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Tooba Athar

B.A. Design Student Tooba Athar Heads to NYC as Finalist in NRF Foundation Student Challenge

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and a graduate of John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga, Canada, B.A. Design Student Tooba Athar has made it to the final round in the 2021-2022 NRF Foundation Student Challenge. She will be headed to New York City with teammates Haley Shannon and K-Lynn Ward on January 16th to pitch their presentation to a panel of judges at Retail's Big Show, and the top team will be named.

College students from across the nation were tasked with acting as members of the Kohl’s product development team and had the opportunity to develop a new private label brand that embodies the meaning of diversity and promotes equity and inclusion through product assortment, marketing strategy, and pricing. 

This will be Tooba's first time attending Retail's Big Show, where more than 55 companies will be displaying the latest tech in sustainability, e-commerce, supply chain logistics, in-store technology, AI, AR/VR, robotics and more in the Innovation Lab. This year, attendees will find drones and robots that deliver consumer goods, a virtual try-on mirror, livestream shopping solutions, 3D virtual stores, and the world's fastest self-checkout system, among many other innovations.

Tooba transferred to FIDM from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD University) in Toronto, and will graduate from FIDM in 2023 with her Bachelor's degree. We caught up with her to learn more about her experience in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge.

What are you most looking forward to at the show? I am really looking forward to hearing directly from retail industry leaders and gaining new knowledge and perspective on the industry.

How does it feel knowing that your team has made it to the final round? It still feels unbelievable. We started this challenge in June and finding out we made the final round in January was such an unreal experience. The NRF student challenge became a part of my daily life, so when I found out it was complete shock but also a huge boost of sheer joy because it felt like all our efforts were being recognized and appreciated.

What has been the most rewarding part of this journey? Seeing our final finished pitch deck and video was a very rewarding moment and a big sigh of relief. We spent so much time working and reworking our concept and slides that it never felt like it was going to finish, so submitting the final was definitely a huge rewarding moment.

Did you divide the work up or work on everything together? We did a little of both, we would divide the slides up and work on them separately, then we would all come together and work on each slide together. I will say that this was the only group project that I have ever done where I felt like the work was done completely together and as a team. We spent so many hours on zoom perfecting each detail, down to where we would put a comma or a period. It was a super collaborative effort.

How did FIDM Instructors assist or help with your pitch presentation? I can't thank Tom Selinske and Sheryl Marcus enough. They were our rock throughout the entire process, constantly pushing our ideas forward and offering their industry knowledge to help in every. They supported us and took time out of their personal lives just to make sure we had everything we needed. We couldn't have done it without them, and we are so grateful that they were our instructors for this challenge. They also put us in contact with great FIDM instructors such as Louise Wallace who was super helpful throughout the process of creating our pitch deck and was always offering support as well.

What lessons did you learn while participating in this challenge? I learned how to properly work with a team to create something together. In the past when I had group projects, we would often just split apart the sections and everyone was responsible for that, without having any input in anything else. But with this project, really from start to finish every single aspect was collaborative. With that, I learned how to listen and build from others' opinions and ideas. Also, I learned a lot of industry knowledge for what goes into creating a product line, which includes the financial aspect, the marketing, trend forecasting, and overall retail knowledge.

Tell us some of the ways that the new private label brand your team created embodies the meaning of diversity and promotes equity and inclusion: Haley, K-Lynn and I created our brand, MODfit, with the sole purpose to embed diversity and inclusion in everything we do. We created an adaptive clothing product line with the motto "Where Fashion Meets Function" because we saw how the clothing needs of people with physical disabilities were being overlooked within the market. People often use fashion to represent themselves and when your options are limited it can really affect someone's mood and confidence. MODfit is a product of listening to specific concerns people with disabilities face when shopping, and actively seeking to include everyone.

How will the scholarship award help you? The scholarship award will help me continue my education in the Bachelor of Design program at FIDM and allow me to keep pursuing my passion of design!

What are your ultimate career goals? My ultimate career goal is to become a textile designer for women's fashion and work for a company where my values are aligned with theirs. I would love to work for a company that sees the importance of values social change and sustainability and really making an impact with what they do. My dream would be to make prints all day surrounded by creative people who ignite inspiration.

Anything else you’d like to share? The NRF Student Challenge was an amazing experience and I really recommend it to anyone who is considering. It has allowed me to look into aspects of the industry that I would never have even considered. I feel like I dove into four different majors with this project, and I completely stepped out of my comfort zone for the better. I would also like to thank Anne Bennion for recommending I do this challenge and for introducing me to Tom and Sheryl.

Categories:  Design Industry Partnerships Student Transfer Student