Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Alexis is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

Project Runway is in its second season after returning to its original home network on Bravo TV. The Project Runway of today is still reminiscent of its former self. The reality show features a melting pot of many designers from across the country with varying levels of experience, all competing for a coveted chance to present a show during New York Fashion Week. In the latest iterations of the show, the mentor and judges have changed to include this decade’s industry experts across many verticals – designers, models, editors – and the top prize has expanded to include a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), something not given to winners of the past. This move is crucial because it helps set up winners for success within the industry and helps the designers expand their understanding beyond fashion and to the consumer. Fashion trends aren’t always realistic to consumer needs, but Project Runway is helping to bridge the gap.

Consumers of today are more informed and consequently, more outspoken than consumers in past decades. Project Runway recognizes that and has responded with a fresher version of the show that reflects and responds to what consumers want.

Sustainability: Upcycling challenge

The new Project Runway has responded to consumer demand for inclusivity in its model casting, featuring models of various races, sizes and gender, including one non-binary model. This season took inclusivity a step further, featuring a challenge where the designers had to make looks for Olympians and Paralympians. The episode included one contestant designing for an amputee and one for a wheel-chair bound athlete. The indication is the need for more inclusive products and that designers must have the experience and training to design clothing for all consumers, not just those that look a certain way.

Heritage: Design challenge

Consumers are increasingly interested in exploring and expressing their identity, including heritage. One task challenged the designers to embrace their past and express it in a look that showed who they are and where they came from. The task was emotional for many designers, but it also signaled that consumers are increasingly interested in origin stories, wanting to learn more about where their products came from and looking for ways to express their own identity.

In order to succeed, brands and retailers need to see what has changed and why, and evolve accordingly.

Media and quality: Flash sale challenges

What’s also new for the latest version of Project Runway is the introduction of the flash sale challenge, perhaps the biggest acknowledgment of changing consumer behavior. A new wrinkle added this year, today’s viewers actually have the chance to buy some of the looks seen on the show, as well as a chance to decide what’s for sale. On flash sale challenges, the winning designer’s look is available for purchase, but all looks are featured on the show’s Instagram stories. Viewers can vote in the poll feature through Instagram and whichever receives the most votes is also available to buy. The flash sale is less about discounts and more about creating interest and demand by way of social media, something that consumers are turning to on their path to purchase more often. Instead of offering a discount, Bravo is offering viewers the chance to buy a unique designed, sustainably made product on-demand, perhaps for more than they’d typically spend on clothing.

What we think

It’s no surprise how, where and why consumers shop has changed and continues to evolve. In order to succeed, brands and retailers need to see what has changed and why, and evolve accordingly. Yes, it’s different for a TV show to execute such changes than a retailer, but if you want to know what’s motivating today’s consumers, catch an episode of Project Runway and you’ll get a glimpse.