“If you have a strong passion for something…pursue it”
Need something to binge this weekend? Try Making the Cut — Amazon’s newest fashion-design reality series. The show follows 12 designers competing to create the next global fashion brand — and features hosts Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, as well as with five judges including Naomi Campbell and Nicole Richie. We talked to one of the contestants, Martha Gottwald, who started her own brand Neubyrne with no fashion training — just a sketchpad, Google, and a vision. Martha shared with us a behind-the-scenes look at the show and a piece of advice for getting passed the word “no.”
Wake-Up Call: You’re a contestant on Amazon’s new show ‘Making the Cut.’ But let’s back up. You started your own brand, Neubyrne, about two years ago. What’s your story? How’d you come to love fashion and develop your own brand?
Martha Gottwald: I think from a very young age, I always knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. I knew that was where I was meant to be, and that’s what I wanted to do. So, I planned to graduate from college, move to New York, and get a job or internship with a big name brand or designer. But a week before my college graduation, I was in this horrible car accident where I was a front seat passenger in an automobile and we hit a tree going 60 miles per hour. That really derailed my whole idea for what was next. I ended up with a brain injury, broken ribs, and a broken back. It was insane, and I’m literally a living miracle because of it. I had to take a year to recover from the accident and after that, I began thinking about what I wanted to do.
I ended up marrying my then boyfriend and moving with him to Singapore for his job. It was there that I decided to start a fashion brand. I had no formal training, so I started talking to people, sketching, picking out fabrics, and eventually with help from this company in Vietnam, produced my first collection — which was shown at New York Fashion Week in 2018. This really marked the beginning of Neubyrne.
How did you manage to design a whole fashion line with no real training?
It’s honestly crazy. When I started this, I literally knew nothing. I knew what I wanted to do, and I figured out a way to do it. I think a lot of people are too scared to get out there and try something and be told “no.” But I got so over hearing the word “no,” and I just kind of kept going.
There are things that I very much cannot do. For instance, I’ve taken so many sewing courses, and I absolutely hate sewing. Not my thing. But I love the design aspect — the sketching and pulling things together. So I’ve been working closely with this amazing pattern maker who is in New York. She’s the reason Neubyrne clothing fits so well and looks as beautiful as it does.
So where does the name Neubyrne come from?
After the car accident, I really liked the whole idea of reinventing yourself. And that’s what makes up the brand with the fun, bright, crazy clothing. It’s this chance to be a new you. The Bern comes from my old middle name… and I thought New Bern had a nice ring to it. I ended up choosing the German “Neu,” because I didn’t want it to be too close to New Balance for branding and marketing purposes.
Let’s talk ‘Making the Cut’… How did you get picked to be on the show?
So I had just had my son, and I got this call from a producer in L.A. who had just seen Real Housewives of Dallas’s Kameron Westcott post on Instagram wearing my Bow Blouse. She was the first celebrity to wear my stuff! Anyway, he was casting for this new show, and the only thing he could tell me was that he was looking for fashion designers that ran their own brand and that Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn were a part of it.
I was very up front and told him that I’m a designer because I run my brand and these are all of my designs, but I’m not sitting here sewing things. He said that was fine and set up a Skype call with a higher producer, which went great and I was invited for a final casting call in L.A. So, I flew to L.A. when my son was just four weeks old, and you can’t talk to anyone for four or five days — everything is super secretive. You’re just sequestered in a hotel room looking “camera-ready” and sitting by the hotel room phone. No one there knew my name, I was just “Designer MG.” You couldn’t even talk to people in the elevator because there was always someone there to monitor. I kept thinking this is all going to end, so I’m just going to have fun with it. And sure enough, a month later, I got an email, saying pack your bags, you’ve been cast.
What was it like working alongside Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn? And showing your designs to judges Nicole Richie and Naomi Campbell?
It was the coolest experience of my life thus far. It was so humbling to be there and be amongst all of these other insanely talented designers. I’ll never forget one of the first days in Paris, Tim Gunn walked into the room, and it was me and the 11 other designers and he said, “You know, we have 12 of the best designers in the world in this room.” And I looked around the room and was like, he’s talking about me! It was especially validating since I had a background with no fashion design school.
If this show is anything like ‘Project Runway,’ I’m sure you had to take some harsh criticism. What was that like? How did you manage the feedback?
I’m very sensitive and you know, I’m totally open to constructive criticism and all that. But it was hard for me to be there during eliminations and hear other people having harsh critiques. You see all these other reality TV programs and you wonder how these people even know each other that well on episode one — but you just do. Before we’re even on camera, all of the designers were stuck in a room together for like a million hours waiting for Naomi Campbell or something. So to see people have these harsh critiques and to know how much they worked — it was hard. Definitely really difficult.
Now that you’re at this place in your career, what’s one piece of advice you would tell your younger self?
This is something that needs to get out there and be told to someone: If you do have this strong passion for something, even if you haven’t gone to school for it or you don’t have the job that you think you need for it — pursue it. It’s not easy. It’s not like you will just start it and it’ll be fine, but if you love it and you really, really want to do it, then you can make it happen.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared on Medium.com