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‘Project Runway’s First Transgender Model Wants to Change the Industry

Mimi Tao Project Runway

In an Out exclusive, Mimi Tao talks about coming out on Bravo's hit reality show.

Mimi Tao is more than just the first ever transgender woman to be cast as a model on Project Runway. She's a Thai model who was also featured in Christian Siriano's latest perfume campaign and she's set to make her Project Runway on tonight's 17th season premiere, when the show returns to Bravo.

In the first challenge, Tao gets paired with South Asian designer Kovid Kapoor, who is crafting a dress made for a goddess. When Tao comes out to him as trans during their fitting, Kapoor becomes elated and says, "You're the real goddess." Out caught up with Tao to discuss her debut, why she wants to change the fashion industry, and what it was like when she first put on the garment Kapoor designed.

What was it like to get the call to do Project Runway? What was the process like to be cast on the show?

It was amazing. That day, I was going to see a fashion show from a famous designer from Project Runway in Los Angeles. Then I got a call from my manager, saying, "Mimi, you are going to be a part of Project Runway!" And I was like, "Really!?" It's amazing for me.

Were you nervous at all to go on such a big platform?

Yes, I was nervous, because Project Runway is the biggest thing in my career right now. Project Runway is my first reality show. It's really exciting, you have no idea. When my manager called me, I screamed.

Were you a fan of the show prior to being cast?

Yes, yes. I remember when I first saw Project Runway. It might be 14 or 15 years ago. I was a big fan of the show because I am a designer, as well. My mom was a dressmaker and my grandmother is a dressmaker, as well. It's in my blood. That's why Project Runway means a lot to me.

What did your family say when you told them?

My family said, "What is Project Runway?" The only one who knows about Project Runway is my younger brother. My mom, she's very old and my dad is even older and they have no idea what it is. But now I tried to show them what it is and they're very excited. They're very proud of me now.

What was it like when you first entered the workroom?

Wow, when I first walked into the room, I heard someone call my name, I was like, "What!? Who knows my name!?" and I saw Bishme [Cromartie], a designer I worked with in Los Angeles Fashion Week last year. We had a great experience, because when I walked in his show, the music turned off and then when I walked onto the runway, everybody was quiet, because no one knew what happened. I put my hands up like "Come on, make some noise!" and they screamed. It was a crazy, great experience.

What was it like talking to Kovid about being trans? Did he make you feel comfortable?

I think I [spoke about it] because I was so proud. I have been working so hard to get there. That was not my first time to audition for Project Runway. I've auditioned many, many times and I don't want to hide who I am. I would like to show them. I feel more comfortable letting people know who I am better than covering up my story. It's better to communicate with people who you really are. It's not just only him. I tell everyone. My first day when I got the call for Project Runway and we have about 20 models in the room and everyone introduced themselves and when it was my turn I introduced myself, where I come from and said I'm a trans woman. It's important to let people know who you are.

What was it like when you first put on the dress he designed?

I felt thankful and appreciative. I think my story touched him and inspired him and I think he saw something in me.

You specifically said to Kovid that you want to change the fashion industry to be more trans inclusive. What do you think is one of the major roadblocks to trans women in the industry?

I think the major roadblock is when people think about transgender or LGBTQ+ people, the first thing they think about is the negative side. Because a lot of people in this world, they think that trans people or LGBTQ+ people, are sinners. That's why it's already in people's minds. That's why sometimes, a designer would like to use us or hire us to be a model, but they're worrying about what people think if they have a trans woman in the show. What are people going to think if a trans woman presents a garment? I think that it's a big roadblock. And I'm trying to change that. Everybody needs opportunities, not just transgender people. Everybody needs an opportunity to show what they can do and what they can be. And don't give up.

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