By Keysha Drexel
Growing up in India, Sandhya Garg had just one Barbie doll and just one dream.
“When I was 8 years old, I just had that one doll, so I started making clothes for it and I decided at that moment that I would someday be a fashion designer,” the Mountain Brook resident said. “I knew from an early age that this was the only path for me.”
Twenty years later, that single-minded determination has propelled Garg to the top of the amateur fashion world. She was named the Top Designer at Fashion Week New Orleans in March, and she’s currently garnering a lot of attention for her turn on the new season of “Project Runway,” a Lifetime reality show where designers compete against each other to create the best clothes under restricted times, materials and theme requirements.
The Season 13 episodes that have aired so far show that Garg has become a focal point, with her unique designs and vision either attracting rave reviews from the judges, other designers and viewers or confusion and disdain from those who don’t “get” her work.
But Garg said she takes the praise and the criticism all in stride.
“I knew what I was signing up for when I tried out for the show,” she said. “It’s great when people like my designs, but I can’t let anything negative distract me from my goals. Being on the show is such a wonderful opportunity, and the last thing I want is to be seen as a disrespectful child. I want to be professional and respectful and have the attention on my designs.”
Those designs are important to her, Garg said, not only because they represent a lot of hard work but also because of the stories they tell.
“I believe that fashion has the opportunity to tell a story, and that’s what I try to represent in my designs,” she said. “The ingredients for my designs include little stories, lots of love, buckets of intense color and exciting textures.”
Many of the facets of her designs and the stories they tell are based on the clothing Garg saw growing up in India.
“I have looked at the royal families of India for expensive and refined tastes and also for the level of craftsmanship,” she said. “In India, there are a zillion craftspeople, all very good at what they do, very committed to making something that is unique and high-quality. My job is to make that kind of work relevant to today and to the future because as a designer, you are always looking to the future.”
In the future she imagines while designing, Garg said she always tries to include a nod to her heritage and to other traditions from around the world that she finds intriguing.
“It’s like weaving together a bit of your past with what is inspiring you now in a way that will fit the future,” she said.
Garg said she finds inspiration for her designs in everything from politics to pop culture.
“I am constantly researching things, ideas and concepts from theater, sports, science,” she said. “I don’t feel like the day is complete until I have learned something new.”
That’s why Garg said she had her heart set on being a “Project Runway” contestant from the moment she and her husband, Ankur, a physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, moved to the U.S.
“I have been a big fan of the show since the very beginning and as soon as I came here, I applied for Season 12 and for ‘Under the Gunn’ and I decided I would just keep applying until I was selected,” she said. “I was so happy to learn I had been selected for the show because it is such an amazing opportunity to get my work in front of a large audience.”
“Under the Gunn,” another Lifetime reality fashion competition, is hosted by fashion consultant and TV personality Tim Gunn.
Garg had a taste of the fashion limelight earlier this year when she conquered Fashion Week New Orleans in her first appearance at the event.
The fourth annual Fashion Week New Orleans was a five-day fashion fete featuring designers from throughout the Southeast. The event included an emerging design competition. The Top Designer Competition shines the spotlight on a new generation of emerging designers in an exciting fashion competition with a highly-coveted prize package.
As Fashion Week New Orleans 2014 Top Designer Winner, Garg received retail placement in Hemline Boutique, a Brother “Project Runway” sewing machine compliments of AllBrands.com, a feature in Amelie G Magazine, a professional photo shoot with photographer Gustavo Escanelle and a mentoring/consultation with the World Trade Center on business development, resourcing and manufacturing.
Garg also is invited to return to Fashion Week New Orleans in 2015 as a featured designer to showcase her newest collection.
“The opportunity to work personally with a retailer such as Hemline Boutique is priceless. One of the most challenging steps for an emerging designer is getting your inventory in a brick and mortar storefront,” Garg said. “This opportunity will strengthen me as a designer and help me grow.”
Before settling down in the Over the Mountain area, Garg polished her skills at Alexander McQueen by learning pattern cutting techniques. She also learned the hand embroidery craft and vintage knitting and lace making at the Gucci factory in Italy.
Garg is a graduate of the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India and the London College of Fashion, where she specialized in women’s wear.
“I have learned a lot, but I know I have a lot more to learn, and that’s why ‘Project Runway’ has been so amazing,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about the fashion world and also about myself.”
While she has struggled with some of the challenges on the show–and some of the contestants–Garg said the experience has shown her just how much fashion means to her.
“I live for this, for fashion design and for showing my work to everyone,” she said. “Being on the show has made me more determined than ever. I’ve learned that my strength as a designer comes from the fire in my heart not to rest until I fulfill my dreams.”