YouTube Millionaires: Gunnar Deatherage talks the “wild and thrilling and beautiful” work of building a business on YouTube

By 02/10/2022
YouTube Millionaires: Gunnar Deatherage talks the “wild and thrilling and beautiful” work of building a business on YouTube

Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.

This installment of YouTube Millionaires is brought to you by creator fintech company Karat Financial.

Gunnar Deatherage is getting used to being recognized in public. And, perhaps surprisingly, it’s not because he was a popular contestant on two seasons of Project Runway. It’s because, over the past ten months, he’s gone from having virtually no social media presence to having social media as the center of his new career, with more than two million followers on TikTok and one million subscribers on YouTube.


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We here at Tubefilter talked to Deatherage for our other weekly column, Creators on the Rise, in April 2021, just a couple of months after he starting posting videos on YouTube Shorts. At the time, he had around 200,000 subscribers and was getting three million views per month.

These days? His videos are pulling in more than 30 million views a month.

That kind of traffic has gotten Deatherage brand deals with shows like American Horror Stories and networks like HBO. It also built the foundation for him to accomplish a longtime goal: launching an education-focused Patreon, where nearly 1,000 people pay for his regularly updated library of how-to-sew videos, his hand-designed clothing patterns (which Deatherage releases in sizes double zero to 32), and access to a Discord community of fellow fashion enthusiasts.

After Project Runway, Deatherage put his passion for clothing design on the back burner and focused on becoming a set designer in Los Angeles. But now, thanks to his audience on YouTube and TikTok, he’s back at the sewing machine full-time–and doesn’t plan to step away anytime soon.

Check out our chat with him below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: How did it feel for you to hit one million subscribers?

Gunnar Deatherage: Honestly, I felt like it was really rewarding, because YouTube has always been so hard to get a steady following on. I think just seeing the inertia of my content picking up speed was really exciting, and honestly the reception was so great for the kind of content I was making. It brought this weird glimmer of excitement back into content creating again, because there was a big goal that was approaching. I just felt like it was very rewarding.

Tubefilter: You’ve gone up really quickly. Last time we talked, which was less than a year ago, you had 200,000 subs, and now you’re over one million.

GD: Yeah, I know, right? And when we talked I had only been on YouTube I think for maybe two months. I got a million in less than a year, and I had none on YouTube beforehand. So it was quick.

Tubefilter: What kinds of videos have helped drive your sub count and overall viewership up?

GD: What’s cool is that I originally started posting content that was about the process and how to do it. And it’s not like that’s gone away! But my videos have just become a lot more personal. You’re starting to see more of me. And when I tell my stories or my triumphs or my struggles, I find that those videos really do the best. It’s funny that I never put that much of myself into social media, and now I’m starting to understand that I am at the root of why my videos are doing so well. It’s not just what I’m making. That’s kind of a cool realization.

Tubefilter: So let’s back up a second. For folks who don’t know you, give us a quick rundown of who you are, where you come from, how you got into fashion…

GD: I’m originally from a small town in Indiana called Madison, and then I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to Los Angeles a couple years ago. I was actually building sets with this company called NOMAD Art + Design. NOMAD does everyone from Ariana Grande to Justin Bieber.

Once the pandemic hit, I kind of stopped in my tracks, like everyone, and because I can’t sit still, I started making clothing again. I hadn’t really made clothing since Project Runway, and that was almost ten years ago. And it just took off. It rekindled my love for making clothes again. Every day was a new day, but the thrill of people following and being into it and commenting on it encompasses all the things I love, from set design to clothing to social media, in one little space.

Tubefilter: How have things changed for you since you started your channel? Professionally, I mean, how has YouTube helped change the course of your career?

GD: What’s crazy is that even when I was gaining a good amount of followers on social media, it never really felt much like a career at the moment, because I wasn’t there yet. The money wasn’t there, the opportunity wasn’t there. I don’t know what switched, exactly. I mean, obviously the numbers changed, and then I also got an incredible management team. But yeah, my life changed. I am now a content creator full-time. And the respect that I have for other content creators who do this all the time, just grew so immensely. This is the hardest and most gratifying work I have ever done in my entire life, and that says a lot because I work myself into the ground always.

It’s so incredible to see the people who are inspired by what I do, the letters I get from kids wanting to learn how to sew and make their own prom dresses. And the way, when I share something really personal, how it affects other people is really incredible. It’s just so wild and thrilling and beautiful to me that the world has opened up for me to be able to share myself with it and relate to people on that level.

Tubefilter: Do you have a favorite fan interaction?

GD: I don’t know about a singular fan interaction. I get noticed a lot more than I ever have, which is kinda crazy. Especially considering I did a season of Project Runway, and then a season of Project Runway All-Stars. I get noticed more from my YouTube and TikTok than anything. It happens a lot lately—like two or three times a day if I’m out and about.

I do always find it funny that it’s not my face people recognize. It’s if I’m talking and then they see my hands, with my nails and my rings. One time I was at a JOANN Fabric and this girl said, “I don’t wanna be weird right now, but I just recognized your hands and I know your voice.” And she was like, “You make TikToks, and YouTube, right?” And I was like, “Yeah!”

Little things like that, I think, are really funny and sweet.

Tubefilter: So what does the average day look like for you, now that you’re full-time?

GD: The days get more and more different, I think because I’m graduating to a level of visibility, and I’m starting to get cooler opportunities. I can’t really share what happened yesterday, but it was one of those moments where I had to, like, I almost cried in debrief afterward. It was so inspiring. Sixteen-year-old me would be just beside himself excited to know that’s what he had to look forward to.

But for instance today, I finished a Renaissance gown and shot the dress, and I’ve edited four videos. I’ve had two Zoom calls. I had one phone call with a sponsor. And then the rest of the day, I have to edit until later tonight, when I have to shoot a dress that requires it to be nighttime.

And my days move so quickly. And then, you know, I’m obviously trying to find time to be a real human being in between all that, too.

Tubefilter: Yeah, finding slim moments to eat a snack?

GD: I’m keeping Uber Eats alive. That’s all I can do right now.

I think it’s because it takes so long for me to create—and maybe that’s what people like about it. Even if I say something’s made in five hours, that’s not considering the time that goes into shopping for fabric, or the editing. So, you know, a lot of love goes into one of my videos, and I’m thinking maybe that’s why people respond so well to it.

Tubefilter: You mentioned you can’t talk about what happened yesterday, but do you have any kind of cool business opportunities or cool sponsor opportunities you can talk about?

GD: Yeah! One thing that has happened that I’m really excited about is I started a Patreon. It’s based heavily on learning, so I’ve since started to release my own sewing patterns, and they range from sizes double zero to 32, which is a really big size range for sewing patterns, because a 32 is like a 6XL. And that’s a really hard category to find anything in, so we’ve really been pushing to make more and more.

Since joining Patreon, it’s grown so quickly that Patreon has pulled me into their ambassador program. So now I’m working with Patreon directly at events and festivals, and that’s one thing I’m really excited about.

I think some of the bigger things that have happened is now I’m getting to work with brands that I’ve always wanted to work with.

Tubefilter: What does a brand partnership look like for you? Are you making clothes for anybody, are you doing product work…?

GD: A little bit of both. Sometimes they’ll come to me with a creative brief and they say, “Hey, we want for you to make content on this, in your own voice.” So, for instance, American Horror Stories came to me and said, “Would you please make a look inspired by American Horror Story, and have that be your content?”

And I was like, “Yes, of course.” So I had made this, like, bondage ball gown, and my friend, Sierra McCormick, she was actually in the show, she was the lead in American Horror Stories, she came over and we did this beautiful big reveal, and that was cool. And HBO, HBO had me do a “what if Harley Quinn went to the Met Gala?” dress.

It’s just like, how cool is it that I get to spend every day creating a new kind of character and a new environment, and that’s my life?

Tubefilter: No spoilers, of course, but do you have anything you can talk about generally that you’re excited about in the new few months?

GD: To be honest, now that I’m thinking about it, everything is so heavily NDA. I can’t really speak to what’s happening, but what I can say is that the caliber of things I’m about to come out with on my channel and in my life are international. It’s huge.

I am a big believer in manifesting positivity and keeping great people around you that inspire you, and now I’ve got a small team that work with me full-time and they’re all lovely and wonderful and keep me sane. And I think that’s helped me learn the power of teamwork and how important it is to have collaboration.

Tubefilter: More personally, then, not necessarily in terms of business connections, what goals do you have for yourself as an artist over the next year or so?

GD: Well, I would really love to make art that is not based around commerce. I think it’s important for me to make things that are wearable and sellable as much as I love to make things that don’t need to be worn. So I think it’s important for me to do more artistic things as well as more commercial things.

I think one thing I’ve learned this year is that it’s important for me to respect myself as the vessel for the work and not the machine that does it—in the sense of, like, it’s easy to work 18 to 24 hours a day, sometimes round the clock, to get things done, but when you burn the candle at both ends the creative burnout is very, very real. So I think this year I would just like to be a little bit more cautious and respectful of my physical needs and mental needs so I can have a work-life balance. You can’t enjoy success if you’re too busy to enjoy it.

I just want to create with more intent and not for the sake of pumping content out. Now that I’ve got momentum and a following, I want everything I put out to be something I’m so proud of. And I think sometimes taking a week to create something rather than pumping it out in two days is fine.

Tubefilter: That’s a prescient realization to have after less than a year of creating.

GD: Yeah, I think a lot of that comes with age. I’m not young, I’m not as young as most creators. I’ve got a little bit of age on them, so I think I see that as it happens. And also, you know, we talked about how my content takes so long for me to make, so the burnout for me is quick.

Tubefilter: Do you ever get burned out or blocked up design-wise?

GD: Honestly? No. I feel like I’m just a well of ideas constantly. I think I’d be great in an ad agency if I wasn’t so tied to design. I’d never run out of ideas.

Karat Financial is building better financial products for creators. Karat’s first launch is a business black card that provides better limits & rewards based on social stats- used by creators like Alexandra Botez, 3LAU, and Graham Stephan. Karat is backed by cofounders of Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube. DM @trykarat on Instagram and mention YouTube Millionaires for priority access.

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