Daniel Esquivel placed third on Project Runway‘s Season 11 and was just recently cast to be on Project Runway All Stars. Now he’s back in Austin, designing with many more tricks up his sleeves. He, along with other Project Runway alumnae will be showing some of their work at Austin PRIDE’s fashion show, Werk. This show will benefit AIDS Services of Austin & Project Transitions. Daniel and I caught up over the phone to talk fashion, Runway and Austin PRIDE.
How old were you when you got into fashion and design?
I started to learn to sew when I was eight from my great grandmother. It was an ongoing thing, and my mom saw that I showed a lot of interest in doing it. It kept me out of trouble in a way. I started designing when I was 14, I totally got bitten by the design bug then.
What was your coming-out experience like?
My family knew that I was gay from a very young age, and my whole family accepted me. My dad was very compassionate and caring man. I miss him dearly to this day … he would be so proud of me because he was always behind me doing the work that I do. For a Hispanic father, my dad was kind of out of the box.
Were there any negative aspects to coming out as a young as you did?
Well, I started getting bullied, then. I made it not even halfway through ninth grade because the bullying was just too much. It was really, really hard for me. The best thing for me to do was to drop out: that was the only thing we knew to do back then, because we didn’t have a lot of support back then.
What led you to Project Runway?
I worked different jobs in retail. I worked for Stein Mart all the way up through Nordstrom, and then I worked for a private, high-end boutique in Austin. The boutique-owner’s nephew watched Project Runway. He always saw me working, designing and tweaking dresses, so he told me “You know that show Project Runway?” I didn’t! But I ended up leaving the boutique and coming back to work there years later, and he was there and he remembered telling me about Project Runway. He got me the application and made me fill it out! If it wasn’t for him doing that, I would not have entered. Things happen for a reason. I got it in the last day it was due, and lo and behold, they called me for the semifinals!
How has being on Runway changed your life?
I had never been anywhere, I’d never been to New York. I didn’t know that it would change my life in this magnitude. Just by being on the show … what Project Runway does is gives you a springboard into your career. I’m just really grateful, there’s so much gratitude I have because this doesn’t just happen to everyone.
What drives you to design?
It’s not about making lots of money for me. What it is to me is that i’m getting to produce an affordable line that women across the United States will be able to have access to.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming line?
I want this line to be accessible to anybody, it needs to be price-point friendly. I do have work that is couture, but this is going to be a bridge line. Sizes will run up to at least a size 18. I’m thinking of everybody. What gets me is I see these designers who say they only design for size small models, and I get a little angry when I hear that. That’s not fair to women! That doesn’t sound fair to me. To me, that’s discriminating. We want to embrace everybody.
How did you get affiliated with Austin Pride?
During South by Southwest this year, there was a big, crazy show with all these artists at Spiderhouse Ballroom. I heard this group called Double Duchess—they’ll be performing at this year’s Pride—and they’re so cool, they’re gay rappers and they have these really cool beats. I told my friend that it would be cool if for Pride, I could do a fashion show with them. They contacted me and we started having little pow-wows. None of us had ever done anything like this before, but we wanted to do it to raise money for AIDS Services of Austin and Project Transitions.
What can we expect to see in the show?
I do have a couple of modified pieces from Project Runway, and I have some great pieces that are black, white and silver—those are some of my favorite colors—with touches of red. I was influenced by Double Duchess’ music, and they’re going to be playing that night. Raja from RuPaul’s drag race is going to be hosting the fashion show. I also ended up getting some really cool designers to participate. The function is going to be fabulous.
How about the clothes themselves?
The clothes for Pride were totally influenced by my 2013 collection for New York fashion week, along with Double Duchess’ music and the movie The Hunger. The clothes in The Hunger are phenomenal—that’s where my black and white segments come in. I have hats being done by this great fabulous hat designer, too. It’s going to be over the top.
What’s your favorite part of going to Pride?
My favorite part of Pride is that it’s bringing everybody from different walks of life together. It’s that sense of community. It’s also really cool knowing that I’m a part of this big, big thing here that happens once a year, just because I said that I want to help. I’m really, really proud of this, proud of myself and proud of my community.