Q&A: Former Fayetteville resident Brittany Allen to appear on Project Runway Dec. 5

Photo: © Bravo Media/Barbara Nitke

Former Fayetteville resident and graduate of the University of Arkansas Brittany Allen is set to make her national television debut next month.

Allen, a Fort Smith native who lived in Fayetteville while completing her degree in apparel merchandising and product development at the UA in 2011, is one of 16 fashion designers that will compete on Season 18 of Bravo TV’s popular show, Project Runway.

At 29, Allen has already had quite a career in fashion.

After completing her undergraduate studies at the UA, she received an MFA in fashion design from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003, and has been working on a Ph.D. in apparel, merchandising and design from Iowa State University.

She has worked for Fayetteville-based Acumen Brands, for well-known designer Betsey Johnson, for Austin-based company Trunkist, and for Los Angeles-based company, Between Ten.

She currently lives in Austin, Texas, where she works as a pattern maker and computer-aided designer for a company called Understated Leather, which sells designs to retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Resolve, and Free People. She also teaches at Art Institute in Austin.

She recently created her own label, originally called Brittany Nicole and recently rebranded as Brittany Allen.

We got in touch with Brittany to learn more about her upcoming Project Runway appearance and all that she’s been up to since she graduated from the UA, and she was nice enough to answer some questions for us.

You grew up in Fort Smith, but you spent some time here in Fayetteville for college, correct? Tell us a bit about your time here.
I did grow up in Fort Smith! We moved there when I was in diapers – and I was there until I left for college. I always knew I wanted to attend the University of Arkansas. I did my bachelor of science in Apparel Studies from 2007 to 2011. My undergrad was the best! I actually went to the U of A as a pre-nursing major. I mean, can you imagine? Not exactly the creative outlet I needed in my life, but that would eventually change, obviously. I pledged, and was part of the very first pledge class of Alpha Omicron Pi my freshman year when they were in that tiny temporary house on North Arkansas in front of Old Main, but I was actually part of the original groundbreaking crew of the new house they built on Maple. I got my very first job EVER at Mason’s located on Joyce. Cathy Campbell, who now works at BLONDE hired me on the spot even though I had absolutely zero experience. I credit her for my introduction to the fashion retail world. While I was there I could have eaten Slim’s every single day. And I probably still could if there was one here in Austin. In 2010 while I was in my junior year, I met my husband at a pizza restaurant on the square in Fayetteville, and 10 years later, we are still together and adore Fayetteville so much. It holds such a special place in our hearts.

Tell us about your path since you graduated college and what you had been working on before Project Runway came along.This one is long! My husband never ceases to tell me that I am always doing the most! Ha!

I technically walked at graduation in 2011, but I needed one more internship to graduate. That summer I worked as a Domestic Production intern at Betsey Johnson in her showroom in New York City. (I remember the very moment I found out I got that internship- I was in Laurie Apple’s Advanced Textiles course, and I screamed in the middle of the lecture I was so excited! I thought she was going to have a heart attack.) Post internship, I was accepted to SCAD in Savannah to do my MFA in Fashion Design. It was a quick two years, 2011-2013. Following that, I was still with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, Derek, so I moved back to Fort Smith to be with him. I got an inquiry about Acumen Brands, who was in Fayetteville, and I started working there part time as a photography assistant. Over a few months, I constantly nagged the COO and the CFO about letting me design some cowboy boots for their private labels but they didn’t budge. One day, the boots that were supposed to be in the collections came back from the manufacturer and they were absolutely awful. They were in a bind, and came to me. I designed 75 boots in 24 hours, all rendered, sketched with notes. That day I presented the new collection and never looked back! They made me lead designer for their company and I was with Acumen until end of 2015 when I moved to Austin with my husband who received a job offer we couldn’t turn down.

Since moving here, I have done a LOT of freelance. I’ve worked with Understated Leather, Between Ten, Cirque du Soleil, and a bunch of other companies for various design jobs that have been seen on celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, January Jones, Emma Roberts, Jewel, and the list goes on. I also started teaching at a local university, my classes are: sewing, pattern making, fashion business, and retail math courses. Most of all, my focus since relocating was building my brand. To start, my brand was Brittany Nicole, but I changed it to be a namesake brand because I wanted to be the face of my clothing line. I have done Austin Fashion Week, Houston Fashion Week, Portland Fashion Week, and NYFW along with shows in Dallas and Northwest Arkansas. I currently have grown into a studio in Austin where I design, sew, pattern, drape, you name it- with a small team, we do it all locally ourselves. And this was all before Project Runway!

How would you describe your personal style? What would we find you wearing on a regular day in the life of Brittany?
Personal style is kind of all-over-the-place. I like anything that makes me feel good about myself when I wear it. I usually enjoy super loud prints and bold colors; but some days, I like a little edge and wear all black. No matter what, I want people to notice me, I’m not a wallflower! I like attention, so sometimes I use my clothing to do that for me.

Where do you draw inspiration most for the fashion that you create with your Brittany Allen brand?
Everywhere! I look at imagery of anything and everything. I look at landscapes, architecture, historical imagery, prints and patterns. I read books and flip through magazines, but in the end, I always tie my collection to an emotion, I have to feel it. Whatever I am going through-sadness, stress, anger, happiness, whatever it may be- fashion design is my outlet for that, and typically it comes through as the main inspiration for my collections. And that is what all my collections mean a lot to me.

I know you can’t talk much about the show before it airs, but can you tell us a bit about some of the other cast members you have connected with, and whose work you are excited about?
Is it super cliche to say that I love every single soul on season 18? These people, ya’ll. The most talent I’ve ever seen in one workroom at a time. I have watched Project Runway for what seems like a hundred years. I’ve always been a fan. But what I experienced with the other 15 designers that very first day in the workroom was unparalleled to anything I’ve seen before. I knew this season was going to be something special and that every single one of us all had an equal chance to win the grand prize. And I really loved how all of us specialized in different things before coming onto the show, so immediately seeing how everyone adapted their own craft on the first challenge was very eye-opening. I can’t tell ya’ll much more than that, but I will say that this is the most talented and close competition the runway has ever seen! This is a new Project Runway.

What are some of your goals for your work after Project Runway? What do you think you’ll begin working on next?
I want to build the brand up to what I’ve always dreamed it would be. I’m currently working on a lot. I’m finishing up my spring/summer 2020 collection, which is exciting. The inspiration is super special to me as it’s a reflection of my journey of finding my true identity as a fashion designer. It’s a ready-to-wear brand, but there is a little of everything in this collection. I can’t wait to meet fans and talk to people who love my brand, hear what they have to say and what they want to see in fashion, and connect with the consumers directly – because that is the most important thing, and it’s why I do what I do. I love seeing individuals wearing things I made!

Do you have any advice for someone who is just getting into fashion and design?
You have to know going into this industry that fashion is hard, and being a fashion designer is even harder. Until you get a big break- a celeb wearing your design, one big contract, your first wholesale order – you are going to struggle, but you aren’t alone. We have all been through it and no matter what, you have to keep going. Being a fashion designer, there is a lot of overhead. You need money to create. You need fabric, you need machinery, you need tools, and you need a lot of time. But if you want it bad enough, all of it can happen- I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. It’s cliché but, don’t ever give up. It’s taken me until now to really feel like I’ve broken into the industry. I was making other people so much money, but I wanted to be my own designer for my own brand. Up until I was announced as the new cast of Project Runway, I would even be driving for rideshare to get money to then pay for fabric to make for my collection. If you want it, put your blinders on, and start running. Once you do get your big break, and you eventually will, all those feelings and motivations come to surface and you realize you set out to do what you wanted to do, and your passion for this industry grows beyond anything you could ever imagine.

Do you make your way back to Arkansas much these days? And if you do, what are some of the spots you’d make sure and hit up if you were back in town.
I’m back all the time! I have family in Fort Smith and Springdale, but I’ve already attended 2 home Razorback football games this season in Fayetteville (may God have mercy on our souls). I love Crystal Bridges so much! I’m a big foodie, I can’t wait to come back next month and eat at Bordino’s (who catered my wedding), Theo’s, Slim’s, Noodles, Rick’s Bakery- I mean I could really spend all my time eating in Fayetteville. Derek and I’s first date was at Pesto Cafe – so good. I am planning a pop up shop at Mason’s soon, so I can’t wait for that! I’m obsessed with the square at Christmas time! And I’m sure I’ll find my way to a few Razorback basketball games, because Hogs. It’s hard to be humble. WOO PIG SOOIE!