An Interview with Samantha Rei

Samantha Rei is a fashion designer, nerd, and cartoon-haired wizard. She will soon be on your TV participating in the sixteenth season of Project Runway and was nice enough to talk with us about pop culture and fashion.

1. You are an amazing fashion designer and living nerd encyclopedia. How did your love for pop culture start?

My dad. It was all him. From the time I was a tiny little nerdo my dad fed us cartoons and comics.

2. How has pop culture influenced your fashion? 

I try my best to tell a story with every collection and I’m regularly influenced by the stories of others. This could be anything from Alice in Wonderland (my forever muse) to Scary Godmother, Sweeney Todd to Avatar the Last Air Bender/Legend of Korra. My creative process is this: once I’m influenced by something I essentially meditate on it. I think about it, consume it and listen to music that reminds me of it. Generally I am inspired by some piece or pieces of music and I see a little future cinema in my head of what the collection is and what the show will look like. Then I will stop what I’m doing and sketch. My most recent collection was inspired by AtLA/LoK and I was inspired by an a capella medley of several songs from Avatar I found on Soundcloud.

I mean, at the end of the day I’m an escapist and I want what I make to help people feel that beautiful fantasy, too.

3. You have created a select few (for friends only or yourself) Disneybound outfits and costumes. What is it about these fashion niches that people can’t get enough of? 

Okay, I love covert nerd gear. Like, I love being able to let my freak flag fly and I’m not shy to do it, but I love wearing something that is essentially a “nod to the audience,”  something that people in the know will see, get and feel connected to. I LOVE the idea of Bounding because people REALLY into it will get it and it creates a fun, cute sense of community.

 5. What are some of the characters you connect with in Disney or nerd culture in general?

I love Kida from Atlantis (my favorite Disney movie). She’s a badass, a leader and doesn’t have any self-doubt. Lately my favorite Disney movie is Moana. I haven’t felt this personally connected to a Disney movie since Princess and the Frog and I actually feel more so. Moana has a loving family and loving community, but still feels guilty that she wants to follow her dream, her call, because she doesn’t want them to be disappointed. That’s been literally my whole life. I have an amazing family, supportive and loving friends and I worry if I mess up or don’t succeed SUPER HUGE I will let them down. And they keep telling me they are proud of me, but I have a lot of self-doubt. This was the story that I connected to because Moana is me. And I finally started to check myself because of “Song of the Ancestors,” specifically these lines:

I am a girl who loves my island
And the girl who loves the sea, it calls me

I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all
It’s inside me
It’s like the tide
Always falling and rising

That’s so striking and deep, so real for so many of us creatives.And lastly, Tiana. She’s close to her parents, her dad gives her amazing business advice and she has business drive. She’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur, not a princess. Dat me.

6. Do you find the nerd culture welcoming or open to people of color?

Uhhhhh, more so now than when I was growing up? But there is still a LOT of work to do. So often if you dress as something people say, “Oh, you’re the *black* such and such,” and it’s like, no, I’m just the thing. You know what I am, stop being a jerk.

And it’s significantly more welcoming to men that women, but again, it’s better than it was. I hope it keep improving.

7. Why is representation so important in pop culture?

Alienating an entire group is so thoroughly pointless and we see it so often. A big problem we see in subculture groups is bullied nerds feeling like king of the mountain so they decide to then bully themselves. It goes through every layer of the nerd food chain and at the bottom you have people feeling like trash because they have the audacity to like something.

Everyone wants to be part of a community. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted and just have fun having fun. Representation is the missing piece, the thing that lets everyone know it’s okay to like the thing, that the thing was made with everyone in mind and that everyone can like it.

8. What can Disney and other large studios do in the future to be more inclusive?

They can be genuine, like they’ve been doing. Don’t shoehorn in a PoC or other marginalized group. Do it because the story calls for it. Learn stories of other cultures and hire writers and artists of those cultures. Moana was a success because so many people were attached to that culture.

Keep doing that. Oh, and stop only offering Mulan and Tiana toys at Christmas. I hate that.

9. You are going to be on Project Runway Season 16. Congrats! Do you hope you are shown as not only a talented designer, but as a nerd?

Thank you! And of course! I am not embarrassed of my geekdom. I’m open and honest about my love of comics and my dreams of being a wizard and my love of musicals and dolls. I didn’t turn it off at all while there so I feel like they can only show me as I am. You’ll know when I do because I haven’t seen it either!

10. Why do you think these types of reality shows are an important place to show representation?

I feel like a lot of people have a preconceived idea of what the industry is and what people into fashion are like and I feel like this can show the thought process behind real people, how real people work and what the industry consists of. Our season is so diverse, not just in terms of designers, but in terms of models. If I wasn’t on this season I’d watch it because the diversity and experience is so genuine. It didn’t feel forced, not once. It’s about talent. It’s important to show that everyone of all colors, genders, and ages can do this. Seeing yourself in a group of regular people might make you want to take the jump yourself. That’s so important.

11. If someone would want a custom dress with, let’s say, Disney fabric to wear while they watch you on TV, what is the best way to contact you?

I’m unfortunately closed for bespoke orders until after the season concludes, but I do have some fun merch of my website. You can see it at

12. Can you give us specific details as to when the show airs and what channel so we can all cheer you on?!

You can catch me of Project runway season [Sweet] 16 premiering on August 17. If you live in the Twin Cities, we’ll be doing viewings at Clubhouse Jager. If you don’t have cable you can catch it next day on the Lifetime website and Hulu. If you discuss it on social media, feel free to use tags #DesignerSamantha and #ProjectRunway.

For now, walk with me through my closet! Thanks for having me!


So much thanks to Samantha for talking with us. We will be cheering you on! Make sure to follow Samantha’s social media pages for updates on her past and future collections: Facebook  |  Twitter  | Instagram

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