Project Runway Winners You Never Hear About Anymore

"Project Runway" has entertained fans of fashion design for nearly two decades with its unique and creative approach to discovering fashion's next star. Bravo's popular reality competition series starts each season with aspiring designers who are chosen from all over the country and then brought to New York to compete for a generous cache of prizes. Each week the competitors are tasked with a specific challenge, the results of which are shown on the runway and then critiqued by the resident panel of judges. Eventually, the group is whittled down until just a few remain. The finalists then head home to design a complete collection with hopes of returning to New York to win "Project Runway."

Mentored by Season 4 winner and iconic designer Christian Siriano, current contestants vie for an awards package that includes cash and other big ticket items like cars, the latest sewing equipment, technology suites, and lavish trips. Perhaps the most coveted prizes, however, are the opportunity to showcase a collection at New York Fashion Week (where the winner is ultimately chosen) and the fashion industry mentorship that goes to the victor. The world of fashion is generally seen as fast-paced and glamorous, but as former "Project Runway" host Heidi Klum used to say to the contestants every week, "one day you're in, and the next day, you're out." Siriano emerged from the show to become a juggernaut in the fashion industry, but most of the other winners haven't been as lucky. Here are "Project Runway" winners you never hear about anymore.

Jeffrey Sebelia was fired from the Bratz dolls movie

Jeffrey Sebelia ran a moderately successful clothing business called Cosa Nostra prior to participating in "Project Runway." In the tradition of his friend Santino Rice (a villain on Season 2 of the show), Sebelia embarked for Season 3 intending to step into that role himself. The plan almost backfired, however, when he was nearly out-villained by fellow contestant Laura Bennett, who accused him of cheating (per MTV News). Sebelia was exonerated and locked in the win with a collection that looked as if it was inspired by both Minnie Mouse and Gwen Stefani's Harajuku girls. He returned home brimming with expectations that failed to manifest into significant sales.

After the win, he experienced some hardships. Sebelia and his son's mom split up and he had to use most of his prize money to pay off debt he had accumulated prior to the competition. His circumstances deteriorated further after committing a blunder during an interview with New York magazine. When asked what his latest project was, the self-styled bad boy responded, "I'm almost afraid to admit what I'm doing, but it's costumes for a movie. It's a live-action movie for the Bratz." When asked to clarify, he confirmed that he was indeed referring to "those slutty dolls," and it reportedly cost him the job (per LA Weekly). 

Sebelia's LinkedIn profile indicates that he is currently a designer and consultant for Japanese luxury t-shirt company DtE in California.

Irina Shabayeva walked out on her own fashion show

Season 6 winner Irina Shabayeva presented a final collection that resonated deeply with the judges and got her the win. Declaring that she had been inspired by "what it takes to survive in the city as a woman" (per Reuters) led the designer to the creation of a largely monochromatic collection, but one whose drama wowed the audience. Though she was criticized for relying heavily on the use of black fabrics for her garments, she produced an impressive collection. Shabayeva experienced further success after the show when several high-profile celebrities, including Selena Gomez, Carrie Underwood, and Kelly Clarkson, wore her designs (per Insider).

Several years after winning, however, the designer suffered a major public relations blow when she allegedly got into a spat with her fashion show's sponsor and walked out of her own event. According to the New York Daily News, she was accused of announcing her departure before leaving the venue with all of her designs as well as a pricey make-up kit that didn't belong to her. Both parties blamed each other for the debacle (per Courthouse News).  

These days, Shabayeva is designing women's apparel for a Parisian fashion company called Maison MJZ.

Gretchen Jones claimed to have PTSD from the show

The Season 8 finale pitted Gretchen Jones against two other designers, including fan favorite Mondo Guerra, who many had expected to win (per Seamwork). Jones was a controversial upset following a lengthy debate between the judges. Her win angered a large swathe of the audience, which ended up affecting Jones in a very personal way. After the show, she created several collections before changing careers. 

For yet another "Project Runway" winner, the experience hadn't turned out as advertised. After pivoting away from fashion, Jones went back to school and is now in a totally different line of work. Her website, Weird Specialty, is where she can be found working in her current capacity as a "strategic business advisor." She helps clients address issues related to sustainability.

Jones' foray into consulting surprised many fans who had wondered about her disappearance from the world of fashion. Though she won "Project Runway" in 2010, she took to Instagram only in 2018 to address her experience on the show, indicating that it would be the only time she would do so (per Soap Dirt). Asked if she regretted doing the show, she responded that she did not, but had "major PTSD from the experience & have done a LOT of therapy to manage the trauma." She said, "I hated the experience & if I could go back I would tell myself not to do it."

Jay McCarroll claimed he was homeless in 2007

Prior to competing on the first season of "Project Runway," in 2004, Jay McCarroll was running a vintage clothing store in Pennsylvania. McCarroll's snarky sense of humor was one of the more entertaining aspects of Season 1, eclipsed only by the quirky designs he presented in his final collection. After he secured the victory, however, his career didn't continue on the exciting trajectory he had anticipated. Upon learning that their acceptance would forever bind him in a financial deal with the show's production company, McCarroll declined the prizes and struck out on his own, as noted by New York magazine.

Over the next couple of years, he presented his follow-up collection at New York Fashion Week, and he was the focus of a documentary film called "Eleven Minutes" that chronicled the creation and presentation of that very collection (per Entertainment Weekly). Seemingly off to a good start despite refusing the show's prizes, he told New York Magazine that he was homeless but for his sewing studio (which lacked a kitchen and shower). The article quoted him as saying, "I haven't been living anywhere for two years," noting, "I sleep at other people's houses. I sleep here if I'm drunk." Shortly after the article appeared, McCarroll claimed that he had been kidding about being homeless (per Intelligencer). 

McCarroll went on to win "Celebrity Fit Club" in 2010 after losing 40 pounds (per People). 

Michelle Lesniak is bewildered by continued online negativity

Season 11 winner Michelle Lesniak is a self-taught designer who told USA Today, "I just kind of find my goal and I stomp towards it." That said, the longtime Portland resident's confidence ebbed and flowed during the competition. On one hand, she admitted to having been intimidated by her formally trained competitors, but on the other, she asserted, "I'm incredibly tenacious and I work really hard and nothing slays me." Choosing to remain in Portland, rather than relocate to a fashion capital, the designer had some success selling her clothing locally (per The Oregonian). After her win, boutiques were reportedly unable to keep up with the demand for her wares.

Since winning, Lesniak has faced some challenges. Shortly after returning to the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband of 10 years divorced, albeit amicably (she has since remarried). In 2019, she participated in FashioNXT, which showcases the talent of local designers, but she doesn't seem to have much of a presence in the business since then. During the pandemic, she used her creativity to make uplifting cards that she mailed to anyone who sent her a request for one, and she received several in return. 

In a February 2022 Instagram post, she addressed the mean messages she's received since her time on the show. Obviously bewildered by the negativity, she reached out to followers, who responded with staunch support. Hopefully, the positivity she received from fans has boosted her mood.

Dom Streater doesn't participate in New York Fashion Week anymore

Dom Streater, who won both "Project Runway" Season 12 and "Project Runway All-Stars" just a couple years later, was perhaps in the best position of all the "Project Runway" winners to make the most of her post-television fashion career, but even with prizes from the show, Streater quit only one of her two jobs after returning to her home city of Philadelphia (per Today). Fashion's newest star was still moonlighting as a restaurant hostess.

Able to devote most of her time to designing at that point, she produced four collections that were shown at New York Fashion Week before deciding to focus her efforts in other directions. Each of the shows cost her several thousand dollars, which ultimately led her to the conclusion that "it wasn't worth the money." She told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "It's better to invest in social media, my line, and advertising to my customers." Since departing the New York fashion scene, she has had a child, done a collaboration with Otter Box, and designed a red carpet look for actress Aunjanue Ellis. She currently makes and sells pieces of clothing and original art in Philadelphia.

Ashley Nell Tipton struggled with body issues

As the first exclusively plus-size designer in the competition, Ashley Nell Tipton appealed to a large portion of the population — and one that designers often ignore. The average woman is size 16-18, so her stint on Season 14 was embraced by fans. After winning, however, things didn't pan out the way she had envisioned. Show mentor Tim Gunn, who has long championed the need for more inclusivity in fashion, admitted that he hated her final collection. In an article for The Washington Post, he wrote regarding Tipton's win, "Even this achievement managed to come off as condescending. I've never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout 'prom.' Her victory reeked of tokenism."

Unfortunately, Tipton was confronting her own issues regarding body image. Desperate to be healthier, she changed her lifestyle, but was unable to lose any weight. After ending up in the hospital for an infection in the folds of her skin, she decided to have gastric bypass surgery (per People). It was then that she pivoted from design to "teaching concepts of self-love, self-care and self-acceptance," as she shared in the description of a YouTube video. Since losing a significant amount of weight, Tipton is back to designing for curvy women while serving as an advocate for body positivity.

Erin Robertson was disappointed in one of the prizes

Part of the "Project Runway" Season 15 prize package included a collaboration with department store, JCPenney's, but Erin Robertson, the cycle's winner, was sorely disappointed when it came to cashing in on the partnership (per The New York Times). Robertson, who designed one of the most iconic outfits on "Project Runway," said she met with the company several times to discuss designs that were supposed to serve as inspiration for items that would eventually be sold in stores. Ultimately, however, she was surprised at how little the final products resembled what had been planned. Robertson said she attended meetings during which the company's reps responded enthusiastically to her ideas with comments like, "We love these!" and then went on to produce something completely different.

Robertson has a decent following on Instagram and a website, on which she sells her products. Like many other designers have done during the pandemic, she has been producing and selling a variety of masks, but those, in addition to a nail kit, are about all she's currently offering on her site. In her years since "Project Runway," she's also worked on some interesting collaborations, including one for Starburst candies and another for which she made garments out of 3-D printed fur.

Kentaro Kameyama sells basics and teaches fashion

Season 16 winner Kentaro Kameyama wowed the judges with an exquisite final collection, and he has shown several collections since his victory on "Project Runway," including one at New York Fashion Week (per Digital Journal). 

Items offered on Kameyama's website, however, are dramatically pared down from the looks he creates for the catwalk, consisting of a mix of basics like shorts and tees, simple silk shift dresses, and accessories. Kameyama, like many designers, must certainly create pieces that are accessible to a wider audience in order to support a business. 

Though he continues to participate in the some of fashion's top-tier events, Kameyama is not a household name. He shares his knowledge and rounds out his career as an instructor at FCI Fashion School, located in Los Angeles, where he teaches fashion design. The school markets itself as a leader in "short-term fashion training" and offers its students help finding work in the industry.