These days she may seem like a native New Yorker, but Kate Stoltz – of TLC's hit reality show "Breaking Amish" – had no intention of making the Big Apple her home when she arrived in 2012 for her first season on the reality show.
"I didn't realize I was going to end up living there because I hated it. I absolutely detested New York City when I first stepped inside. I never expected to stay," Stoltz tells Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview.
Three years later, the former Amish gal is thriving as a model, an emerging fashion designer and star of the TLC "Breaking Amish" spinoff, "Return to Amish." She's also the franchise's only original cast member who hasn't moved back to Pennsylvania.
"The reason I decided to stay in New York was because it made me realize that they're so many opportunities," Stoltz says. "When you're in a city, there's people making it happen, traveling the world and doing the things they actually want to do – things people only dream about in other places. Being in New York has helped me realize that if I really do want that, I can do it."
The 24-year-old reality star grew up in Myerstown, Penn., as the middle child of seven and the daughter of her district's strict bishop. Stoltz left her family and the Amish community at age 21 and moved to Florida where a lot of ex-Amish head in their transition to becoming "English." About six months later, however, producers asked her to join the TLC series and then she quickly transitioned to modeling in New York.
Since then, she's participated in sexy photo shoots for Maxim magazine, walked the runway for designer Cesar Galindo at New York Fashion Week, stripped down to her skivvies for the New York Post, and once even shaved the side of her head. But none of that is up for discussions with her family who still see her as a fallen soul.
These days her fashion career has expanded to the design side of the industry. She's currently enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan after taking classes at an extension school and completing her G.E.D two years ago.
"Even though I have 15 years of sewing experience, there's so much more that I want to learn about the fashion industry," she says. "I'm a full time student at FIT right now and I love it."
Stoltz chatted with HNGN about her adventures this season on "Return to Amish," the future of her fashion line and the Sunday tradition she shares with her boyfriend, who she met through a mutual friend eight months ago.
Headlines & Global News: Why did you find it important to take time out of your busy schedule to help Mary with her bed and breakfast?
Kate Stoltz: I didn't really find the time to do it, I just did it. With time, you just need to prioritize what's most important. When I heard that Mary was sick and Jeremiah went out of his way to tell me that I needed to go out to Pennsylvania, I just thought, 'I need to get out there and make sure that she's okay.' When something like that happens, you just drop everything and you go.
You shared with Mary your experience of working in a bed and breakfast. What was your experience and was the establishment as strict as Mary's place?
It was a bed and breakfast in an old restored post office and general store. I did the cleaning, the cooking and the baking. That's pretty much what I would do all day. I would cook for events. They would have weddings there every Saturday and unless they hired a caterer, I was usually the one in charge of food. I would usually have a couple people helping me, but it was my responsibility to make sure that the food was good and everything was the right temperature. I worked there for about five years.
Earlier this season you underwent surgery to repair your deviated septum. Did it make a difference doing it on camera, especially for your first operation?
It didn't really. At this point, I kind of ignore the cameras and go on my way. I don't really notice it. But I love surgery. I'm very fascinated by how the body works. I find it fascinating to study how the cells work together and what happens when you do certain things to the body, so I was actually looking forward to the surgery because it was something I wanted to do for such a long time. I don't find it scary. It normally isn't a life threatening procedure and I had a really good surgeon. I was really excited about getting the procedure done.
You haven't always gotten along with your castmates. What is the relationship like between you and the others these days?
My relationship with my co-stars has improved drastically since the beginning of the show. I understand everyone much better than I did, which makes our contrasting personalities and interests much easier to understand.
In "Breaking Amish" you were seen making out with a woman and sharing a date with another woman. How have those experiences influenced your opinion on LGBT issues and the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality?
I have always been very supportive of the LGBT community. I personally want to get married to a man that can be a father for my children, but I certainly understand same-sex attraction. When it comes to finding a partner that you love and want to spend time with, sometimes an individual from the same sex will be able to fulfill your relationships more than someone that is of another gender. Because of this understanding, I fully support the community and I am still celebrating the recent Supreme Court decision about LGBT marriage in the United States.
When you first left the community, did you try anything like smoking cigarettes or illegal substances (i.e. marijuana)?
I don't like cigarettes at all. I think they are absolutely disgusting and smell terrible. I'm very thankful that I never picked up the habit or feel the urge to smoke.
You have mostly succeeded in your transition out of the Amish community, but does it remain difficult for most kids to leave?
Yes, it's extremely difficult to transition out of the community. If you're not determined enough, you will not be able to fully make the transition. Even I get emotional because I miss my family sometimes and there are days where all I want to do is have a normal family life, be able to call my mom and not have this barrier between us. It's not easy.
How much contact do you have with your family?
I only see them once or twice a year and there are a lot of things we don't talk about. It's not like I have constant communication with them. I'm always writing letters, but I don't see them or hear from them that often.
When and if you start a family, how much of your Amish background will you share with them?
I don't know. I would definitely tell them and I would try to teach them the things that I thought were good - like working hard and all the good things that I think should carry over. I think until I have children I won't be able to know. There are some things that I haven't sorted out yet. It also depends on my partner and what kind of person he is.
What attracted you to the world of fashion? Did having to wear a plain outfit everyday of your life for 21 years become a driving factor?
It really wasn't. I started sewing when I was nine-years-old and I made my own dresses until I left the community. When I left, I wanted nothing to do with making my dresses. I wanted to go to the store and buy something. But about two years after I moved into the city, I had spare time in the evenings and I just needed to do something with my hands because I'm an artist. I love drawing and painting and creating things with my hands.
I hadn't touched a sewing machine for about three years. I went and bought this cheap sewing machine and started sewing. I eventually became addicted to creating things. Soon I got to the point where I wanted to wear my stuff. Then my friends started ordering stuff from me. Now I've been sewing for about 15 years. It's something that I just enjoying doing. It's kind of like going to the spa for me. It just relaxes me and calms me down.
Have you given the fashion presentation that you spoke about in an earlier episode?
I actually did the fashion presentation on the show which is going to be part of one of the upcoming episodes. That was my first fashion presentation that I ever did.
Who did you make the presentation to?
A company called RAW Artists. They travel to New York, Chicago and L.A. and they choose emerging artists who they think are interesting or catch their eye. One of the event coordinators noticed my items on Etsy and asked if I wanted to participate in their show. It was an amazing opportunity for me to get my work out there and experience what hosting a real runway is like.
Have you made any other presentations since then?
I have not. I did a smaller presentation at the Demiurge Awards event last fall. They gave me the Demiurge Award and I just did a presentation there because I wanted people to see my dresses. It wasn't an official presentation.
A photo posted by KATE STOLTZ (@kate_stoltz) on Jun 18, 2015 at 5:48pm PDT
How would you describe your design style?
I'm still finding my main aesthetic. I tend to go for a little more edgy, but I keep it versatile so that someone can wear it during the day and then take off their blazer and go out to dinner or drinks after work. It's definitely not clothing for someone who's trying to fit into the crowd. My eye tends to go toward these more expensive fabrics, so I just like to make clothing that draws the eye.
What goals do you have for your fashion line?
I have a lot of things I want to do. Right now I'm only doing custom designs. I make each piece individually for each customer. Eventually I want to collaborate with another designers and release that into stores. I want to release a new line every spring and summer. The thing with fashion is it doesn't have to end with clothing. It can include jewelry and shoes and handbags. I just love creating. For me, it's not what I want to do, it's what I can do [right now].
Are the items on your website, KateStoltz.com, available for sale or are they just samples?
The dresses on my website are for sale. You just order your size and that's it. But then there's a lot of customers that like to come in and have their original measurements [taken] because the clothing in stores is mass produced and not made to fit a certain body and every woman's individual measurements are different. That's why a lot of women feel self-conscious when they put on clothing – because it doesn't really fit them. It's not made to fit their body. Some people may be thin in the waist or larger up top or they may be small up top and larger in the waist and this dress isn't made to fit any of them. It's made to fit the industry standard in terms of proportion. A lot of models like the custom-made outfits because it feels better and it fits them. It also lasts longer because it's not mass produced.
Have you met people in the fashion industry that don't know about your Amish background or the show?
There are a lot of people who are completely unaware. I actually love that because it gives me the ability to work like everyone else. I actually prefer it that way. If they knew about the show they would either be willing to work with me because of the show or they wouldn't want to work with me because of the show. I want it to be because of my talent. I want it to be because I'm good at what I do, not because of anything else. If they don't know what my background is, they'll look at what I'm doing right now and they'll give me an honest opinion.
You moved out of the Amish community and into the English world. Have you traveled even further, taking a trip out of the United States?
This past year I've actually done a lot of traveling. I went to Aruba for New Year's and I went to Guatemala for a mission trip with the same surgeon who repaired my nose. He has an organization [Developing Faces] that goes to third world countries and fixes cleft palates and bilateral cleft palates. We were in Guatemala for a week and since it's not in the United States, I was able to go into the operating room. I had scrubs on and my full mask, and I was handing the surgical instruments to the OR nurse, so I was able to help with the surgery. It was fun.
Watched a baby being transformed from having a #deformedface to a #child with a #smile with @developingfaces #surgeon @loveyournose such an #incredible and #humbling experience. This is me #circulating in the #hospital yesterday. I was handing the #sterile #equipment to the #surgeon and the #scrubnurse . Such #detailedwork- mistakes can't happen in the #operatingroom
A photo posted by KATE STOLTZ (@kate_stoltz) on Mar 8, 2015 at 4:18am PDT
Were you helping a lot of kids?
Yes. It was incredible. I think we did about 30 surgeries. They're so grateful. Everyone was overwhelmingly grateful. It was a great experience.
A photo posted by KATE STOLTZ (@kate_stoltz) on Mar 13, 2015 at 7:58am PDT
Your website features a couple of recipes. Do you want to expand your brand beyond fashion?
Right now I just like to share recipes that I enjoy. I love cooking. Every Sunday night, my boyfriend and I usually cook this enormous dinner. I just know people are always looking for recipes so I thought I would just share my favorite ones. Eventually I would love to do something with cooking because that's something else that I've always enjoyed doing.
A photo posted by KATE STOLTZ (@kate_stoltz) on Jun 28, 2015 at 6:03pm PDT
After having lived outside the Amish community for a few years now, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in the "English" world?
I guess how humans are all the same. It doesn’t matter what kind of person they are or where they’re from, they all have the same needs, wants and desires. They all want to do the best they can.
Catch Stoltz in a new episode of “Return to Amish” on Sunday, July 5 at 9 p.m. on TLC. Also check out her Instagram for pics of her Sunday night dinners, modeling shoots and her cute puppy, Victoria.
A photo posted by KATE STOLTZ (@kate_stoltz) on Jun 20, 2015 at 7:33am PDT