Letter From the Editor: Star Search

There are reality shows. And then there are real reality shows.

For those of you unfamiliar with FN Shoe Star, let me catch you up. The nation’s only footwear design show is a Web-based reality series created to find the next big name in shoes. Together with partners Brown Shoe Co. and the Fashion Institute of Technology, we’ve devised a competition that puts six of FIT’s best design students through a series of tough challenges to reveal their skill levels, perseverance and personalities.

The drama-packed series airs now through June, when the winner will be announced at FFANY. In January, we auditioned 12 of FIT’s most talented students. Last week, we named the lucky six contestants who made the first cut.

They will now face five creative challenges. Each challenge involves a different level of shoemaking and design capability, and will be judged on camera by me, Brown Shoe executives and a rotating cast of high-profile fashion names. One student is eliminated from the competition during each round.

The 2011 FN Shoe Star winner receives the grand prize: a job as a designer at Brown Shoe. The entire competition is filmed and can be viewed at FNshoestar.com.

While each episode aims for a certain level of reality show-type dramatics and entertainment, there is a real beating heart.

This was evident last week when we revealed the names of the six finalists at a live event at FIT. Emotions ran high as Brown Shoe’s Diane Sullivan and I called out the winners in front of a packed house. The shocked six were brought to tears when their family members and close friends surprised them onstage. Everyone in that room seemed to know what a unique opportunity they were going to have to showcase their skills. The promise of a job with one of the industry’s biggest power players is clearly a huge incentive for these kids.

Underneath its reality show trappings, Shoe Star is just the kind of message we want to send: that footwear is an exciting, challenging industry that welcomes young talent. This was underscored at the FIT event when the cast of the last Shoe Star season walked in like rock stars. In a testament to the power of the show, almost all of them are working in the shoe industry today.

I credit much of Shoe Star’s initial impact to the team at Nine West, sponsors of our first season. The late, great Jodi Fisher, along with Stacy Lastrina, embraced my original concept for the competition, and they immediately threw everything they had behind it. Together, we created a show that produced a winning group of young designers that are today making valuable contributions to the industry.

Season two’s competition is bigger, better and more challenging. Brown Shoe has raised the stakes to make FN Shoe Star a must-see talent show. With a higher profile and more industry awareness, the latest season will produce another great group of talented designers. There will be lots of drama as we push these hardworking students to give them a taste of the real-life challenges they will face when they enter the workforce.

I have always believed our industry needs to do a better job of fostering new talent. We need to showcase all the excitement and creativity that is so much a part of the shoe world. FN Shoe Star is a key element in the process of image building, and I hope you will all get behind it.

For a hint of what’s to come, watch the audition episodes on FNshoestar.com. And tune in every Monday for a new episode as the competition heats up. I know you will be hooked.

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