You know the story. A small town girl makes it in the big city. Alicia Hardesty is currently living this dream story in the name of fashion. Growing up in Brandenburg, Kentucky, her love for designing clothes started when she plastered her walls with pictures from Vogue Magazine. After college, Hardesty made her way to one of the fashion capitals of the world, New York City. There she gained more experience working as an intern. Eventually, she made her way to Los Angeles where she continued to expand her brand and began modeling.
Hardesty makes it clear that she isn’t keen with the current styles offered to women, so she started a clothing line called “Original Tomboy.” These inspired looks got her a top spot on the newest season of Lifetime’s Project Runway. Not only has she given mainstream America a glimpse inside her closet, but she’s showcasing her androgynous style every week. Since being on the show, she has already cultivated a large group of “Team Alicia” fans all over the country.
In her casting video, it’s no wonder that one of the judges says, “She’s shown us something new and fresh. She’s so much cooler than I’ll ever be!”
However, don’t let her cool and easygoing demeanor fool you. Hardesty is determined to see her clothing line grow and make her mark on the fashion world.
Tagg: When did you first know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
Alicia Hardesty: I think in high school I really got into fashion. I had piles and piles of Vogue magazines in my room, and I had pictures plastered up all over the walls. And I was really interested in doing different things with my own clothes and dressing outside the box.
Did you design clothes for your friends and family?
I was really experimenting. I didn’t even know how to sew when I first started. I would just take things apart, and I would add on. It was a mix between wearable art and fashion. And nobody would wear my designs, so I just wore it. (I come from a small town, Brandenburg, Kentucky.)
When did you move out to Los Angeles?
First I went to Lexington [Kentucky] to complete a couple of years of college, then I went to Colorado State for fashion, and then I went to New York to do my internship and worked there for a couple of years. My girlfriend and I later moved out to L.A. three years ago.
How long have you been together?
It was four years in February.
When did you start getting into modeling?
I moved out to L.A., there were so many other opportunities in film, TV, and commercials. If you have a unique look, you’ll get called for things like music videos. Because of the dreads, people usually think I’m in music. I put together a modeling portfolio, and I’ve been getting good responses from it. Nothing too huge yet, but it has been fun for me. I enjoy it.
How has your fashion style evolved over time?
When I first started learning the basics in college, I was doing whatever came up. I was really interested in learning about pants. And when you start designing, you do skirts and dresses, because that is how you learn to drape and to do flat patterns. But I also ventured off into doing my own thing. I was doing a little of everything. Experimenting with fabrics and silhouettes. And then I dabbled into some wearable art and textile art. In my senior year of college, [all of us students] did our own line. We had to develop everything from start to finish. We did a little marketing; we did all the sketching, patterns, everything. I picked a target market focused on the LGBT crew in Atlanta, because it had a very hip-hop feel, very street. From that I decided that I wanted to go into menswear because what I’m doing now wasn’t available to me coming out of college. I’ve had to create it on my own. So that is when I went into menswear.
What inspires you as a designer?
I get inspired by a little bit of everything—films, music, art, and similar things like that. I also like pulling from different cultures and lifestyles. That’s what you are designing for, so it fits into a certain lifestyle. It always has to relate back to that.
What made you try out for Project Runway?
You know, people have told me for a long time that I should do it, and I’ve said for a long time I wouldn’t do it. (Laughs) The cameras and all the stress. Just from what I’ve seen from past seasons, I didn’t know if it was for me. So I just thought I wouldn’t even bother. But my friend Hunter said, “You know what? I met this girl today, and she was talking about Project Runway and how much she loves it. And you should just apply.” So I thought, Why the hell not? So I went online and the application was actually due the next day. I printed it out and filled it out, and the next day I realized there was a video involved, and [my girlfriend and Hunter] helped me get everything together. Literally, it was due 5:30p.m. that day, so me and my girlfriend drove over to Van Nuys [California] and dropped it off right at the cut-off. And then I got a call a week later saying I had an appointment with the judges, and the rest is history.
Were you shocked when they contacted you for the casting interview?
I had a really good feeling for some reason that I was going to get a call. I had a good feeling about it from the beginning. It was something about it. It was like the stars aligned, and it was meant to be. In the beginning, it was effortless in a way. I just felt like it was going to happen.
What was your favorite part about being on the show?
I didn’t know what to expect, really. I think my favorite part was getting to know all the designers and all the people that we worked with, even production. Everybody was really cool. I came away knowing some good people in the industry. For me, that is the best part. I like to challenge myself and see what I can do more of, and what I can do better. It was challenging in so many different ways and on so many different levels. That was cool for me. I really enjoyed that.
Who was your favorite designer on the show?
I really liked a lot of pieces Melissa did, and I liked Elena as a designer. She has a lot of creative stuff. On a personal level, me and Raul got really close. We called each other “lesbros.” We were pretty tight. He’s a cool kid. He thinks he’s a lesbian in a man’s body.
Was it hard to take criticism from the judges?
Some of it is hard. They have so much to say, and 50% of it is sarcasm. It is funny. They’re making jokes, and you’re standing on stage with your work and all your blood, sweat and tears that goes into your work each week. And the judges are saying, “I don’t like this, and I don’t like that,” and, “Why in the world would you do that?” And you feel like, Well I have this going on, and this went wrong, and I only have so much time. That is probably the worst part. But for the most part the constructive criticism is okay. I can handle it. I would just get to the point where I was over it. I was like, “Okay, I’m done now.”
What did you like about the first challenge?
Well, the first challenge was one of my favorites because it was just so big. We presented in Times Square, and all these fans were around. We were just getting started in the game and they threw us into Times Square, and it was just crazy. There was paparazzi, we were backstage with the models, and it was our first show. Just nuts. I have never experienced something like that, and it was really exciting. That was probably my favorite part all season—that excitement and being in that moment. Times Square, THE city of fashion. It was really cool.
Being a lesbian contestant on Project Runway, do you look at yourself as a role model?
I never did in a big way, but it seems like with doing this show I’ve had more exposure, and it seems people are kind of looking up to me in an inspirational way. Being in this industry and having something different about me that people can relate to, and really take that and boost their confidence in some way—I think that’s really cool. Anything that I can do just by being me to help somebody else. That’s the simplest way to help somebody else, to be the kind of person that they can look up to. I would hope that I can continue to be that for people, even outside of being gay. On the show, I’m just me. I don’t do anything extra. I think they knew that through the interview process. I’m just me, and I hope people see that. Just being on a television show and maintaining your personal integrity is a big deal, and people see that. Especially people from back home. I’m representing Brandenburg. It’s not like I moved to L.A. so I’m from L.A. now. I’m still from Brandenburg, Kentucky, and they appreciate that. I’m glad I can be an inspiration. It’s an honor for me.
How would you describe Original Tomboy, your clothing line?
It’s inspired by where I grew up in Kentucky. It’s got sort of a vintage feel to it, but it’s also very modern at the same time. I try to take things that inspire me from the country and infuse that into a modern tomboy lifestyle. That’s what Original Tomboy is all about. I create pieces that focus on or that caters to tomboys, but at the same time bridge the gap between feminine women’s wear and menswear. I’m bringing over menswear to women’s wear basically. It’s pretty casual for the most part for this collection. And later on I’d like to do another line that’s a little more dressed up, a little more high end that you would wear out to formal events or things of that nature. This one is more of a street feel because it’s a little more casual, but I like to call it “Huck Finn” and “modernly new” at the same time.
And what sets Original Tomboy apart from the rest?
There have been other labels that have tried to do the menswear for women, but it was very focused on the LGBT aspect. And I think with Original Tomboy, that just comes naturally. I’m a big part of the brand obviously, and that’s a big part of me being out in the public right now. So I think it comes naturally. But Original Tomboy does bridge the gap between LGBT fashion and women’s wear, so it’s not two separate things. I’m creating a line that’s still in the fashion industry, very relevant and fashion forward, but it’s still very relevant to my target market in the LGBT community. It brings them into the fashion industry instead of separating them. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Who would you say is your target market in the LGBT community?
I mean, you have to have a very strong focus when creating a brand, and getting it moving, and making sure everything runs smoothly. I’m focusing on women right now, but I definitely see men wearing it. Even with the stuff I’ve done on the show so far, I’ve had a lot guys come up to me and say, “I love those pants. I would wear those pants.” I’ve had guys try on the jumper from the collection, and it fits them very well, and it also looks really cool on women. So I think guys will wear it, but my focus is women who aren’t happy with what they find in the market today. More specifically, women who like to wear clothes that look more like menswear.
You mention wearing a lot of your own clothing. What do you typically wear when you go out?
Sometimes I have a really cool pair of denim, a darker pair of denim, and sneakers or boots. I have my daytime casual sneakers and my sneakers that I wear out. It just depends on the kind of place I’m going to. Sometimes I’ll look a little more street, other times a little bit more polished. Maybe throw on some suspenders, a tie or a wallet chain or watch for accessories. Just overall, a clean, cool look.
What are three things you cannot live without?
As far as fashion goes?
It can be fashion or anything.
I can’t live without women. I can’t live without a perfect fitting pair of pants. That’s a must for me. (Laughs) I’m obsessed with how my pants fit. And…let’s see…that’s a hard question….and a good drink!
We follow you on Twitter and notice that you really interact with your fans.
Some of them are die-hard Team Alicia fans. Sometimes they have the same kind of humor as I do, so I get involved and go back and forth. I try to get in there and respond and retweet posts that are funny or musical quotes. It’s fun for me to interact.
Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.?
My dad is in the Navy Reserves, and after 9/11 he was stationed there for a year, and I went to visit him a couple of times. But I haven’t been able to get back to D.C. and do any of the gay scene. I’d like to do that, actually. I was in high school at the time, so it wasn’t part of my life yet. At the time, I was just enjoying D.C. We went around to the museums and other tourist things. It was a lot of fun.
What’s next for you?
The first thing I want to focus on is getting my production together for Original Tomboy. My collection is fifteen pieces, and there’s so much involved with getting the clothing made and ready for people to buy. I have tons of people emailing me asking, “Where is this. I want to buy it now.” Our first collection will be available this Fall. I’m working with some sales people right now, deciding what markets are going to be interested in what pieces, and what we should focus on in production. So, it’s coming together. That’s really what I’m focusing on right now. I want this to be a business. I want this to be something that’s going to grow and sit alone. I’m trying to get into some other things as well to make money. I like to switch it up. I need other sources of inspiration besides just the fashion industry.
Any shout outs to your D.C. area fans?
My D.C. fans should stay tuned in. I’m always posting pictures and new work online. I have my website, AliciaHardesty.com, and TheOriginalTomboy.com, a website and blog mix. I’m working on developing something for us that we can be into—a fashionable alternative to all the crap that’s out there. With lesbian fashion, it’s about having something cool to wear that we actually feel good in.