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NEW YORK — The wait is finally over.
Six Fashion Institute of Technology students began the competition of their lives last week after learning they had been selected as contestants on the second season of FN Shoe Star, the nation’s first footwear design reality show.
Hyojin Choi, Matthew Ciszek, Rachel Fishbein, Keena Fleming, Maggie Kervick and Shannon Ramiza will vie for the top prize, an associate designer position at Brown Shoe Co.
To get there, they will have to make it through five grueling challenges and impress big names from across the industry.
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But last Tuesday, it was all about relishing the moment.
In a packed auditorium at FIT, Footwear News Editorial Director Michael Atmore, an FN Shoe Star judge, and Brown Shoe Co. President and COO Diane Sullivan called the six students up to the stage one by one.
Already visibly nervous and emotional, the contestants got another huge surprise when their parents and friends came out to celebrate with them.
“I’m so excited. I got no sleep last night, and it was a pretty nerve-wracking morning,” said Kervick, who wiped away tears as she hugged her parents, Randi and Jim Kervick. “You guys caught me off guard [bringing] my parents [here], and I’m sure you’ll catch me off guard again.”
Fishbein said she was also shocked to see her parents, but wasn’t as surprised about the contestant lineup.
“I kind of knew who the final six would be, based on [seeing their work] in classes,” said Fishbein, who several other hopefuls called their biggest threat.
“She has a lot of design experience, and she grew up in an artistic family with her mother as a designer,” said Ramiza.
But a little competition isn’t likely to stand in Ramiza’s way. She has already established herself as one of the most eccentric designers.
“Shannon has a very unique style and really puts it into everything,” said boyfriend Adolfo Conca, who came to cheer her on.
Ciszek said his point of difference — being the only male in the contest — could prove to be an advantage, and his mother, Jeanne Ciszek, also thinks his chances are good.
“I really had no doubt he would be picked,” she said. “He’s so confident and he’s very focused. His sense of style is very different.”
While most of the students felt certain they would make the cut, Choi admitted she had her doubts after watching the first auditions episode over winter break while visiting her parents at home in Korea.
“I thought I screwed up my presentation,” she said. After finding out she had been picked, Choi couldn’t wait to call her family and give them the big news. “They’re really proud of me.”
For her part, Fleming said that while she knows there are tough challenges ahead, she’s happy to be in good company with her fellow students.
“When they announced it ... I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into?’” she said. “But I had a feeling it would be the six of us because of what [we each stand for and our passion].”
No one understands the excitement and pressure of FN Shoe Star more than the season one contestants, and four of them were on hand at the event to wish the new crop of students luck and give them some advice.
Melanie Maggio, who won the competition and is now a designer at Nine West, encouraged the students to try their hardest, design unique styles and make the most of their time interacting with the judges.
“They’re going to get to network with a lot of important people in the shoe industry,” said Maggio. “It’s going to be an amazing experience for them.”
And whether they win or lose, it’s all worth it in the end, said Ryan Baker, who is now a men’s footwear designer at Steve Madden.
“The exposure has really helped me in my career. It got me my first job, ” Baker said. “Just having your name associated with [FN Shoe Star] really gives you a leg up.”
For a closer look at the six FN Shoe Star contestants, check out the Feb. 14 issue or visit FNshoestar.com.