James Martinez says he's in it for something far more important than mere money, a car and a fashion magazine spread.
The 29-year-old Fort Worth native is competing on Season 11 of Project Runway, which begins at 8 p.m. Thursday on Lifetime, because being on the show brings instant validation as a fashion designer.
Not that Martinez would object to pocketing $100,000 to start his own apparel line, being handed the keys to a 2013 Lexus GS 350 and having his clothing designs showcased in Marie Claire magazine.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with winning the big prize, he says.
But Martinez sees a bigger picture here.
To his way of thinking, Project Runway represents an opportunity to establish himself in a business where it's hard for talented unknowns to cut through the clutter.
" Project Runway has evolved over the years into such a big, big thing that it's an honor just to get chosen to be on the show," Martinez says. "So for me, it's really not about being the winner.
"It's about the recognition it brings. It's about establishing these extra credentials."
Martinez is one of 16 designers trying to prove he has what it takes to wow judges Heidi Klum, Zac Posen (replacing Michael Kors) and Nina Garcia and to show his wares during New York Fashion Week.
For the first time, the designers will have to work in teams for every challenge, so collaborative skills might prove to be as much a factor as creativity, much like it often is in the real world.
Martinez, who grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from North Side High School in 2001, says he has the tools to work well in group situations.
"I wanted to make sure that I did not portray any negative energy on the show," he says.
This isn't the first time Martinez has tried to get on Project Runway.
Thousands of aspiring designers fill out applications and try out every year. So merely making it as far as the first episode, he says, is a huge accomplishment.
"It's very challenging when they're casting, because you don't really know what it is that they're looking for," Martinez says. "You just have to be yourself and hope that your talent will speak for itself. Fortunately, this time around, I was one of the ones they selected."
Martinez already has his own apparel line. It's called Barron and J. (The Barron part of the name is his mother; he's the J.) The company already has clients and items that are available in stores.
"I would characterize my style as being very classic yet edgy," he says.
Martinez acquired his love for fashion from his mother and sister. He started out working in retail stores, then studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Dallas.
"That's when I realized how much potential I had," he says.
Martinez lives in Dallas, but his parents are still in Fort Worth, so he finds himself on the west side of the Metroplex often.
Martinez says he had never been on TV before doing this show.
"The whole experience, it's very surreal," he says. "It's a very crazy experience, very fast-paced."
Martinez isn't allowed to reveal how he fared on the show. In fact, for several months, he wasn't allowed to tell family or friends that he even appeared on the show.
"But what was actually pretty nice is that, after they announced that I'm on the show, a lot of my friends surprisingly haven't asked for information," he says. "All they said was that I deserve the recognition. Because I've been doing this for about four years now.
"And they were just happy for me to receive this recognition. They said, 'I don't really need to know what happened yet. I'm just proud that you were on there.'"
Now, the waiting to see him in action is almost over.
As always, there basically are three kinds of competitors on Project Runway: good guys who viewers root for, villains who viewers love to hate and all the others who essentially wind up as road kill.
"Viewers are going to consider me the good guy," Martinez promises. "At least that's how I hope I come off."