When you have incredible mentors, they push you to do improbable things. Under Aki Choklat encouragement and insistence, I pursued my Masters in Footwear at Polimoda Fashion Institute.
To a retired telephone repairman, design is a foreign language. I struggled to understand the simple concepts that my classmates knew by heart. I also didn't look the part. I was older than the professors, and people frequently thought I was the janitor. All I can say is, if a 55-year-old telephone repairman can get a Masters in footwear at one of the top 6 fashion schools in the world, you can do whatever you put your mind into.
After I came back, I wasn't sure how to be a shoe designer. Looking for a job wasn't really in the cards (can you imagine a 55-year old apprentice?), but starting my shoe line seemed so farfetched for a telephone guy and a company man.
One day, I saw a contest on Project Runway to meet Tim Gunn and have him critique your portfolio. I thought, "why not? It's not like I have a better plan." even though they were looking for fashion/apparel portfolios rather than accessories. I didn't have high hopes. But as it turns out, it pays to cast a wide net. You never know what will change your life forever.
The life-changing event started with us driving to New York to spend a day with Tim Gunn. When we arrived, we were in a building full of production studios. It took us a while to find ours, which turned out to be the main one. Right away, we were ushered in by the 50 staff members to get ready.
The rows of cameras and lights were on, pointing at me before I ever met Tim. So I was very self-conscious about my excitement. Tim always gives good advice on TV, and I was excited to show him my work. Tim was every bit as kind, gentle, and eager to help in person as he was on TV. Once we got started, the cameras and the staff all faded away. It was clear that he was there for me, and not for the cameras. The fashion world is fortunate to have him.
Kids, remember. A single kind and encouraging word can change someone's life. For me, that moment was when Tim said, on national TV:
"Have I seen this before? NO. Does the world need it? YES!
It's been a long road since that day. I have an agent, and I work with some of the best factories in Italy. But a journey begins with a simple step. And for this telephone man, it was Tim's encouraging words.