Who Is Lela Orr? New Details About The 'Project Runway' Contestant

Photo: bravo
Who Is Lela Orr? New Details About The 'Project Runway' Contestant

With Project Runway’s 17th season off to an awesome start, it’s mind-blowing how talented and skills these designers are in their own way. And though Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum aren’t returning, this season features three new judges — Karlie Kloss, Elaine Welteroth, and Brandon Maxwell — with Nina Garcia returning to the panel. Christian Siriano will also mentor the designers, replacing Gunn.

So far, four contestants have been sent home, giving each a better chance to win the season. The prizes this time around? A $250,000 cash prize, a feature in Elle Magazine, $50,000 to put towards a studio, and a mentorship with the Council of Fashion Designers of America! It’s a big deal, and these designers will have their work cut out for them to show what makes them stand out above their competitors.

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Who will win this season? Well, seeing as how the contestants are all so unique and have different life experiences, it’s anybody’s game. But while we see how each designer progresses throughout the season, their individual backstories are just as important to know.

Who is Lela Orr? Here are seven things to know about the eco-luxury designer, her fight against environmental issues, and what inspires her to create unique designs.

1. She’s been interested in design from a young age.

The influence of her grandmother sparked her interest. She then began sewing, making pillows and clothing projects, where she’d cut up jeans and make them into skirts.

“Growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, my idea of fashion was what I saw in department store windows, but that soon changed. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my grandmother introduced me to French and American Vogue and from then on I was completely enamored of high fashion. Unlike everyday clothing, the garments featured in editorials were true art — they told a story and captured the reader’s attention. From early childhood on I designed my own collections and kept up with trends,” she says.

2. But she decided to pursue fashion after graduating.

After deciding that fashion is about wearing art, she began dreaming big.

According to her, “In my teens, I definitely dreamt of becoming a designer, but it didn’t seem like an attainable or practical path. I truly didn’t know what I wanted to do or be, so when I received a scholarship to Tulane University, I decided to pursue a degree in Business and International Development.

Once I graduated, I moved to one of my favorite cities, NYC, where I worked as a Sales Associate for an accessory manufacturer. It was there that I was able to work with their in-house accessory design team and I realized my calling was to be a fashion designer.”

Once Orr was accepted to Parsons, “I decided to fully commit to staying in New York to pursue fashion design. I sold my car to pay off the remaining balance of tuition and school materials and began interning with emerging fashion designer Charles Harbison and worked as a production intern at The Row,” she recalls.

3. Her career took off after graduating college.

Says Orr, “After graduating in 2015 and completing my internships, I approached Fashion X about debuting my expanded graduate collection at Dallas Fashion Week, or Fashion X Dallas. While this was a big risk, as I was fresh out of school and would be showing to the Dallas fashion-elite, I decided to take the risk, and it paid off. I received my first custom orders after my show and decided to relocate to Dallas and start my own eco-luxury womenswear brand, Ferrah.”

Aside from her brand, she’s created multiple collections and been featured in shows:

“Since my first show in 2015, I’ve created three additional collections and shown at Fashion X Dallas, Fashion X Austin, and Southern Design Week in New Orleans. In 2016, I won the Bernina Fashion Fund Award from Fashion X and met my business partner Lea Nyland. We have since collaborated with other brands, photographers, models, and dancers and have been featured in Austere Magazine, Ugly Fat Magazine (Denmark) and Flanelle Magazine (Canada),” she reveals.

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4. She’s incorporated environmental protection into her designs.

“The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. I wanted to do my part to combat this statistic by being a zero waste designer who works exclusively with natural dyed and fabrics whilst staying true to my fashion-forward aesthetic. I believe that sustainability is not just a trend but a cause we can all become part of to secure the future of upcoming generations,” she says.

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5. She created her own brand.

The brand is called Ferrah, which “comes from the Arabic root f-r-h for ‘joy, merriment, or happiness.’” The brand is “high-fashion with a low carbon footprint. We specialize in creating luxury apparel made from natural materials and dyes.” Orr created the brand with Lea Nyland Poulsen.

Even better? The brand is zero-waste, meaning nothing is thrown out; instead, it’s recycled. “We also reduce waste by incorporating zero-waste cutting techniques and patterning so that almost 100% of our materials are used in the creation process. Also, I’m proud to say that this year we are no longer working with animal-based products and will be a completely cruelty-free luxury brand,” Orr says.

6. She eventually applied for Project Runway.

According to Orr, confidence played a big role in her decision to go on the show. “For years, friends have asked if I would consider auditioning for Project Runway. I can be pretty introverted and figured I wouldn’t be a great fit for TV. Being on Project Runway was a longtime dream, but I didn’t necessarily think it would be something I would pursue. Something about this season just felt right,” she revealed.

7. She also uses feminism as a muse.

She cites Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Maya Angelou as her inspirations, and uses their words to inspire other women to pursue their dreams.

“It’s funny because as women, we make up the majority of consumers of fashion and apparel. We dictate what’s hot and what will sell, yet like most industries, women make up only a small percentage of leadership roles in fashion. There are actually very few women who are the head of major fashion houses. I would tell young girls and women wanting to work in fashion to aim high. Anything is possible with enough hard work and determination,” she said in an interview.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.