‘Making the Cut’ Season 1 Winner on E-Commerce Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the Season 1 finale of “Making the Cut.”

In this season of “Making the Cut,” designers were whisked from New York to sew, stitch and fix in Paris and Tokyo. For the finale, the contestants went back to the place they began to show one last collection.

Both Jonny Cota and Esther Perbandt sent last looks down the runway, but only one made the final cut: Cota.

Here, Cota discusses closing down his store, launching his new collection and staying sane amid COVID-19. “I definitely have been doing most of my interviews from here up,” Cota joked on the Variety After-Show, presented by National Geographic. “But the days I get dressed up it lifts my whole spirit.

Can you talk about what it was like finding out you won?

It’s such an emotional rollercoaster. If you’re watching the season, you see I have some triumphant moments but I have a lot of struggles throughout the season [too], so for it to culminate in them making me the winner, I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotional. I don’t know if I was crying or laughing or screaming, but it was just everything I could feel all in 10 seconds and it was, to be honest, the best moment of my life.

How did you hear about the show?

The casting team reached out to me. I think that they just researched on the internet, Instagram, asked around. I think that’s how they found a lot of the designers worldwide. I got an email one day and was like, “Really? This is not something I’d be interested in.” But, I was just about to close my store, I didn’t know what the future of my brand looked like, and it was this rare fork in the road where I didn’t know what my career was going to look like in the near future and it couldn’t have happened at any other time.

Why were you going to close your store?

We’ve had Skingraft here for 10 years and it [had] been kind of slowing down. Our lease was up, our rent was going up, and my brother and I were like, “Maybe it’s time we close this store. We’ll keep the brand, go online, but we’ll close the store.” So we just closed the store and that was really hard for me. It was a little bit embarrassing and I was kind of feeling down and then this opportunity to apply for “Making the Cut” came up and I was like, “Let’s do it. I have nothing to lose.”

How has your relationship with online shopping and e-commerce evolved as a designer?

We’re a small team, running our store, running our factory in Bali. It’s been hard to give [our online store] the love it needs. To have this mentorship with Amazon to bring my small brand and to elevate us and give us the tools we need to be a strong, trailblazing brand is kind of the most incredible opportunity I could imagine, especially during these really unfortunate times. My store’s closed, the whole fashion industry is kind of going out of business, and I’m getting this really incredible opportunity to reach a global market on Amazon.

I feel like online shopping is more popular than ever right now. It’s the only option.

We’ve always wanted to put more time into online and now, there’s nothing else we can do. I’m almost thrilled my store is closed because, let’s give our online presence the love it needs, and we’re instantly seeing a response. Me engaging more with our social media platforms, giving people more opportunities to either buy or not buy, let’s just create conversations and be with each other during isolation. It’s been so heartwarming and it’s led to one of the best months in my brand’s history online in sales.

What else are you doing at home in isolation?

I have been working day and night getting ready to launch the finale collection, Jonny Cota, that will launch [post-finale]. It’s a combination of that, managing my social media — which has exploded since the show aired — trying to respond to everybody and interact with everyone who reaches out, and then try to keep these lockdown pounds off! I’m doing backyard workouts and trying to eat healthy. My husband and I are fortunate enough to have a little backyard so it’s like, get a little sun, stay a little sane.

So many designers are pivoting to creating face masks now.

Yes! We did a mask promotion last week which sold out in under an hour. We teamed up with the Tom of Finland Store and we offered a one for one: For every mask purchased, Skingraft would donate to the LGBT Center. We sold 200 masks in two hours. Those 200 masks will go off to the customers and soon after, 200 masks will be donated to the LGBT Center.