When Lindsey Creel, owner of Austin-based brand M.E. Shirley, received a Facebook message from a casting director about competing on Lifetime’s hit show, Project Runway, being a reality TV star was the last thing on her mind.
“I had always watched the show, but I never planned on actually being on it. So when I was asked to participate, I kind of just went for it. It was a sudden whim decision that led me here,” Creel says.
The 28-year-old Austinite set off for New York City and began familiarizing herself with the idea that she would be on television for the entire world to watch. Creel says adjusting to life on camera has taken some getting used to. The designer admits to being a relatively reserved person, and displaying her life on television has been a strange transition.
“Watching myself on TV is slightly terrifying but kind of cool. We’re basically being filmed at work, and watching back how stressed you were during a challenge can be really odd. This whole show is like one big surprise party and I am not good at surprises. But it’s been beneficial to grow in that way and accept newness and just lean into it,” Creel says.
Creel set aside her discomfort for the advancement of her business, which she intends to grow through the show’s exposure. Inspired by and named for her great grandmother, M.E. Shirley is a small-batch, handmade apparel line that focuses on quality womenswear pieces. Much like herself, the clothes Creel makes through M.E. Shirley are hip, effortlessly chic and classic. She says the line is the driving force behind her desire to compete and win.
“When you have a small business, it’s a part of you. It’s a big part of your life," she says. "My brand is so personal that it deserves as much attention as it can get. This is essentially a $10 million PR campaign. How many small businesses get an opportunity like that?”
On the show, her demeanor reflects her off-camera personality — modest, cool and matter-of-fact. It’s that same modesty and devotion to her work that sets Creel apart from the rest. She says she avoids presenting her personal life and tries to showcase her skill every chance she gets.
“I hope that people focus on my work. Like anyone who’s in love with their work, it’s not about you. It’s about what you’re doing and what you’re creating. I am who I am and I make the things I like to make and hopefully people will like what I make, too.”
Working with 15 other contestants in a high-stress and fast-paced environment has given Creel a chance to open up. She credits her cast mates for her recent lessons learned and the encouragement to be her authentic self.
"I am always myself," says the designer. "It’s a character trait that I enjoy in myself, even though some other people might not. Being out in the open on this show definitely makes me feel vulnerable but it’s amazing to be a part of it all. It’s awesome to be around this many designers and we all feed off of each other’s energy in this beautiful way."
Creel has high hopes for herself and M.E. Shirley and she believes her experience on Project Runway will help make her future goals a reality. The Austin designer has tackled each challenge with focus and hard work, and proves to be a force for all other contestants to reckon with.
"To me, the No. 1 reason to go on the show was to grow my business," Creel says. "I don’t believe in being poor and famous. Everything is personal to me and going on TV was never on my list of things to do in life but I think it’s worth it."
In true cool-girl fashion, Creel kept it simple when asked what she would do next if she won.
"I would get some sleep, smile and be incredibly and wholeheartedly proud of myself. And if I don’t win, I don’t win. But of course winning is the goal, there’s no way around that."