Dayoung Kim knew the work would be hard, but the Korean-born Portland fashion designer didn't understand why she struggled physically more than her fellow contestants on the current season of Project Runway.
Before withdrawing from the televised design competition on the Jan. 30 episode, Kim had already experienced three on-camera health scares, which saw castmates and production tend to her after she nearly collapsed from exhaustion. She attributed the spells to switching from her traditional Korean diet to the heavier American foods available in craft services—but it turns out more was happening than junk food and long work hours.
"A lot of people assume I'm anorexic or have an eating disorder," Kim says. "People were saying, 'Oh, she's not eating.' But the fact was, I tried really hard to eat."
After withdrawing from the show, Kim visited a doctor in her native Seoul in November. She was ultimately diagnosed with dysautonomia, a condition that exhibits difficult-to-pinpoint symptoms like digestive problems and chronic fatigue and had gone undetected for about five years.
Now on a treatment plan, Kim is back in Portland—at least, she will be, after a trip to Guadalajara, from which she spoke to WW—and pouring herself into her womenswear label, Moirai, with the same passion for precision that viewers came to expect from her reality TV gig.
Born in Seoul, Kim moved to Portland 10 years ago, following her husband to a job at Nike. Her career as designer and reality TV star was already in progress: In 2008, Kim won Project Next Designer, a docu-style South Korean reality show, and was named Emerging Fashion Designer of the Year by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2009.
Still, she wasn't quick to make friends in the Portland fashion scene, partially due to shyness and also because she took a hiatus from making clothes. She stayed in touch with fashion through styling gigs, but felt miserable when she wasn't creating.
"Designing fashion is my true happiness," she says. "Whenever I design something, when I'm creating is when I can truly feel my heart pounding and feel like I'm alive and living my life. But my first few years in Portland were rough because I didn't know anyone. I struggled a lot, because I didn't feel like I had any purpose in life because I was not able to work."
In 2016, Kim co-founded Moirai with a partner who prefers to remain anonymous. Taking its name from the Greek goddesses of fate, Moirai is Kim's consideration for a garment's life cycle, from its inception to years after its purchase. Her clean silhouettes, meticulous attention to detail, and subtle cross-cultural influences could be considered more traditional compared to the work of some of her edgier peers, but her aesthetic is by no means stuffy—and Kim herself is no stranger to the wild side.
"When I was younger, I was drawn to something louder, that would shock people," she says. "But over time, the philosophy of what I wanted to create got deeper, and I tried to think of the people who would wear it every day."
Moirai has no permanent brick-and-mortar store, but Kim plans to stage pop-up events in the near future, which she hopes will include art installations. In the meantime, she is looking for ways to advance social causes that are close to her, like ending child marriage globally. She says she has yet to align herself publicly with a specific nonprofit, or found one herself, but she hopes to do more as she builds up her own resources.
And though Kim couldn't confirm she was truly finished on Project Runway—this season, mentor Christian Siriano can bring axed designers back into the competition—she did say she would return for a season of Project Runway All Stars, if asked. Despite her health problems, she enjoyed everyone's company, and will connect with fellow Portland Runway alumni once she gets home.
But Kim still wishes her run had turned out another way.
"I'm the most harsh critic to myself and when it comes to my work. I am a perfectionist," she says. "I really liked my ideas and the original designs I created in my head each challenge, but because of the circumstances, I felt like I didn't deliver to meet my original plans."
Kim also wishes Bravo had aired more moments shared between castmates. She mentioned fondness for fellow introvert Geoffrey Mac, and had well wishes for #Resistance darling Tyler Neasloney, who caused this season's most talked-about moment, when he responded to criticism from host Karlie Kloss by asking if she would wear his French American design to dinner with her in-laws, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
Kim appears briefly in the clip, which went viral, looking shocked—not just from Neasloney's quip, but because she hadn't connected the dots of Kloss' family tree.
"Everyone was thinking about [the Kushners] publicly, but not the designers," Kim says. "Like Karlie is just Karlie, and the husband is just the husband. Karlie has her job and she's a professional. But according to my brother, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?"
MORE: See Moirai's spring-summer collection at themoirai.com.