A Young Feminist Designer Writes to Project Runway

AuH2O, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

I’ve written about my good friend Kate Goldwater several times before — Kate is a feminist, environmentally friendly fashion designer who recently opened a store called AuH2O in New York City’s East Village (7th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves). Kate and I were both members of NYU’s pro-choice organization, and even though we’ve both graduated we’ve remained good friends. Kate is an awesome activist, and one of the all-around best human beings I know. At 23 she has her own line of clothing, owns and runs her own store, shows her collections at fashion shows, and has some of her menstrual blood art featured in an online museum — and now she’s entering the blogging world. At HuffPo, no less.

Kate writes an open letter to Project Runway after they rejected her twice. See, Kate is very against sweatshop labor. Her clothes are all environmentally-friendly. And, unsurprisingly, that doesn’t mesh well with PR’s vision. [Disclosure: I am obsessed with Project Runway].

It’s a great piece, so you should head over, read it, and comment. And yes, one of the pictures is of me, and I look kinda weird. But the dress is great, and I ended up buying it from her.

More of Kate’s work can be seen here, here and here, plus on her website. A few examples of her work are below the fold. And congrats, Kate, on all your successes!

AuH2O, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

Rachel in AuH2O, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

AuH2O, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

Katie, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

AuH2O, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

Lauren, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

, originally uploaded by JillNic83.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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27 Responses to A Young Feminist Designer Writes to Project Runway

  1. Marksman2000 says:

    If she’s a designer, that makes her an artist. We have to learn to roll with rejection–it’s part of the game. I have a stack of rejection letters from publishers sitting here on my desk to prove it.

    She should get over it and keep moving ahead.

  2. evil fizz says:

    I covet the pink dress.

  3. Lauren says:

    There’s a white dress on the website I covet. Little lace sleeves and a cute sash. A few inches longer in the skirt and I’d be on it.

  4. Jill says:

    Yeah, I’m in love with the pink dress and the white lace dress too. Some asshole model bought the white lace one, sadly — but it would have probably been too short for me anyway, despite my stubby little legs.

    The nice thing about Kate is that she’s constantly making new stuff, so whenever I go into her store there’s always something I’m dying to buy.

  5. Fr Chris says:

    My experience has been that in many creative disciplines (music, studio art, design, architecture, etc.), there’s a lot of talent out there and not many opportunities for institutional recognition — so the folks at the top tend to choose who to favor on fairly shallow criteria. Kate’s work is stunning — so clearly she’s just running into the shallowness of the art world’s criteria for greatness. The success of her store is evidence enough that she really is talented — forget PR, embrace the success you’ve got and will have with people who care about the design and not the politics!

  6. Jill says:

    She should get over it and keep moving ahead.

    She is. She’s pretty much the most positive person I know. I think she’s just frustrated with the way the whole industry works — that hand-made stuff is looked down on, that environmentally-friendly clothing isn’t considered important, that all the models have to be super-skinny, etc.

  7. MissPinkKate says:

    A dress made of metrocards? As Tim Gunn himself would say, Contrivance!

  8. Sally says:

    I don’t think the problem with the metrocard dress is that it’s contrived. The problem is that it’s unoriginal. But I guess you guys were like 12 in 1995, so maybe you weren’t watching the Oscars yet!

    I’m sure they heard “recycled” and decided it was a gimmick, which is too bad, because Kate’s stuff doesn’t look gimmicky at all to me. Maybe they’ll pick her next time. I’m sure that at this point every talented designer in the country is trying to get on to Project Runway, so there’s plenty of competition.

    (And also, much as I hate to say this about my favorite reality show ever, they’re probably partly casting for things other than talent. Maybe Kate just doesn’t seem like someone who’s going to bring the drama.)

  9. Lauren says:

    And also, much as I hate to say this about my favorite reality show ever, they’re probably partly casting for things other than talent. Maybe Kate just doesn’t seem like someone who’s going to bring the drama.

    Next time she auditions she should bring a jar of menstrual blood and wave it around while she talks.

  10. LS says:

    I covet that top above the fold. Stunning.

  11. hipparchia says:

    I’m with LS about that top, but I like the Metrocards too.

  12. Rose says:

    Thanks for the post. I’m always looking for new, interesting designers in NY who don’t charge over $1000 for a dress! Is it okay for those of us 30+, short, not-skinny types to shop there? I was kind of hoping she would sell online, I just hate going to most botiques in NY. You remember those tests from childhood – a picture of a car, a bus, and a pig – what doesn’t fit here? In NY botiques I feel like that pig picture!

    Anyone else here mourning the loss of Girlshop.com? They directed the old customers to a place called Net-a-Porter. Not a damn piece on that site under $700! Bummer!

  13. Jill says:

    Is it okay for those of us 30+, short, not-skinny types to shop there?

    Of course! She hand-makes everything, so clothes can be tailored to fit different body types. And if there’s something you like but it doesn’t fit, she can often make another version of it to fit you.

  14. Sandi says:

    I know she’s willing to alter her clothes to fit various sizes but I don’t think you get to claim to be a “feminist” designer unless you make a range of sizes to begin with. Fat people aren’t an oddity to be adjusted for; treating them as such is stigmatizing and hardly “feminist.”

  15. Hugo says:

    How about those of us who only get to New York about as often as we elect a new House? Can any of this be bought online? I covet one particular shirt, the white one with the colorful rooster or chicken on it that’s on her buff male model on the website.

  16. Kate AuH2O says:

    thanks for the link jill! and thanks everyone for your nice words. unfortunately all of the pieces showcased have been sold, and were only made in that one size, but as i (hopefully) expand someday, i’ll have my designs produced with organic cotton at fair labor wages, and they’ll be made in all sizes, and available online. i thought the $100,000 project runway prize would help me with that. but i’ll hopefully eventually get the money for production eventually and another way… in the meantime, i’m starting small and only selling individual pieces at my shop in the east village.

    and i should also note that i adore the show, watch it obsessively, and will definitely still buy the season pass on iTunes for the upcoming season.

  17. Hugo says:

    Fine, Kate, way to make me buy the carbon offsets to come to New York. Sheesh. ;-)

  18. Jennifer says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. For one, they are DEFINITELY changing their “anything goes, any age goes” openness to really wanting people who are already older, schooled, working designers. Annoying, but there you have it.

    And for another…couture interests them far more than eco-friendly. Probably makes for better television. Though to be fair, I don’t know how eco-friendly Kate would even be able to get if she was on the show, given how they operate and how she would have limited choice in materials.

    I do think it is sad that they don’t value remaking old into new. I think that sort of thing is awesome and needed, and GEE, might even make a good challenge for contestants to try out sometime.

    I am, however, rolling my eyes at Tim somehow not being cool with a designer sewing all her own work. Don’t a good chunk of the people cast on the show do that already? And wouldn’t that bode better for Kate on the show other than the people who leave it to the little people?

  19. Lina says:

    That top one is absolutely fabulous, a real gem. She’s definitely one to watch.

  20. Jill says:

    I know she’s willing to alter her clothes to fit various sizes but I don’t think you get to claim to be a “feminist” designer unless you make a range of sizes to begin with. Fat people aren’t an oddity to be adjusted for; treating them as such is stigmatizing and hardly “feminist.”

    …which is easy to do if you actually have a company, and a little harder if you barely make your rent each month, only make one-of-a-kind pieces, sew everything by yourself by hand, and can’t afford a dress form and so you have to use your own body instead.

    She doesn’t just adjust her clothes for fat people. She offers free on-site alterations to anyone who comes into the store and buys something that doesn’t fit perfectly. She purposely chooses stretchy, flexible materials so that despite each piece only coming in one size, they fit a variety of different bodies. And she does cut some pieces bigger and some smaller, she just can’t do every different piece in 20 different sizes. She’s altered pretty much everything I’ve bought from her to fit my body, because I’m proportioned differently than she is. She alters stuff to fit smaller people, bigger people, whoever — that’s what happens when everything is one-of-a-kind, and you can’t yet afford mass production to make each piece in a variety of sizes.

    I think it’s a little unfair to call her feminism into question just because she’s very constrained when it comes to money and resources.

  21. Jennifer says:

    Eh, I don’t really get the giant love, as I am not seeing anything I haven’t seen before. And the letter comes across as a way to drum up business, not to actually help anyone get on Project Runway.

  22. Andrea says:

    Aren’t they always ranting on Project Runway about the designers needing to have a clear point of view/visual message that they are trying to project with their designs?

    I guess that doesn’t work so well if your visual message doesn’t fit with the fashion industry, in which case it makes me wonder why they want you to have one to begin with.

    The designs are beautiful, and I absolutely love the idea of painting with menstrual blood. That’s awesome. :o)

    Best of luck, Kate.

  23. KC says:

    I think I’m in love. Really.

    As soon as I’ve saved up some money, I’m going to New York and buying something. Lots of somethings.

    And, as a slightly larger woman, I’m way too stoked about the fact that she’ll alter things, that makes me so insanely happy.

  24. Hawise says:

    …can’t afford a dress form and so you have to use your own body instead.

    I had a friend who made her own form by duct taping over an old t-shirt, cutting it off then packing it full of old plastic bags before sealing it. Maybe her models and friends can make her a range of forms to work off of in the future. It has the advantage of not bleeding when you stick pins in it.

  25. Laurie says:

    Paper tape is actually better than duct tape for those forms — it doesn’t make the pins all sticky. :) Also, duct tape tends to compress the form underneath a bit, especially if you are, um, naturally *padded* at all. Throws off the final measurements a bit. You do want to use a couple layers of the paper tape, but it’s not real expensive.

    Kate, if you have the time, inclination, and access to a couple of old t-shirts/friends in various sizes, there should be an article on the Threads website detailing how to make these dress forms. If it’s not there or is unfindable, the lovely administrators of this site have my permission to forward my e-mail address to you — I have *years* of back copies and I KNOW I have that article in my stash. I’d be happy to hard copy it for you and mail it out.

    If you don’t have the room for multiple dress forms, I’d suggest maybe one in several sizes larger than yourself, just to expand your options. If you don’t have the room to have even one, I sympathize. ;)

    As another sewing professional though, I’d suggest charging SOMETHING for your alterations. You are living/working in a ridiculously expensive city — which I’m sure you know! ;) — you need to get paid for your time/talents. You don’t have to charge market value, even, but a little something to cover your time, materials, and wear/tear on the machine. People appreciate more what they have to pay/work for. And you are definitely worth it! :) Your stuff is not precisely my cup of tea (aging Midwestern chick here, sigh), but I recognize the talent that goes into it. And I LOVE that you recycle stuff in your designs! :)

    Keep up the good work. I LOVE that you have enough business to have your own shop! And in NYC, no less. *big grins!*

  26. little cabbage says:

    Hoooooly crap that is some beautiful clothing. I’m going to be in NYC in September and when I am, I will definitely be giving that shop a visit.

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