Clothing designer Kerry Ranginui left his Whanganui hometown with nothing but a tank of gas and a car full of clothes hoping to make it in Auckland.

"I did have a place to stay but it was not an easy time," he says.

Ten years later, he is about to appear as a contestant on the first series of Project Runway NZ when it hits our TV screens early next month.

Although he is unable to divulge details about the show at this stage, Ranginui says working alongside other designers is both inspirational and daunting.

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"You can't help but take sideways glances at what the others are doing and it does affect your attitude to your own work."

The 33-year-old now works as a pattern maker with internationally renowned designer Karen Walker but his big break took a while.

"When I arrived in Auckland in 2008, the worldwide recession was at its peak and fashion outlets were closing down.

"I couldn't get work in the industry so I did whatever I could and painted fences and cleaned swimming pools to make a living."

Things changed after he entered and won an online design competition and was offered work with Karen Walker.

"A lot of people ask me if I get to see her at work and, yes I do.

"I work in an office with her and we pattern makers are her hands you could say."

He has now been on the team for eight years and worked on 30 Karen Walker collections.

Ranginui grew up in Castlecliff and attended Aranui Primary School, Rutherford Junior High and Whanganui High School.

He says he had some fantastic teachers. One was the late Vanda Butters who was his home economics teacher at Whanganui High School.

"She taught me so much and the last time I saw her, it was great to be able to share the news that I had won a national competition."

Ranginui worked at Jolt in Victoria Ave while studying at UCOL Whanganui and after graduation, spent his final pay on the petrol that got him to Auckland.

"There were times when I wanted to give up and return home during that first couple of years but I'm happy to say my persistence paid off."

Ranginui says he is a long-time fan of the American Project Runway series and was proud to see the show's first New Zealand contestant, Sean Kelly from Hawera, win the 2014 season.

He does come back to Whanganui for Christmas every year and always has enough petrol for the return trip these days.

The first episode of Project Runway NZ will screen on TVNZ 2 on October 1.