Many designers come on Project Runway hoping to launch a design career, but recently-auf’d designer Joe Faris came into the competition with a busy career already under his belt. The 41-year-old designer has a role as a Senior Designer with Schott, an outerwear company, but has also put out his work through his own lines.

How did this experienced Detroit-based designer make his way to Season 5 of Project Runway?

Design runs in the Faris family, apparently, as Joe’s father was an interior designer. Having that creativity around at such a young age seems to have set him on the path to fashion. Joe has said, “I was always around fabric as a child and developed a love of upholstery fabric, which I would use to make some crazy designs. Also, I developed a decent color sense at a young age from seeing my dad’s design boards. It was very helpful being exposed to the creative process so early on.”

There were a few additional influences, though, that inspired Joe to head towards fashion rather than interior design. Giorgio Armani had a big influence on Joe early one. He says, “I saw American Gigolo at a young age and loved everything that Richard Gere wore and then found out that all the clothes were made by Armani.”

A high school job helped seal the deal. Joe says, ““I got a job my sophomore year in the back room of the Gucci store in Somerset. I would open these boxes with these suits in them and just seeing them influenced me a lot. I knew I wanted to design jeans and jackets because when I started to study the market I noticed that is what most sportswear lines were based on — jeans, T-shirts, and jackets.”

After high school, Joe journeyed from his hometown of Detroit to New York City, where he studied at Parsons School of Design. He took a gamble, though, and left school in his last semester (still short two credits) in order to take a role as a denim designer for Bugle Boy jeans.

This was the first in several big name sportswear roles for Joe. He also worked for Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis. His next move, though, brought him back home to Detroit, as he took a role with Pelle Pelle sportswear. Although the business thrived while he was there, in 1999 the experience turned sour as bad blood between the business owners resulted in Joe’s being fired. A noncompete clause could have stalled his design career, but Joe took legal action and was eventually successful in breaking free of the situation.

The experience pushed Joe to start making moves to support his career with his own business. His first line Red Fly, which included a signature red zipper, was created in 2001, and sold in 2004. He then had a line created in collaboration with a local tattoo business, called Inkslingers, which featured tattoo-themed designs on denim and sportswear. He also designed for Double D Ranch, in a collection that featured themes and elements we saw recently at Bryant Park.

He’s since decided to move away from having his own business in order to focus on his design work. ““Owning my own business was a very hard thing,” he said. “I would bring people in if I needed them to help and I always tried to find people I could trust, but being creative and running the business was tough.”

His latest role is as Senior Designer for Schott, “the almost 100 year old international brand that invented the motorcycle jacket.” While he’s clearly had plenty of experience throughout his career, he did note how his current role might not have been the best warm-up for the construction rigors of Project Runway.

He noted that someone like Leanne Marshall “is an amazing sewer. What she does with fabric is amazing. When she wakes up in the morning, she sits down in front of her sewing machine and she’s creating.” On the other hand, Joe says, “I wake up in the morning and I’m sitting in front of a design program, and I’m whipping up sketches and sending them overseas to China. It’s just different. We’re all different in our own way.”

So what did inspire Joe to try out for Project Runway? Like most of the other designers, he did hope to increase his exposure and marketability, but there was another factor: his eight-year-old daughter, Keely.
“My daughter is a huge fan of the show…That is why I tried out. A girl I used to work with e-mailed me an application, and I printed it out and left it on my counter. When my daughter saw it she told me I had to do it. So I figured, why not just try it?”

While Joe might have returned to Keely, his other daughter Maia and his wife without a Project Runway win, he still had the opportunity to show at Bryant Park and demonstrate to his children that you can always follow your dreams.

– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Images courtesy of Bravo)


Staff Columnist, BuddyTV