A 2004 Christmas gift of a sewing machine from his wife changed the course of SethAaron Henderson’s life. Five years ago the Vancouver stylist didn’t know how to sew, and now he’s the most recent winner of TV’s “Project Runway” and has appeared on “Good Morning America” and twice on “Live With Regis and Kelly” and was featured in the pages of publications such as Us Weekly magazine.
Looks from the collection he showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February will be featured in the July issue of Marie Claire. And, he recently was named grand marshal of the Portland Rose Festival’s Starlight Parade.
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Henderson didn’t go to school to learn design and clothing construction. It came naturally and easily to the San Diego native who grew up in an artistic household with a cartoonist and painter father and a mother who enjoyed sewing and crafts.
That creative environment actually produced not one but two designers. Henderson’s younger brother, Orchards resident Noah Henderson, co-founded Hedlok Clothing with business partner James Kasch and is the brand’s graphic designer. He hand-draws the graphics for the line’s hats, T-shirts and hoodies.
SethAaron and Noah began experimenting with design as children.
“Even when it came down to our Halloween masks, we didn’t go out and buy them. We sat down and created them,” Noah recalled.
They also made toys such as shields and swords to play knights with, and created costumes for themselves when they were as young as 5 or 6.
“It seemed like everything was costume- and movie-set inspired,” SethAaron said.
When their parents divorced, SethAaron and Noah moved with their mother to Vancouver, where their half-brother already lived. It was in Vancouver that SethAaron met Tina, his wife of 17 years. She grew up in Vancouver and was his next-door neighbor. The couple moved to San Diego after they got married, but returned to Vancouver in 1999, and family has kept them here since.
Tina’s mother and brothers live here, and SethAaron and Noah’s mother, Carol Henderson, stepfather, Kevin Scott, and half-brother, Paul Hobbs, live in Battle Ground.
Though they had many similar influences growing up, today the Henderson brothers cater to different markets. However, their styles aren’t all that far apart, they say. They share a common color palette of black, white, gray and primary colors.
“We both push the envelope and do what we do and take it or leave it. It’s just what it is,” Noah said.
Taking risks has paid off for SethAaron in a big way. At Fashion Week, the “Project Runway” climax pitting Henderson against fellow finalists Mila Hermanovski and Emilio Sosa, he revealed a bold, high-drama collection inspired by 1940s German and Russian military. It was enough to clinch the seventh season of the Lifetime reality show for Henderson. Along with the title, the Marie Claire spread and invaluable industry connections, he receives $100,000 and a $50,000 design technology suite.
Henderson just wrapped up several intense weeks of interviews and publicity events, flying to New York twice a week for one or two days at a time, then rushing home to be with his family. Most recently he attended the 2010 A&E Upfront event with “Project Runway” mentor Tim Gunn and judge Nina Garcia, where he got to meet Tony Danza, David Hasselhoff, William Shatner and Raven-Symoné.
“It was packed with celebrities from all different networks, all the CEOs, buyers,” Henderson said from the Lincoln neighborhood home he shares with Tina, their two children and his mother-in-law, Carol Erickson.
Henderson walked the red carpet while paparazzi snapped away. The spotlight isn’t something that bothers Henderson, and he’s adjusted quickly.
“I’ve been dealing with (the paparazzi) a lot,” he says, sporting a “Thank you Mood” T-shirt, a Gunn catchphrase from the show referring to Mood Designer Fabrics, where contestants shop. “It’s great. They’re just doing their jobs. They get their pictures and then they leave you alone.”
He also traveled to Seattle recently to help judge auditions for the next season of “Project Runway.” Henderson has a little break in his schedule now before going back to Seattle in early June to lead tours at the grand opening of the Andy Warhol and Kurt Cobain exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.
In the much-needed downtime, Henderson plans to barbecue, take his daughter shopping, house hunt in Vancouver (he currently leases and is looking to buy) and plot out his next step.
“I have time to start developing the direction I want the future to go,” he said.
Fresh off his appearance at the A&E Upfront event, SethAaron Henderson sat down with The Columbian and his brother, Noah Henderson, to talk about their respective clothing lines, the “Project Runway” victory and what the future holds. The following interview is edited for space and clarity.
Family: Wife, Tina; son, Aaron, 14; daughter, Megann, 12.
Line: sethaaron, available here.
Focus: Edgy, sophisticated, European-inspired clothes with a punk-rock twist.
Carried at: Anne Bocci Boutique & Gallery in Portland’s Multnomah Village.
Biggest success thus far: Recently winning the seventh season of “Project Runway.”
What have the past few weeks been like for you since winning “Project Runway”?
It’s been good, but it’s also kind of tough to not be home constantly.
You mentioned it being important to you to show your kids that if you sacrifice and work hard to follow your dreams, then good things happen. Do you think the message has resonated?
They got that lesson for sure. They’re very creative, too. My daughter is interested in journalism and is chief editor of her school yearbook. My son’s a percussionist.
You talked about wanting to get a place in Los Angeles to have access to more of a fashion epicenter. Is that still the plan?
The kids only have a few years of school left, so we don’t want to move them. I’d like to rent an apartment in Los Angeles, but now that we’re spending more and more time in New York, we’re liking it more and more.
The judges on the show consistently praised your impeccable tailoring skills. How did you go from sewing novice to expert in just five years?
It was pretty rad. (Show judge and famed designer) Michael Kors told me off-camera I was the best tailor this show has ever seen. If I want to do something, I’m going to do it. But I’ve got to master it. I’ve always been interested in design and construction. They came naturally to me. It’s what I’m born to do.
Until now you’ve made all the clothes you’ve designed in your basement studio. With all the exposure of winning “Project Runway,” will you have to start outsourcing your manufacturing?
I could have outsourced it a long time ago, but I didn’t have the resources. Now I’m looking for a manufacturer. I’m looking at a factory in Portland, which would help create jobs and support the local economy. I’m also looking at a New York manufacturer to supply stores there. Those will be my ready-to-wear lines, but I’ll still make couture stuff for boutiques and special clients myself. I love to make clothes.
When Tim Gunn made home visits to the four finalists, he asked you to reconceptualize what you’d completed so far with less than half your money and time left. What was going through your mind at that point, and how did his advice impact the collection you showed at Fashion Week?
I already knew that’s what he was going to say, because it was the right thing. I needed to hear it from him. The judges want to see growth. You need something unexpected to win.
What was it like introducing Tim Gunn to your family, having him play Pictionary with them and jump on the trampoline in your backyard?
It was a little surreal at first, but then it was like having another family member here. He and I know each other really well now. I call him Papa Gunn.
You managed to come off as both very confident and open to feedback, whereas some contestants, such as Emilio Sosa, seemed to struggle with accepting constructive criticism. How did you achieve that balance?
You have to be open to feedback. You constantly want to grow, you want to be better. Opinions are good, advice is good. That doesn’t mean you have to directly follow it. Michael Kors said 80 percent of what you hear disregard, and the other 20 percent will be useful.
With which of your fellow “Project Runway” contestants do you remain close?
Jay (Nicolas Sario). We were talking every day until I started traveling so much. He’s funnier than hell. I talk to Emilio, too.
What’s next for you, and where do you ultimately see yourself going as a designer?
I want to go into Neiman Marcus but also have a more affordable line at Target like Zac Posen just did. My lines will be in stores all over the United States. Next I want to go to Japan and London. I’d be open to taking a job at a major fashion house, as well, as long as it was the right house, like Dior or Chanel.
Family: Daughter Ashlynn, 14; son, Reif, 7.
Line: Hedlok Clothing.
Focus: Extreme sports lifestyle brand.
Biggest success thus far: Seeing people on the street wearing his clothes.
How does your experience with extreme sports inform your line?
We grew up riding dirt bikes, skateboarding and snowboarding. Not football. We always did different things. So Hedlok is focused more on alternate sports like BMX and mixed martial arts.
What is your vision for Hedlok?
I want to help kids get into sports through sponsorships. We sponsor Willie Walden, a mixed martial arts fighter from Vancouver who trains with Team Quest. We also sponsor fighter Hamza Salim. He fights out of Armstrong MMA in Battle Ground. This summer we’d like to partner with other companies on a skateboarding challenge.
You also sponsor artists and musicians, correct?
As far as I’m concerned, music and art play a huge part in the extreme sports world. Music influences Seth and I both in many ways when we are creating. Hedlok sponsors the bands Another Dark Hour and The Days The Nights. Hedlok also works with the rising local musician Keegan Smith. We like local bands like Sex Hawk, Assisted Living and Tallboy Shotgun. We’re fans, supporters and help promote.
How do you think your brother did on “Project Runway” in terms of dealing with the pressure and all the different personalities in the workroom?
I thought the way he handled himself on the show was really good. He didn’t get into any of the drama, he just did the work.
Would you ever follow in his footsteps?
I was very happy to see Seth do it. I’m very proud of him, but I keep it kind of low-key.
Is Hedlok Clothing made locally?
Hedlok is all made in Oregon.
Hedlok used to be available in malls. Why did you decide to switch to online only, and do you have plans to move back into stores in the future?
We took it out of stores to focus on other aspects of our company. Most malls were struggling anyway. Yes, we do have plans for the future. Baby steps. Many clothing lines shoot themselves in the foot by moving too fast. Hedlok will be carried at the soon-to-be-opened Rebel Row in downtown Vancouver.
What types of graphics do you draw for Hedlok? It seems you do a lot with angels, skulls, guns and crosses.
I don’t have a textbook to go off of. I do what feels right and what comes naturally. This comes from the heart. I daydream a lot of my designs.