Project Runway's Andy South Produces New Line
The New South: From Waianae High School to Project Runway to Neiman Marcus, 24-year-old fashion designer Andy South has come a long way—and he’s just getting started.
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“This fantastic show from Andy shows what talent and perseverance can do, and what Hawaii can do in terms of fashion, not just for Hawaii but for the whole world,” says Abercrombie, wearing an orange Sig Zane koi-print aloha shirt, after taking in South’s center-stage fashion show from the front row. “The most important thing about tonight was seeing fashion break through to a broader audience. It shows that Hawaii can be a center for innovation.”
In addition to praising South’s designs and work ethic, Abercrombie applauded his corporate principles. “Andy’s my hero,” he says. “He and his mother, Nora [Sisounthone], have a real concern for human rights. They are great supporters of nonexploited labor and fashion without exploitation. He has a conscience as well as talent. He’s a great man, a great hero. People like him for the right reasons.”
In December 2010, South traveled to Zhongshan in southern China to work on his line’s production, including sourcing his fabrics and getting samples made. As important to the trip, though, was making sure the facilities in which his garments are produced met his standards.
“I want my pieces to be manufactured the right way,” he explains. “The challenge always is that people in different regions have different ideals of life. People can make arguments that, ‘That’s the way they live, that’s fine.’ I don’t believe that. I believe human beings are human beings. And I always want to make sure I know where my pieces are being produced. I want to be ethical about what I’m doing. If I have to lose profits in order to give my customers something at a good price while guaranteeing that it’s being made fairly, then I will do that. I would rather take the hit on my part, in the pocketbook, rather than on my heart.”
South’s mother, who raised South and his siblings on her own and now lives on the family farm in Kahuku, also remains dedicated to protecting human rights. She works as a case manager for Pacific Gateway Center, a nonprofit immigrant and refugee support organization in Honolulu. “Mom checks up on me every day,” says South, whose studio space is one floor above his mother’s office. “I can always expect a phone call from her every morning and she pops in around noon to see if I’ve eaten.”
Much of South’s commitment seems to stem from witnessing his mother’s perseverance. “Everyone comes here with a dream,” says South. “My mom came here with a dream. I think I got the desire to give back and come from a place of help from her, since she was once an immigrant.”
Growing up in Hawaii helped form more than South’s business ethics. “I think Hawaii has influenced me as a person, and my character,” he explains. “You can’t get that same aloha spirit unless you’ve grown up here or come here and experienced it yourself. It’s a spiritual thing that kind of surrounds you when you’re from Hawaii; you can tell when a person is from Hawaii. You can tell in their heart. That’s the most important thing I’ve gained from Hawaii.”
For now, South maintains a pointed focus on getting his new business off the ground—with much of that energy going toward completing his spring 2012 line—and remains undistracted by any trappings of his recent celebrity.
Looking back on his time on Project Runway and the experiences he’s had since then also yields some candid insight. “I think I’m not as scared of the fashion industry now,” he admits. “I realize now that all the designers I look up to are still people and they all started doing it this way, which is working. People ask me what I’m doing and I always say, ‘Working, working.’ Everything I do is for this. And I think that is what will catapult a lot of successes and a lot of things to come.”