A Mattapan native is taking a star turn on TV’s most well-known fashion-themed reality show. Sonjia Williams, 27, has already built a strong following in Boston and New York with her clothing designs. Now, she’s hoping that international exposure on the Project Runway program will take her to a whole new level.
The show – now in its tenth season on Lifetime— airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Expert judges critique the work of the contestants, who are assigned to make new creations for each episode. Designers are voted off each week until there is a final winner. Her first challenge during the first episode – which aired July 19 – took place in the middle of Times Square.
Williams grew up in Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury and has not forgotten her roots since moving to New York.
“Boston’s always home,” she said. “I go home very often because I have my whole family in Boston. There’s not really a comparison between Boston and New York because they’re two very different places.”
Like thousands of other hopeful designers, Williams tried out for Project Runway in New York City in early April during an open casting call.
“Especially coming from Boston, it’s not the most fashion [forward] city,” she said. “I just wanted the opportunity to show myself as a designer.”
Williams’ dad , Reggie, will be among her supporters watching this week from Mattapan. An experienced chef who runs his own catering business, Last Minute Catering, Williams says his daughter has always had an instinct for business, although she was a late bloomer on the fashion side.
“Sonjia was a tom-boy as a child, always into gymnastics,” Reggie said. “She was a city champion runner for the track team at Snowden. Then she entered a fashion contest in high school and that really led her into it.”
Williams said her interest in fashion and design began at the age of 12 when her mother taught her how to sew. Williams watched as her mother made her different garments as she grew up, and eventually she took on the skill herself.
“I’ve always thought it was interesting,” Williams said. “I just never stopped sewing, pretty much.”
Williams graduated from Lassell College in Newton before moving to New York to pursue her career full time.
“She’s a real go-getter,” he said.
After being cast for the show, Williams’s very first challenge was an at-home challenge to create a look that would represent her as a designer. She then had to create a look on the show that corresponded with the look she created at home. The amount of time the designers are given to complete the challenge depends on the type of challenge.
“Every challenge brings another different type of obstacle,” Williams said. “It definitely forces you to design something that you may have never designed.”
So far, Williams said her experience has been positive. The hardest things for her are the time restraints on the different challenges, she said. However, she said she has learned how to push through each challenge and has picked up many design tips and tricks from fellow designers along the way.
Currently, Williams ranks in second place with 13 percent of fan votes on the Project Runway Season 10 website. Though she could not give much away about the season, she expects great opportunities will come to her from this experience on.
“I feel like I learned a lot about myself as a designer,” Williams said. “It’s helped me to really fine-tweak who I am as a designer in a design setting. I’ll just keep going with my dream, just never stopping.”