Q&A: Project Runway Designer Kelly Dempsey

The Bostonian is bringing her streetwear-influenced style to season 14 of the reality show.

It’s our first team challenge! Don’t miss #ProjectRunway tonight at 9/8c on @Lifetimetv #designerkelly #teamfannypack ✂️✂️✂️

A photo posted by Keli Kel

Kelly Dempsey has been making it work.

The Boston designer is one of the remaining contestants on season 14 of Project Runway, making Dempsey one of only a handful of local designers to ever appear on the fashion design show that made Tim Gunn a household name. The season has already tasked Dempsey, 31, with challenges ranging from designing lingerie to making paintball jumpsuits high fashion, and she says she’s not done yet.

We recently caught up with the self-taught designer (and hip-hop fan) about her style, design goals, and what it’s really like to be on reality TV.

How did your background lead you to design?

I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts called Monson and moved to the Boston area around the age of 19. My mother turned half of our house growing up into a craft store, selling everything she made—from fork wind chimes to hand-sewn bags. We shopped at this small thrift store in town called the Church Mouse. I didn’t want other kids to know I was wearing their hand-me-downs, so I used what I learned watching my mother sew to create my own clothes. I have been hooked ever since.

How would you describe your personal style and your design aesthetic?

My personal style is very me, and everything I design, you can see a part of me in it. My personal style is either very casual or over-the-top, and I like to mix and match to infuse those together. My design aesthetic is extremely eclectic, and I think a lot of that has to do with my craft store background. I definitely think my hip-hop background comes through not only in the way I dress, but with what I create, with my use of bright ’90s colors, keeping that street vibe. I like glitter and sparkle, but also love streetwear, so I enjoy mixing them together.

How did you find out you’d be on Project Runway?

Finding out I was going to be on Project Runway was hands down the best day of my life. All the hard work and everything that didn’t happen in fashion up to that point, didn’t happen so that this could. I was working at a sub shop in Medford when I got the phone call from Project Runway. I ran out of work when I saw they were calling and told my boss I had an important call from my doctor. I was so happy when Project Runway told me that I started crying, and when I went back into work, everyone thought I got horrible news from my doctor! I felt that moment was a big turning point in my life.

What are your goals for post-Runway?

I am hoping to gain the exposure to help launch my new brand, called Rack Addik. I want to sell custom fanny packs along with some streetwear clothing, and some funky one-of-a-kind pieces on the side.

What is it really like being on the show?

Being on the show is definitely one of the hardest but most amazing things I have ever done. Lots of pressure, short time restraints, and not many days off. The viewers would be surprised to know how much it is like a family there. Every single person working there is so nice and I felt very much at home when I was there. I didn’t know what to expect before I left [to go on the show.]

How did growing up in the Boston area influence your style and your design?

I think living in Boston definitely influenced my style and design, because I am such a city girl. I moved out of my small town young because the pace was just too slow for me. Living in Boston, I went through a phase where I rode a skateboard around the city listening to ’90s hip-hop on my headphones. I feel very connected to the city of Boston.

Project Runway airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.