Stephanie Ohnmacht started sewing at age 7.
Stephanie Ohnmacht started sewing at age 7. (Provided by Lifetime)

Some people begin to follow their passion at an early age.

Stephanie Ohnmacht was 7 when her mother taught her to sew. More knowledge came from instructors in the 4H program in Burlington, where she grew up. By age 12 she had constructed a full suit.

Now 37, she's the owner of the Stephanie O clothing brand in Denver and a contestant on television's latest fashion competition, "Under the Gunn," which airs at 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

Host Tim Gunn is known for his thoughtful mentoring of designers on "Project Runway." In the spinoff show, three "Runway" alums are mentors to groups of designers under Gunn's watchful eye. It's a format akin to "The Voice," and ultimately, one designer and one mentor will prevail to win money and prizes.

So far Ohnmacht has survived the first three rounds and said in an interview that each challenge tests her in different ways. "You can't underestimate people," she said. "You have to put on your 'A' game — the most 'A' game you've ever had."

On the show, Ohnmacht is watched over by Nick Verreos, a designer specializing in red-carpet and special-occasion dresses.

The process has underscored how important mentors can be in fashion, she said. "They can help you think about the bigger picture. You get so caught up in the weeds," it's a good idea to step back and look at what you are doing.

Lack of sleep and the new environment on the campus at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles where the show is filmed have been other curves thrown at her. "I was mentally prepared as much as I could have been," she said, but "it is amazing how little you can really prepare" because each challenge is so different.

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"I've always sewn but wasn't trained in (design) school," she said. "Sewing fast is of essence, so I learned to speed up."

Working alongside an international group of designers and mentors has been great, she added. "Having other people in the room is helpful. There is nice camaraderie."

Gunn's support is important as well. "He's genuine and it comes from the heart that he wants you be your best."

Like many who pursue fashion, Ohnmacht has a day job to pay the bills. She's a business consultant in the telecommunications industry, but spends every spare moment working on her fashion line.

Her Stephanie O line is a tight collection of sportswear that is fashionable without being avant garde or intimidating. Vegan "leather" shorts and tops, color-blocked dresses in blue, green and white, and draped jersey separates are among her looks for spring 2014. A signature print was inspired by abstract art, which led her to debut the collection in a show on the lawn of the Clyfford Still Museum some months back.

Trunk shows at area boutiques followed, and she's selling in a few stores, but remains on the verge of taking it to the next level. She's hoping exposure on the TV show will help.

Ohnmacht auditioned for "Project Runway" in 2008 but was rejected, she said, because she was too detail-oriented and a perfectionist, skills that Gunn thought would make her too slow to compete.

"I left there thinking that I definitely needed to be quicker and faster," she said.

Her next encounter with "Project Runway" was having them contact her to let her know they were casting in Seattle for Gunn's new spinoff show. "It went well and here we are," she said.

Even though fellow Denver designer Mondo Guerra hasn't mentored her on "Under the Gunn," it is good to have him on the show, she said. They met and became friends in Denver seven years ago. "It was nice having a fellow Denver person there."

Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697, or


"Under the Gunn" watch parties


Stephanie Ohnmacht and Mondo Guerra host Thursday viewing parties at Beauty Bar for "Under the Gunn." Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m. Special guests, activities and drawings for door prizes also included. Must be 21 and over. Free, suggested $1-$2 donation for the Denver Colorado AIDS Project. 608 E. 13th Ave., 720-542-8024,