The fashion world is tough but incredibly rewarding. People see the fashion industry as super glamorous and easy, but in reality, that’s not the case at all. There are so many moving parts and little things that go on behind the scenes that nobody thinks about. It takes a lot of work to make things look easy and effortless. With that said, being a designer is one of the most rewarding and fun jobs there is, IF you really are passionate about it.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Fashion Designer, Celebrity Stylist and Media Personality Matt Sarafa, a Los Angeles based 23-year-old celebrity fashion designer and reality television personality best known for his appearances on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Project Runway Junior.
As the youngest designer to have ever shown at New York, Paris, and LA Fashion Weeks, Matt has come a long way since he started designing at age 7.
Sarafa is a 2020 UCLA graduate in addition to running his own company and dressing some of the biggest names in Hollywood like Tyra Banks, Iggy Azalea, Doja Cat, Big Sean, LisaRaye Mccoy, to name a few.
The Matt Sarafa brand has been published by prestigious media outlets including Vogue, Forbes, The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Galore, and countless others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Of course, thank you for the opportunity! I have lived in Los Angeles my whole life, however, I was technically born in Omaha Nebraska, believe it or not! I was adopted at birth by the two best and most supportive parents in the whole world who have raised me to always go after my dreams. As a kid, I was always very creative & loved art. Everyone in my life knew from early on that I would end up doing something in the creative field, and now here I am today!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I remember so vividly sitting on the couch with my mom at age 7 scrolling through the TV channels and landing on a marathon of Project Runway. We watched an entire season in one sitting and I turned to her and said, “Mom, I think I can do this.” I ran downstairs, grabbed my sketchbook and started drawing out these elaborate outfits. My grandma taught me how to sew & soon enough I was bringing my sketches to life!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve had so many interesting experiences happen so far in my career that it’s hard to choose! Probably the most exciting and life-changing was the day I got the call to be on Project Runway Junior. The show was what got me interested in the fashion world in the first place, so getting to be a part of the Project Runway family was such a full-circle moment for me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting out, I made a lot of mistakes and still do to this day lol. The one that lives rent-free in my mind, to this day, happened on episode 2 of Project Runway Junior. It was the unconventional materials challenge where we had to make outfits out of materials we found at a drive through car wash.
For whatever reason, my vision was to make a skirt out of a vacuum hose and needless to say it did NOT turn out even half as well as I saw it in my head. I got dragged through the mud by the judges and on social media and honestly I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. My poor model could barely even tiptoe down the runway and it was just a hot ass mess. I learned two important lessons from this experience: 1.) Not to take myself too seriously & 2.) It’s amazing to have wild & out of the box ideas, but it’s even more important to execute them correctly.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am working on several super exciting projects right now that I can’t wait to release! The biggest one would have to be my collaboration with PETA which launches December 15th. The Matt Sarafa brand has become synonymous with faux fur after our 2017 NYFW show, so PETA has always been a dream partnership for me. I’m so excited to be teaming up with an organization that holds similar values to mine in terms of fur, and hopefully push the faux-fur-movement further in the fashion industry.
Currently, my Matt Sarafa face masks are taking up a majority of my time. I started designing high fashion face coverings at the start of the pandemic and the response has been astronomical. I have had so much fun designing and creating these pieces for the fellow fashionistas out there that are simply too fabulous to be wearing the basic blue surgical masks. Face masks are obviously a crucial part of everyday life now and for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to create ones that were not only practical & comfortable, but also fun and fashion-forward.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film, music & television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity has been at the heart of my brand since the very beginning. As a proud & unapologetic member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I wanted to make sure that everything I did as the CEO of my company reflected my values and beliefs. Today, diversity is more important than ever with everything going on in the world, and we need to keep pushing forward to continue making change in any way we can. One of my favorite quotes is from author Catherine Pulsifer who says, “We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity, life would be very boring.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.) The fashion world is tough but incredibly rewarding
People see the fashion industry as super glamorous and easy, but in reality, that’s not the case at all. There are so many moving parts and little things that go on behind the scenes that nobody thinks about. It takes a lot of work to make things look easy and effortless. With that said, being a designer is one of the most rewarding and fun jobs there is, IF you really are passionate about it.
2.) Networking is crucial
Networking is EVERYTHING in this industry. Being able to sell yourself and represent your brand everywhere you go is one of the best and most important tools to grow. For example, I randomly met Tyra Banks at a Hollywood party back in 2018. I was wearing one of my faux fur coats and she pulled me aside to say she was obsessed with it. We exchanged info and next thing I know, she’s wearing it in the Life Size movie. Still to this day, she is photographed out and about wearing several of my different pieces, and it is all thanks to that one night of networking!
3.) There is no “linear path” you need to follow to make it as a designer
Being a designer is way different than becoming a lawyer or a doctor. There isn’t any guarantee that following steps A & B will get you to C, if that makes sense. You don’t have to go the “traditional” route or follow the antiquated rules set in place by the fashion industry. Especially today, designers that are pushing the envelope and doing things their own way are the ones who are the most successful.
4.) Always listen to your gut
For me personally, this is a hard one. I tend to overthink and overanalyze things so much, and a lot of the times I’ll look back and wish I had just stuck to my original plan. It’s great to get other people’s input, however at the end of the day you’re the boss and you want to stand behind every decision you make 100%.
5.) Make sure your business sense is just as sharp as your fashion sense
Creativity is obviously extremely important when getting into the fashion industry, however, having good business skills is equally as crucial. There are so many artists out there who are incredibly unique and talented, but without a strong business foundation, they remain stagnant.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The most important and valuable quality in the fashion industry is individuality. Anybody can follow and copy trends, but it takes a true visionary to blaze your own trail. Never stifle or second guess your unique perspective and it will bring you long term success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m a firm believer in keeping a strong core group around to lift you up when you need it the most. Living in Los Angeles, I know a lot of people but I fully trust very few. My family, close friends, and business team have stuck by me through all the highs and lows and I know they’ll always be here for me no matter what happens. We have this unbreakable and irreplicable bond and I couldn’t do half of what I do without them.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Something I’m extremely passionate about is the faux fur movement. Ever since my very first New York Fashion Week show in 2017, my brand has challenged the status quo in the fashion industry in terms of not using genuine fur. I noticed on the market there was either the cheap-looking 50 dollars fast-fashion faux fur coat or the 10,000 dollars+ genuine fur coats that have their obvious downfalls. I wanted to create a middle ground option made of premium imported faux fur manufactured with the most innovative technology, and provide customers with an ethical and fabulous alternative. I would love to push this faux fur movement even further, and eventually, have it be the new normal. I am so excited to be teaming up with PETA for our faux fur collaboration launching December 15th on mattsarafa.com, and I feel like this will be a big step in the right direction!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh my gosh, there are so many people I would love to take out to lunch and pick their brains. My top 3 would have to be RuPaul, Jeremy Scott, and Lady Gaga. All of them are so inspirational to me and have had such tremendous impacts on my life in different ways. Watching RuPaul’s Drag Race as a kid was what introduced me to the fabulous art of drag, and pretty much helped me come to terms with my sexuality. Jermey Scott is the designer of one of my favorite fashion brands Moschino. I not only look up to him as an amazing & whimsical designer but as a self-proclaimed rebel who isn’t afraid to break down barriers. Lastly, Lady Gaga has been an idol of mine since she hit the scene in 2008. She has always beat to her own drum and really never cared what anyone thought, which was and still is so incredibly inspiring to me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Y’all can shop my designs via my website mattsarafa.com and find me on Instagram at @mattsarafa & @shopmattsarafa ! Xox
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!