DENTON (UNT), Texas — An idea created on campus is giving three University of North Texas graduates the opportunity of a lifetime – a live appearance on the HSN television shopping network. They will appear in a cell in the 7-9 p.m. (Eastern) slot Aug. 4 (Friday).
Thanks to a unique handbag design, the former students won the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Student Challenge at the annual “BIG Show” in New York City. There they met NRF judge and designer Danielle DiFerdinando, founder and creative director at Danielle Nicole and a regular HSN feature. She pitched an idea to HSN and then invited Katelyn Patrick Boutin, Nichole Fallis and McKenzie Hibler – all 2016 graduates of UNT’s merchandising and digital retailing programs – to join her on a show.
“There was definitely something there,” said DiFerdinando. “HSN was quick to jump on board when they learned about the concept and the story behind it.”
The idea was born at UNT – marking the first time a concept from the NRF competition has made it to the marketplace.
“That’s what this competition is about – highlighting the next generation of retail talent and giving them space to innovate in a business environment,” said Ellen Davis, NRF Foundation Executive Director.
Competing teams were asked to develop a product worthy of a national retailer. As UNT’s group met to brainstorm ideas, they had an “ah-ha” moment.
“We started to notice that we were bringing in multiple bags for multiple purposes,” said Hibler. “We were all struggling with the day-to-day carrying of all our stuff for classes, the gym, work and extracurriculars outside of school.”
Research confirmed their intuition.
“We created surveys, asked classmates and professors, and sifted through online reviews to see what was currently missing in bags on the market,” said Boutin.
They decided to engineer a single bag with multiple compartments.
“People wanted a separate area to hold their lunch, gym clothes and shoes,” said Fallis. “If you put everything together, your favorite shoes might get scuffed with key marks or your lunch might get on all of your purse stuff.”
The bag resonated with DiFerdinando, who has spent the past year and a half helping the students bring the concept to life – including material selection, design, marketing, pricing, manufacturing and testing. The Danielle Nicole M.A.K.N. Orenda Tote is now available online.
“I was worried it would be too shallow,” said Boutin about her advance sample. “But so far, I’ve put a four-inch platform heel into my bag, along with my planner and wallet, and it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
UNT has consistently done well in the NRF competition and is the only university to make it to the final round every year.
In addition to the HSN project, Hibler is working as an assistant buyer in textiles for Williams-Sonoma Home, Fallis is a stylist for Saks Fifth Avenue and Boutin is an assistant buyer for Michaels’ kids department. A fourth team member decided not to continue with the project.
As to being on HSN live, the three say they’re “super excited.”
“My time at UNT has shaped me in more ways than I ever imagined,” said Hibler. “It all started with a school project at UNT in hopes that we could get scholarship money, and now it’s progressed into this incredible opportunity to represent this thing we’ve worked so hard to accomplish.”