Designer Jonny Cota on “Making the Cut”: “I Cried Almost Every Single Night”

by Eddie Roche

Warning! Making the Cut spoilers ahead!

Jonny Cota looked liked an underdog in the first few episodes of Making the Cut, but came back triumphantly as the week’s winner in episode 4. The Daily got the LA-based designer on the phone to talk about his unusual background and how he founded his own line, Skingraft. 

The first few episodes were rough on you. How did it feel to finally win?
The win feels that much sweeter because I had such a brutal week in the first two episodes. They were a real challenge for me.

Did you think you were going to go home in the first few episodes?
Yes! I was fearing for my life on episode 2 in front of Naomi. I was getting ready to pack my bags. To stay and then triumph was a major game changer.

What was it like going up in front of Naomi Campbell?
I was absolutely terrified of Naomi at the beginning. I would stutter my sentences. My palms would get sweaty. I wasn’t terrified because she’s an incredible model, I’m terrified because she tells it like it is. It was a lot to take in at the beginning. You soon realize she’s being the most honest and the most blunt and I really appreciated that.

Who else gave you great feedback?
Joseph Altuzarra. Everything he said was constructive. It wasn’t personal. He wanted to see me do my best.

What was it about this winning look that resonated with the judges?
It was intentional on my to focus on a look that was effortless.  I wanted to give them a piece that so many women can wear with ease and I think that’s ultimately why I triumphed in this challenge.

Was doing a show like this something you always wanted to do?
Absolutely not. I had zero desire to be on a show like this. Life changes and I was at a crossroads with my business. I had nothing to lose. Now is the time. Let’s do it!

How was it filming?
I am a very confident person and this experience challenged me beyond everything imaginable. I cried almost every single night. It made me a better designer and person.

What were you crying about?
To be under such pressure from the judges and the pressure I put on myself. But also the fear that you are going to embarrass yourself or your company. It becomes a very intense emotional process.

How do you feel you are coming across on the show?
I think I come across exactly as I am. I thought it would be edited, but that’s me. The funny, the bitchy,  the friendly. It’s all very true to who I am.

Jonny Cota

We know you are based in Los Angeles.  How will you adjust to life when you are more well-known?
LA is a fortunate city where you are surrounded by a lot of industry already. The other day my husband said to, “Are you ready? The first episode is about to air!” I turned to him and said, “I’ve been preparing my whole life for this.”

Tell us more about your professional background.
I have no proper training. I went to school for journalism and then I joined the circus for 5 years as a stilt walker, fire dancer performing artist. I learned to sew costumes in the circus. We then started TK and showed during New York Fashion Week, which gave a lot of validity to what we were doing. Like every small business there are good years and bad years. It was a constant pivot for 12 years.

What do you think the key to maintaining longevity?
The willingness to evolve your style, your business strategy. No one would have thought I would be doing interviews about Making the Cut in my sweatpants at home. You have to change with the times.

How do you describe your line?
Directional streetwear. It’s loud at times and also very subdued.  It’s very bold. As I grew and sales became more approachable. The brand is dark. It’s very downtown LA street, but I want to make it accessible.

Backtracking a bit…How did even get in the circus?
I’ve been around underground nightlife since I was a teenager. Raves and parties. In that culture, there’s a lot of performance and art. The day I graduated with my journalism degree, I was on a tour with 30 other freaky people. It just swept me away.

Where do you want your business to go?
Making the Cut is giving us an opportunity for the world to understand my personality. The opportunity to get to sell through Amazon has gotten me so excited about being able to sell to a wider market while keeping the edge of Skingraft. It wasn’t a priority to me before, but now it’s my number one goal. How do we take the line and aesthetic and go worldwide with it?

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