From the Desk of…
Irene Mak (Fashion Design ’82) recently attended our Kickstarter School panel to support her friend, Stefan Loble (SCPS ’10), who was one of the alumni panelists. Stefan’s presentation about his hugely successful menswear startup, Bluff Works, was nothing short of inspirational and was a testament to the importance of building relationships in the industry. Stefan’s connection with industry veterans like Irene proved invaluable, as she offered expertise and consulting for his new business venture. With great enthusiasm and commitment, Irene has long supported the entrepreneurial work of peers and continues to serve as a mentor to so many who are getting their apparel startups off the ground.
After spending the last few years consulting, Irene decided to reenter the fashion corporate world. This summer, she joined New York and Company as Vice President of Technical Design, where she leads a team of 18 technical designers and 5 patternmakers. We visited her at the headquarters to get a glimpse of her operations and to hear all about her rewarding career in the industry.
We started the morning off at a fitting session, where the most minor details were pinpointed and ironed out in a discussion among both Technical Designers and Fashion Designers. The model, Dierdre, also offered input on getting the fit right. Seamlessly, the team worked through one garment after another in an effort to ensure the most flattering and comfortable fit for the NY & Co customer. According to Irene, the looks must strike the perfect balance between casual and wear-to-work, which is not easy to achieve.
After the session, we toured the office, passing cubicles punctuated by racks of garment samples ready to be tried on and tweaked before hitting store floors. We sat in her office with a view that looks out to the west and faces the Post Office on 8th Ave, not far from the FIT campus. Irene had just received a shipment of two versions for a wrap skirt that awaited her executive decision: she went with the one that required less fabric and was, in effect, more cost efficient. She talked about her studies, her design jobs at Anthropolgie and Victoria’s Secret, and her upbringing in the Lower East Side with a mother and two sisters who were seamstresses.
It quickly became clear that her technical design skill has been refined over many, many years. Her cheerful personality and openness speak to her leadership skills, too. It is a composite of both technical and leadership skills that Irene is able to make a perfect fit for the everyday working woman and mold future designers–in her team and in the classroom. She will begin teaching in the Product Development and Technical Design Certificate programs at FIT’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, beginning October 1. We’re thrilled that Irene continues to stay involved with FIT as an alumna and now an instructor, and we look forward to hearing about the next brand she helps launch!