Project Runway 5: Meet the Designer - Kelli Martin
Kelli Martin shot out of the gate on Project Runway 5, winning the very first challenge with her dress made out of hand-marbled vacuum cleaner bags and coffee filters. The judges were impressed with the level of detail and creativity she brought to the challenge, which focused on using the humble materials found in a grocery store.

Reviewing Kelli's background, it's no surprise that this designer was able to win a challenge in which success would require resourcefulness and a sort of scrappy DIY ethos. Let's take a look at what brought the 27-year-old designer to Project Runway 5.

The designer grew up in Columbus, OH. Kelli's own bio on the online handmade marketplace Etsy says that she had “an unstable and unpredictable upbringing and…little financial means to acquire the designer garments she so coveted.” Her creative energy kicked in, apparently, and she took that drive for fashion expression and channeled it into “alter[ing] and embellish[ing] thrift store threads and discount shop finds.”

Like many of the designers on Project Runway, Kelli's fashion ambition inspired her to leave her hometown for the big city. She moved to Los Angeles to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise on a Bob Mackie Scholarship. The scholarship would appear to be more than some extra funds and some flattering recognition as several of Kelli's bio allude to her facing adversity and not having a lot of other resources. She worked as a buyer and also sold her own collection, called Anti-Label, on eBay to help support herself during school.

She was able to use the scholarship to present a fashion show during FIDM's Annual Fashion Gala. She showed ten looks that were “inspired by everything from 1940's military pinups to the late 70's punk scene.”

While, like many, she had followed the same path to a fashion hub to start her career, Kelli actually took a different route than some of her fellow designers. Rather than stay in L.A., she decided to head back to Columbus. She has said, "I wanted to do my own thing...I figured the best bet would be to take all my skills and come back to where I'm from."

In addition to selling her designs on eBay and Etsy, she opened a boutique called Black Market. It sells her own designs under the Anti-Label brand, and she combs through thrift stores across the country to find vintage looks to bring back to her shop. She also alters clothing for her customers, and says she aims to have it showcase local designers and be a “comfortable, friendly neighborhood place—not an intimidating store with jerks for salespeople."

Her Bravo bio calls her business an “empire” and while it might sound like hubris, her decision to start in Columbus might actually show some pretty savvy business sense. A store like Black Market might have just been one of thousand cute boutiques out in L.A., but in Columbus, she's already landed a “Best of Columbus” nod from a local paper.

Despite a bad experience on a Jenny Jones show earlier in life (it sounds like she was on one of those “Make Over My Goth/Subculture Kid/Friend” type of episodes), Kelli went on Project Runway 5 almost on a whim. After learning there would be auditions in Chicago in a week, she pulled together the requisite three looks and landed a spot on the show.

She has said she thinks her strength on the show will be her precision and pattern-making abilities.  While the young designer clearly has ambition and drive, her hopes for Project Runway appear to still be somewhat humble, saying that as to positive results from the show, "Anything better and upward is going to be positive for me," Kelli said. "I'm pleased just being able to pay my bills."

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
Sources: Columbus Alive, MySpace, Etsy, Columbus Dispatch, OhNoTheyDidn't,
(Images from Anti-Label's MySpace and BravoTV)