative. I’m forced by limitation to create textiles and because that’s what I think, that’s what makes me special.

Because I didn’t have the time (on Project Runway) to focus on the usual processes, I focused more on concept than materials. For me, coming on the show wasn’t to spread the gospel of sustainability. How I approached the show was to focus on fashion first.

Did the speed of creating on Project Runway give you a new appreciation for “Fast Fashion?”

As an advocate for slow fashion, I was definitely creating and producing in a manner that was different for me. During challenges, pieces had to be produced regardless of how wearable they were or if they could even be worn time and time again.

I still felt that I had to create garments that had integrity and quality. That said, because there wasn’t as much of an editing process for lack of time, there was definitely an element of fast fashion.

How was it being judged?

Being judged was one of my reasons for going on the show. I wanted the critiques. Small time designers lead self-indulgent lives working out of their studios and often times have locals supporting them rather than critiquing them. I feel very privileged to be supported in my eco-community but it definitely doesn’t come with the full criticism I need.

That said, what makes a designer good are the critiques. It’s hard to get out of being creative to see what you’re doing and there’s a fine line between being talented and challenged.
Project Runway did challenge me and to have not taken the tools and criticism I got would’ve been arrogant regardless of how convicted I felt.

Did you ever just want to walk away from the show?

There came a point where I wondered if the challenges were really representing me or not, and I think all of us were worn down and questioning what we were doing at one point or another. What Project Runway showed me was that I’d put myself in a place of vulnerability so I had to push through to my own aesthetic to stay authentic for sure.

If given the chance, would you do it again?

For most participants on the show, it’s the hardest thing any of us have ever done. Not just the creative part, but the day to day living. I went on the show because I was in dire need of the greater American public and investors to get to know me.

Ask me again in six months.

Project Runway, Season 8, premieres on Thursday, July 29th at 9 p.m. EST.

Images courtesy of MyLifetime

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.