What better way to engage and inspire a group of fashion-conscious kids than by creating a design competition modeled after the hit reality show Project Runway? Thanks to the efforts of children’s librarian Frances Grossman-Goldberg—and a little help from The Weinstein Company, Mood Designer Fabrics, and L’oreal Paris—a group of teens and tweens at the Pomonok branch of the Queens Borough Public Library (NY) had the experiences of a lifetime this past winter.
“One of the biggest challenges a children’s or young adult librarian faces is to create exciting educational and recreational programming that young people actually want to take part in. When school is not in session, the challenge to engage children to participate in library programs is heightened,” Grossman-Goldberg tells School Library Journal.
“Many girls at the branch are fashion conscious and share a passion for [Project Runway], and so the date was set for the ultimate fashion competition.”
While the Pomonok library branch already had a strong foundation of creative programming for the average of 25 to 30 teens and tweens it serves every day—including arts and crafts (origami, weaving club, jewelry making), author visits, science experiments, and gaming tournaments (ping-pong, Wii, etc.)—the design competition was a way to take things to the next level for some of her fashion-savvy neighborhood library regulars, Grossman-Goldberg tells SLJ.
“I think librarians always have to think about innovative programming when it comes to entertaining their tweens and teens,” she says. “I am always the first to ask the kids what they want and then figure out a way to make it happen…where there is an interested crowd, there is a way to make a program.”
Once she brainstormed her big-picture idea, Grossman-Goldberg next “had to figure out the logistics, starting with the legal question of whether I could call my program Project Runway and use the official logo, or if copyright infringement would spoil this before it even began,” she says.
Fortunately, show distributor The Weinstein Company loved her idea so much that the company not only approved permission for the use of the name but generously provided the show’s logo, its soundtrack, posters and, best of all, tickets to the taping of the Season 11 finale fashion show—at Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week in New York City—for the Pomonok winners. The company also put Grossman-Goldberg in touch with the show’s sponsors, Mood Designer Fabrics and L’oreal Paris.
“I will never forget the enthusiasm of the representative of The Weinstein Company who told me, ‘We are going to help you blow this out of the water,’” Grossman-Goldberg says. “L’Oreal sponsored hair and makeup products for the models as well as gift bags for the entire audience to mimic a true runway experience. Mood donated its signature tote bags to each participant in addition to a $100 gift card to the winning designer to jumpstart her career in fashion. For a librarian, this kind of sponsorship is the ultimate jackpot in programming.”
Notes Sydney A. Snyder, coordinator of promotions and integrated marketing for The Weinstein Company, “we were impressed with the way that she approached us, with the way that she was able to get in touch with the appropriate person, and her ideas.”
Snyder adds, “She was very excited, which in turn made us very excited about being given an opportunity to try to help her make it meaningful for these kids, knowing that she didn’t have a huge budget to work with. She was very organized with everything that she wanted to do and was very on top of it, so I think that that’s the most important thing. She really made it easy for us to help.”
The next steps fell into place relatively quickly, Grossman-Goldberg says. The local dry cleaners donating men’s clothing, which defined the challenge for the designers to create a feminine look using those materials. A total of 10 teen and tween teams, each comprised of one designer and one model, signed up to compete. For judges, she tapped local fashionistas: designer/dressmaker Michelle McGoldrick of McGoldrick Designs; Madeline Roth, manager of Sophie’s Creations, a local jewelry store in Queens, NY; fashion blogger/interior designer Dahlia Jacob; and fashion enthusiast Meredith Farrell, who works as an art therapist at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens.
“I specifically wanted judges with fashion sense and not library staff,” Grossman-Goldberg says. “All the judges donated their time and rated each runway look. Elmhurst Hospital Center donated extra items for the audience’s gift bags as well as accessories for the ‘Accessory Wall’ we created. Michelle McGoldrick generously donated embellishments [for] the designers to bedazzle their looks, and a local cosmetologist kindly donated her time to do the hair, makeup, and manicures of the models.”
The competition, held just before the new year, was “a huge success,” Grossman-Goldberg says, noting that there were over 100 attendees on the day of the event. “It received advance publicity in the local online news and in an aired interview with me on WINS radio.”
Adds Synder, “We didn’t get to attend, but we definitely passed around all the photos that [Frances] sent to us. It was awesome. It was adorable. Just to see all the kids smiling and just to see how excited [Frances] was about it was really great, and it was really rewarding and worthwhile.” She also notes, “I think that [the library] is a perfect venue…it’s a very community-oriented place, and so I think that there’s really no better location to do something like this.”
Grossman-Goldberg stresses that, in putting this event together, her guiding principle was to be a good example for her teen and tween patrons by doing things in the proper way, including seeking copyright permission from the company and also asking each participant to have a parent or guardian sign a photo release form, giving the library permission to use the photos.
“I truly believe in the importance of doing the right thing,” she says. “Of all the programs I have created for the library, this is by the far the one of which I am most proud. I believe it is important for others to learn the importance of copyright permissions. Had I not [called] The Weinstein Company, this event could never have become as buzz worthy as it had, and everyone in the Pomonok community reaped the benefits of one small gesture. The Weinstein Company are an incredible team.”
The winners, designer Alyssa Sadofsky (age 16) and model Corine Houngninou (age 10), agree. A few weeks ago, they were finally able to claim their prize at Fashion Week where, accompanied by Grossman-Goldberg, they got to see and meet the show’s judges: designers Zac Posen and Michael Kors, model Heidi Klum, and fashion director of Marie Claire magazine Nina Garcia.
“The taping was such an exciting experience for all of us,” says Grossman-Goldberg. “None of us have ever been to a real fashion show before. Everywhere you went, you were showered with free gifts (mousse, makeup, food and drinks). When we told people why we were there and what we hosted at our library, everyone thought we were so cool! It was a real eye opener for Alyssa who never thought about being in fashion but left feeling elated and may now look into that as a career. Corine was so excited about the contents of the swag bag, especially Heidi Klum’s new fragrance.”
So what’s next for the kids at Pomonok? “I would love to do something similar,” Grossman-Goldberg says. “Maybe Project Accessory.”