President & CEO, Fashion Group International, Inc

Founder, Chris Donovan Footwear

BIO: I became a shoe designer at the age of 55 after spending most of my career as a telephone repairman. Feeling unfulfilled with the current career, I decided to chase my lifelong passion of shoe design. With no design background, other than my sketches made throughout my life, I left my job and entered the Masters in Footwear program at Polimoda Fashion Institute in Florence, Italy. The program was able to help me retain my unique voice and bring it to a much higher level of sophistication. I opened the final graduation show with my collection and subsequently showed some of my designs at Dutch Design Week.

Back in Massachusetts, I won a contest hosted by Project Runway to meet judge Tim Gunn and have him critique my work. Gunn noted my unique vision, developed from years spent drawing and studying my surroundings. For each collection, I draw inspiration from art, architecture, nature, found objects, and his many life experiences. The collection, which ranges from $385 to $895, is available for purchase on


ASSOCIATION TO FGI: FGI Rising Star Winner for Accessories

Q and A with FGI President and CEO, Maryanne Grisz

What city were you born in? I was born in Brighton Massachusetts.

What is your star sign? Gemini….from what they tell me it’s pretty spot on.

What were you obsessed with when you were a child? There was nothing I wanted more than to be an astronaut…then Oceanographer….then naturalist….then sculpture. I was always very curious.

What do you value most in a friendship? Honesty…..I always need to hear others’ honest opinions and if you are my friend, your opinion means the most. I expect honesty from teachers, mentors and everyone I value in my life.

What’s your proudest moment? There have been a few. It’s hard to narrow it down to one, so I won’t try. My marriage to my best friend. It was something I never thought possible when I was a kid. It’s been 20 years. Also graduating at the top of my masters program at 55.  Winning a contest to meet Tim Gunn and having him critique my work and telling me that the world needs to see my designs. My most recent is winning the Rising Star Award for Accessories. Having come from wiring up phones and fiber optics to being recognized by Fashion Group International reaffirms the leap I took was well worth it.

What’s the best part of your job?  Sketching……and then more sketching. It was how it all started back in high school and I’ve been doing it for 40 years. The passion never faded.

What’s your biggest fear? I’ve faced so many fears changing myself, my career, then realized I can face anything. I will figure it out with all the support surrounding me .

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten? Morimoto’s restaurant in NYC. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu and each course was a work of art.

What’s next for you in your career? Expanding my retail partnerships and collaborations, and expanding my collections to introduce designs for men, and always pushing the boundaries of creativity and uniqueness.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud? A really bad dad joke.

Who or what in your life brings you the most joy? Steve my husband. He was the one who pushed me to take the leap and was willing to sacrifice everything for me to chase this dream. And he makes me laugh….with bad dad jokes.

How do you spend your day, or what does an ordinary day look like for you? Well I wear every hat at the moment for my business. Starts early in the morning working on email campaigns, my webstore, social media posts and reaching out to buyers, factories, and consultants. I’m busy all day. I try to squeeze some sketching in….it brings me back to reality…..well my reality.

What approach would you take differently if you had to build a business from scratch today? I would be much less shy about my ability. I’d be less afraid of making mistakes because if you miss your target, refocus and try again.

What is your favorite quote of all time, and why? There are two of them and I think the reasons are apparent. “What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly? ” by Erin Hanson and the second by Misty Copeland “You can start late, look different, be uncertain, but still succeed.”

What books will you recommend that everyone should read once in their lives? Watership Down by Richard Adam and Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut.

How do you maintain a work-life balance? Right now my work is my life. It is new and exciting. It takes me places I’ve never been. My life is always about learning, and learning brings me great joy.

What are the biggest challenges you faced in your career and how did you handle them? I did not think about my age when I started all this, but I think my age has been a challenge. So, the Italian consulate wasn’t going to give me a student visa because I was too old. When I graduated, I tried to enter contests for new graduates and I was disqualified because of my age. I would love to see that change. The only way to handle a challenge you face, persistence and ask for help.

What is the best advice someone ever gave you? You were born to do this…go do it.

Who inspires you the most and why? I could make a list longer than my arm but the most inspiring and supportive person in my life is Steve. He always reminds me that I can do it. We can handle anything that comes along.

What’s the next thing you’re going to do in life? This is everything to me. There is no retiring because I adore this. I want to get better and show the world what I can create.

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