The winner of the first season of Amazon Prime’s “Making the Cut” fashion competition series is still settling into his win, one that awarded him $1 million toward creating his own brand.
“I always was afraid to be on television or be in the spotlight in general ... my brand hasn’t been my name so I kind of hid behind that,” Jonny Cota told TODAY Style. "But what I learned is to be yourself. Every time I strayed in the competition and lost myself, that's when the judges really attacked me or they saw a crack in my veneer.
“It feels really great to not try to manufacture something that is not actually representative of who I am.”
For 15 years, Cota has been the creative mind behind Los Angeles-based label Skingraft. But the 35-year-old's winning turn on the series has propelled him to launch a whole new namesake collection, Jonny Cota Studio, which was officially released following the “Making the Cut” finale.
Hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, the show is a fashion reality competition for the new age. Designers from all over the world compete for the grand prize, and the winning designs from each episode are sold on Amazon the same day.
“What I loved about ‘Making the Cut’ is it really feels like it reflects the real world more accurately than a lot of other competition shows,” Cota said.
The challenges in each episode are more glamorous than their “Project Runway” counterparts, opting for less reality show fueled drama and more in-depth design and glitzy runways. And as opposed to the Bravo show, designers are able to work with seamstresses to complete their garments. Another refreshing element is that the designers are informed if they are about to be cut and awarded one more opportunity to convince the judges to allow them to stay in the competition.
“They just want to see the fire in you,” Cota explained. “The fire speaks volumes. If they are going to invest a million dollars, they want a designer who will fight for it and have a fire to grow.”
This happened to Cota early on in the series and, unlike some of his peers, he was able to convince the panel of judges to let him stay in the competition that he ultimately ended up winning.
“Even though I was shaking in my boots, it gave me a great opportunity to explain myself, defend my work, show them my personality and leave them wanting more,” he said. “Which is essentially what you want everyone to feel, whether they're a judge or a customer or someone following your brand.”
The show features a panel of celebrity judges, including Nicole Richie and Naomi Campbell. The supermodel is no stranger to fashion reality shows: She was a coach for two seasons on the modeling competition show “The Face.” But while she often has a reputation as a diva, Campbell shows a softer side as she offers honest feedback to the driven designers.
“She is a force,” Cota explained of his relationship with the supermodel. “She gave me so much tough love. I got my ass handed to me by Naomi Campbell in episode two and I struggled through that moment. She was the judge that everyone thought was bitchy and harsh, but she was the one with the biggest heart who was just saying it like it was. So when she said she was proud of me, it made it a hundred times more meaningful.”
In more than one challenge, Cota asked for the help of his competitors to get his garments across the finish line; something some of his adversaries held against him.
“If you are not asking for help when you need it, then you're doing it wrong,” he said. “In life and in business, every single business is built on great teams. I would ask for help from people who I had created connections with, who were excited to help me. I didn't force anyone. This isn't the the next biggest sewing competition. They're looking for people who can lead brands. And part of being a leader is forming your work relationships with people who are inspired to help you and asking for help when you need it.”
Cota adds that his resourcefulness is also a sign of his likability.
He added, “It's also a skill that wasn't necessarily identified in the show: to form positive relationships where people don't feel confronted or competitive against you, but want to see you succeed.”
Since winning the competition, Cota is now launching his own namesake brand under a mentorship with Amazon Fashion. And while many of the winning looks that were sold throughout the competition have racked up negative reviews for poor quality, Cota promises that he was heavily involved with the creation of this line.
“The collection I launched was entirely designed, priced and produced in my facility,” he said. “I had my hand on every single piece."
Prices for the new collection range from $40 to $365 with sizes ranging from XS to XXL. Most styles are photographed on both genders, encouraging customers to navigate both the men’s and women’s selections when shopping for looks. As of now, most of the collection is sold out.
While Cota is preparing to launch a new collection, he’s also taking the time to do his part during the coronavirus pandemic by creating face masks featuring art by Tom of Finland. Every mask purchased funds the donation of another mask to the Los Angeles LGBTQ Community Center.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” he said. “Everyone is being affected by this, so we jumped at the opportunity to give back to charity, but also offer viable products to our customers as well.”
And there's nothing wrong with making a mask fashionable, right?
“One hundred percent,” Coda replied. “I mean, we don't know how long we’re gonna be wearing these. You know? We might as well express ourselves.”
"Making the Cut" is available to stream on Amazon Prime.