Here’s what we knew then: That at 23, he would be the season’s youngest designer; that he worked (and still works!) at a Gap store in Natick, Mass., and that he’s incredibly talented.
We didn’t know he would almost win.
A clear favorite (his fans broke Twitter, people!), Sam beat out 13 other contestants to come in second. After the show ended April 10, we caught up with him, and here’s what he had to say about the show, his beautiful clothes, and why he still loves working for Gap.
Tanya Hart: So many people picked you to win. What has the reaction been like?
Sam Donovan: I love that I can talk about the finale, because now everyone’s seen it! Finally I can talk about the fact that I came in second, and it was super awesome. The best responses have been from those who say it doesn’t matter that I didn’t win, because they loved my work.
TH: And you’re still working at your Gap store?
SD: I’m still at the store, and people do come in sometimes and say, “Are you Sam?” I love it.
TH: Would you say that Gap has influenced your designs in any way?
SD: Absolutely. Gap has that kind of aspirational clothing, but it’s not at a crazy price. I’ve always felt that clothing shouldn’t be exclusive. I began by wanting to create something beautiful and affordable for a lot of body types. People say to me, “I’m not a size 2, but I can see myself wearing your clothes,” and that is what I want to hear as a designer.
I think in the end, the judges were a little annoyed with me because they wanted me to be a bit more high-fashion, but then it’s like, why am I designing? So I can be on TV? That’s not me.
TH: You wore an awful lot of denim on the show. Gap?
SD: The denim, the sweatshirts, most of the clothes I wore — 80 percent of it was Gap. People were asking me about a sweatshirt I wore — it was part of the GQ collaboration, and is sold out now, but I got a lot of questions about it.
TH: There was a huge moment on the show were you talked about being bullied as a kid, and you were very emotional. What has the response been like?
SD: Oh, I can’t even put it into words — so many people have reached out to me. Even the other day at Starbucks, a barista started telling me about something that had happened to her. There’s this aspect of reluctance to talk about such things, and I think that’s where a lot of the damage comes from — but why not just put it out there? I didn’t expect to cry on stage in front of the judges; it just happened. In the end, it’s been a blessing. I’ve gotten to know people — even in the fitting rooms at the store — who have told me their own stories and by the time we’re done talking, it’s like we’re old friends.
And then you have Gap, a company that talks about these things. It’s such an all-American company, at the head of all these progressive efforts, and I’ve always thought that is so great. It’s part of a national conversation.
TH: What’s next for you?
SD: Well, I am looking to work as a designer in San Francisco — that’s my goal. I would love to live there. I’m working on it, so we’ll see. I’ve grown so much from the show, and I hope to continue friendships with (fellow contestant) Asha and (mentor) Mondo.
I never really thought I could win the show, and maybe once I was up there at the end, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I might win,’ for like two seconds. But most of the time, my energy was on creating something beautiful.
Sam and his mentor, Mondo Guerra