Dom Streater has worked hard since her dynamic Season 12 Project Runway win almost three years ago. She's built an online-only women's wear brand that caters to women older than 40 who dig a funky print jumpsuit, dress, or - this summer's breakout must-have piece - caftan.
Still, the 27-year-old Philadelphia designer views her triumphant finish last month on Project Runway All Stars as a perfectly timed and much-needed infusion of new resources and energy. Streater's second go-round with Lifetime's reality fashion TV franchise earned her $100,000, a future studio, and the chance to design shoes for Chinese Laundry.
"I had two years to figure out who I want to sell to and what I want to make," Streater said from her home in the city's Fairmount section. "A lot of designers don't get to take all they have learned and essentially start again. It's so expensive."
Runway has been around for 11 years, and although past contestants and winners have been stars at regional Fashion Weeks, only a few enjoy the kind of success that brings name recognition outside the fashion industry.
(Christian Siriano's eponymous collection has been sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and he has a line at Payless. And although Michael Costello never won Runway or All Stars, he's credited with creating some of Beyoncé's sexiest red-carpet looks.)
So even with the force of Runway behind her, the struggle is real for Streater as she tries to balance what is expected of her with what she can realistically do.
Since her win, Streater has designed a collection of dresses for Belk, as well as Velodyne headphones. She sent four collections - my favorite was the vintage, airline flight attendant-inspired grouping, Elevate - down New York Fashion Week runways, spending a minimum of $15,000 each time, before deciding to opt out in September.
"It wasn't worth the money," Streater said. "It's better to invest in social media, my line, and advertising to my customers."
It's just one of the many lessons Streater has learned as she matures - both in the business and in life. (The newlywed is expecting a baby girl next week!) It doesn't matter how many social-media followers she earns, Fashion Weeks she works, or celebrities she dresses free. If it's not advancing her career in a tangible way, she'll say no.
"I've done magazine pulls. I've had two years of experience doing that," said Streater. "But it doesn't always translate to dollars. Not everyone's agenda is about helping you grow your business. I have to be very strategic."
There have been, however, a few cool celebrity collaborations, including working on a project commissioned by Visit Philly to make a collection of pocket squares, bow ties, and silk scarves with custom sneaker-box designer Kevin McCarthy for Jimmy Fallon and the Roots crew. (No word on whether they have worn them.)
And out of her thousands of customers, she does cite a few high-profile clients, such as LaTanya Richardson (Samuel L. Jackson's wife) and Lisa Nutter.
As the baby lodges a foot beneath her ribs, Streater confidently tells me it makes more sense to sell her airy, perfect-for-Palm Springs-ladies-who-lunch collection directly to customers instead of to boutiques. That way, she says, she can keep her prices - from $100 for a silk scarf to $600 for a custom kimono - more affordable.
She works with only one other person to sew all of the pieces in her collection. But she is considering producing some clothes with the help of Betabrand, a crowdfunding site that works with emerging designers to manufacture.
Streater has become very protective of her prints - she hid a few samples before I arrived because they may or may not be part of a secret project that she says will be big.
With all she has going on, it's understandable that Streater was hesitant when All Star asked her to join 13 designers competing in the Season 5 show that was filmed last summer.
"It had barely been two years since I was on Runway," Streater said. "But in the end, I didn't want to regret it."
All Star executive producer Rob Bagshaw, who created the show to illustrate how Runway designers had progressed with their careers, calls Streater a fan favorite. "She was just a lovely person and such a talented designer," Bagshaw said.
Still not one to get mixed up in reality TV drama, Streater never made disparaging comments about other competitors - including snarky Southerner Ken Laurence, who was a runner-up.
In the end, it was Streater's eight-piece hand-painted collection inspired by the chaos of New York City that helped her clinch the win.
The modern, relaxed, special-occasion pieces featured two Streater prints: one wavy and abstract, one geometric. Some pieces - an adorable dress - were shapeless all over; others featured close-fitting sleeves: a ball gown silhouette that would look great at a glitzy soiree but that wouldn't be out of place at a movie matinee.
And I'm pretty sure the wavy print, with two versions in the form of oil paintings hanging in Streater's living room, will evolve into one of her signatures.
"It was nice to be able to have time to figure myself out as a designer," Streater said. "Now, with winning again, I can put into practice all that I've learned."