With new media platforms playing a vital role in getting creative work off the ground, we were pleased to bring together a dynamic panel for “Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life” at FIT this week. The lively discussion included excellent tips from Nicole He, who’s the Art, Fashion & Photography Project Specialist at Kickstarter and insight from Sass Brown, who’s Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design. We were also thrilled to hear from FIT alumni Amy Lombard (Photography ’12), Heather Huey (Millinery ’04), and Stefan Loble (Entrepreneurship ’10), who shared incredible success stories launching their creative projects on Kickstarter. Watch this inspiring discussion and learn how you can bring your creative project to life!
Take a closer look at the creative projects our alumni launched!
Business Class Valerie Michael-éfe Entrepreneurship ’13, Fashion Design ’11
You’re in the first graduating class of FIT’s Entrepreneurship program. What was your favorite course? In our sixth semester, we worked in groups to create a business plan—financials, marketing, everything. Everyone in my group had a design background, so we learned a lot. For example, a profitable business can be ruined by cash-flow problems. Also, how do you get customers? That’s the big hurdle.
What’s the secret? The secret is to know your art, and have the experience to prove it.
You seem pretty confident. Do you have a business background? My mother was a serial entrepreneur in Nigeria, where I’m from. Now she owns a poultry farm, but she once had a baking business, and I was her accountant. After a few years, I told her I wanted to start my own fashion business. But in Nigeria, no one in the business environment will listen to you unless you have a degree.
What got you interested in fashion? My mother was a fashion designer, too. She made women’s wear—head wraps, tops, wrappers in wax-resist fabrics. In Africa, we like a lot of colors, prints, and details. For the best things you wear there, men and women, the tops are always lace. That’s why I love lace.
So will you make evening wear? No, luxury outerwear and rainwear. I’m getting together specially made Italian fabrics that I’ve researched during my internship at Brioni, the high-end Italian company. Some are layered and treated to make them waterproof.
What have you learned at Brioni? I work with the retail planner and analyst. They plan what goes into each store and constantly analyze data to know what is happening in sales across the U.S. It’s a lot of numbers work and Excel. Before this, I didn’t know how to analyze data to learn how much profit you’re making.
Is this your best internship? I learned something important at all of them. For Michael Kors, I did technical design. At Zegna, I learned how important inventory is. I did publicity for Irina Shabayeva, the season six Project Runway winner. With Zac Posen, I did patternmaking. He was a nice guy, very quiet.
And soon you’ll have an atelier of your own. What’s your aesthetic? For the 2011 student fashion show, I made overalls with shorts and a hood, and glitter and lace, and I won a critic’s award. I want my clothes to be art. I don’t care if they’re wearable. I want people to look at them and say, “How did she do that?”
Michael-éfe wears a jacket from her collection, OSO-EFE (it means “rain” in Isoko, a language spoken in Nigeria). See the line at osoefe.com.
This Alumni Spotlight originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Hue magazine.
Illusions of reality photographed in IKEA showrooms, men’s pants that go from the board meeting to the hiking adventure, a high fashion milliner as muse in a photo love story–these are the kinds of projects that reflect the tremendous talent, creativity and ambition of FIT alumni.
We are so excited to hear from the creators themselves: Amy Lombard (photographer), Stefan Loble (menswear designer), and Heather Huey (milliner) will be on campus to talk about their ridiculously cool and hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns. The panel discussion will also include helpful tips from Nicole He, Kickstarter’s Art, Fashion & Photography Project Specialist and insight from Sass Brown, Assistant Dean of FIT’s School of Art and Design.
This talk is sure to inspire designers, artists, entrepreneurs, community organizers, and just about anyone passionate about an idea! Get inspired with us and register below!
Kickstarter School: Bring Your Project to Life
August 5, 2013
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Fashion Institute of Technology
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
New York, New York
At the age of 22, Louis Mairone (Menswear ’08) launched Dominic Louis, a label inspired by androgyny, rock ’n roll, and New York City. Mairone’s handcrafted garments blur identity lines and, with the abundance of fur and leather, have an edgy nomadic feel to them. Hear what Mairone had to say about bringing his collection to life–from lugging a suitcase with samples through the NYC subway to creating custom designs for rock legends like Trent Reznor.
I chose FIT because: All I wanted in the world was to move to New York City and work in fashion. So FIT was the first step in that direction.
FIT gem: Professor Gresia. He taught Menswear Tailoring and brought such a real old world feeling to the work. It felt very authentic. He is one of those last real garmentos. Being that my family is from Italy, I saw so much charm in him, his accent and disposition. He referred to me as “Luigi”.
The story behind Dominic Louis: I had been an assistant designer for a company that ended up closing its doors. I was lost. I decided to make clothes of my own and see what happened. I filled up a rolling luggage with the samples and carted my collection up and down subway rails visiting local retailers in the heat of summer. OAK NYC signed on to carry the Dominic Louis Fall 2010 collection. It was the beginning. I was 22 with a suitcase full of dreams.
Aesthetic: Raw like the end of the world, modern like the beginning of time, where art meets fashion and fashion breeds art.
Favorite textile to work with: Skin
Clients: Trent Reznor and Lenny Kravtitz. True rock legends who embody my aesthetic.
Inspiration: This moment in time and how it influences the blueprint which is already in place.
Typical day: Insanity. We work out of a shared studio space on 36th and 8th. We’re doing design concepting and pattern making for the new collection, updating web data, fitting muslins, sourcing, and doing custom work for clients all out of the same space. It’s really kind of a one stop shop for us.
Most treasured possession: Family
Exciting plans: I am currently enrolled in the Designer Entrepreneurs program hosted by FIT and will be presenting my plan at the end of the summer. We’re planning a sales tour for the collection to spread international awareness. We’re always working on some sort of collaborative effort… something very special coming for SS14.
Last word: If you’re in this for the right reasons, it will end up working out. So many people will tell you “no”. You have to tell yourself “yes”.
At FIT’s commencement exercises for the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology and the School of Liberal Arts, Fern Mallis, the creator of New York City’s Fashion Week, offered new grads her “Top Ten” tips for job interviewing. Check them out here and share your own!
10. Penmanship. Before they completely eliminate cursive handwriting in schools, try your hand at writing a thank you note. A handwritten one, preferably legible. On a nice card stock, with a clever stamp on the envelope. It goes a lot further than an email.
9. Google. Use it and learn something about the person you are meeting with. I can’t tell you how many times a candidate has sat across my desk and asked me, “So what is your job all about? And how did you get here?” Also, get there early. Soak up the energy — or lack of it. Sit in the reception area and watch everyone coming and going, feel the vibe. Can you imagine yourself fitting in? If you come rushed and hassled you’ll never know.
8. Dress appropriately. OK, that’s wide open to interpretation. I realize at some companies, hoodies are the official outfit. But know that you can never take back a first impression. As yes, as superficial as it sounds, we are judged on what we wear and how we look, especially in a job interview. And make sure you have a good dry cleaner, and we always notice the shoes.
7. Gum. NEVER EVER in public. I don’t want to hear “It’s for my breath.” That’s what Altoids are for. This one is so not negotiable.
6. Grooming. First, manicures. There are 7 million fabulous nail polish colors out there. Pick one, any one. But make sure it covers your entire nail, and isn’t chipped and peeling. It’s one of the first things I notice, and often it’s the only thing I see. And that goes for the guys. You too should have nice manicured clean nails, preferably without color. And second, hair. Do you have good shampoo and a blow dryer? You’d be shocked at how many people I’ve interviewed over the years, and all I could think is, I wish they’d washed their hair, or combed it or brushed it.
5. Resumes. I know this is a chance to be creative, as you all are, and you want jobs in a creative industry. But make sure people over 40 who need to read these can. Pick clean clear typefaces — this isn’t your design thesis. Make it concise and honest. No one expects several pages of past work history. But pick the things you’re most proud of. And add a smart, interesting explanation of what you’d like to do. And check the spelling 100 times.
4. Listen and think before you speak. Don’t be thinking of what you want to say next at the expense of listening and hearing what is being said to you. And make sure your phone is turned off, along with the vibrate function.
3. Smile and make eye contact. Be engaging. I know you may be nervous, but keep your head up and make eye contact. I remember when you could actually flirt with someone in an elevator. Now it’s impossible. Everyone’s head is down, checking their emails.
2. Handshake. Make sure you have a firm and connected one. Your handshake communicates for you. When I meet someone with a limp fishy slidey handshake, I’ve immediately lost interest.
1. Be nice. I don’t care how smart pretty or handsome you are, I want to work with people I like, nice people. You are all competing with lots of talented students and professionals. What can make the difference? It’s the person, the personality you want in your office every day. As Tom Ford said at the 92Y, only hire people you would want to have dinner with.
Since graduating from FIT in 1978, Professor Miriam Russo (now Miriam Enders) and I have kept in touch for what is now 35 years. We used to periodically write letters, then email, and now we’re friends on Facebook! I was thrilled to get a friend request from Professor Russo, who’s 91 (yes, 91!), and so happy to interact with her on social media. I regularly post my artwork on Facebook and even now, she continues to motivate and praise me. She recently gave my ink/watercolor “New Orleans” a whopping “A+!” in the comments section. I laughed out loud it was so delightful! Professor Russo, always supportive of my endless endeavours, is still grading me most upliftingly.
I recently visited New York City and we had the most delightful lunch. We exchanged many fun memories from our years at FIT. It’s been 35 years since I graduated from FIT, and I am incredibly grateful to have Professor Russo in my life.
Soon we will meet up again and browse through the Whitney Museum for an afternoon.
Sibylle Pfaffenbichler started out with drawing workshops at the Art Students League in New York City, received a BFA summa cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York, and took advanced art studies at the Long Island University. The famous textile designer Vera hired her out of college to design scarves in free-spirited watercolor paintings, her first artistic professional endeavour. Pfaffenbichler eventually chose the path of fine art and has worked as an independent artist ever since. She now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and works out of a big studio in an old textile mill.
Jay Gatsby’s name evokes images of flailing limbs and spilled champagne. His creator has been (somewhat fairly) cast as a fair-haired, Princeton party boy. What endears the character and the author to our collective psyche goes beyond Bacchanalia. As cultural icons, both Gatsby and Fitzgerald represent an emerging America, where a bootlegger and a bookworm born into the “wrong” class can recast themselves. Or can they? Despite his best efforts Gatsby still didn’t pronounce Oxford in a manner that made it clear he had attended. Fitzgerald “could never forgive the rich for being rich,” and amid fortunes lost and gained, he was born and died penniless. Class. For Fitzgerald and all of his characters, clothing is about class.
As a graduate student at FIT, I wrote my master’s thesis on clothing as cultural history and character development in the early fiction of Fitzgerald. In March 2004, I fled the city with a backpack full of books to Beverly Hills, where I wrote the MA thesis over Spring Break on my best friend’s couch. Eight years and a PhD later, my FIT classmate and friend, Tae Smith, called me up and told me to get my postpartum body to New York City. She was the costume researcher for Baz Luhrmann’s production, and they wanted to talk to me. Postpartum body, baby, and books got on an airplane and went to New York. When the high priestess of costume design, Catherine Martin, calls…umm, you go.
An afternoon in May 2011, Tae and I waited for Miss Martin in an oversized closet filled with vintage 1920s clothing. The design team had collected beach pajamas, sequined shawls, and mound of accessories from all over New York to be used for inspiration. In that room, Tae and I didn’t talk. We just touched, and sighed, and flicked over the still-remaining price tags, and pointed out dates that we knew the vintage dealer had gotten wrong. No white gloves; no meddling curator, just me and the stuff.
What Catherine Martin wanted from me was not epistles on Fitzgerald’s cultural context or my thoughts on his underwhelming female characters. She wanted specifics: “Was it this silver fabric or this one?” “Well, it has to be this one because the other is a synthetic that didn’t come out until the late 1940s.” “Can we change Nick’s white flannel pants to a tweed suit?” “Hell, no. Those flannels tell everyone at that party that he is a man of the Ivy League.” Sketches hung on the wall, fabric swatches strewn across her desk, and a gorgeous Australian woman with long, shiny black hair presented Martin with the team’s latest vintage find: a black suede clutch with an ivory greyhound’s head. I still have dreams about that woman’s hair and that clutch. It’s not often I am jealous of someone’s job. The life of a professor lets me research, write, and teach. But that day, I was jealous of Catherine Martin’s job, the black-haired beauty’s, and Tae’s.
Two years later, I am one of the many Fitzgerald fans and fashion lovers who await the arrival of The Great Gatsby. My website, Fitzgerald & Fashion, is a manifestation of the thesis I wrote nearly ten years ago on that couch in LA. Maybe the website is not the most traditional form of academic publishing, but arguably the next phase of it. A blog under “Gatsby News” offers the latest happenings with the film and my own analysis written from the perspective that this film is an interpretation of a novel.
When the film is understood as an interpretation, what matters is not that the hemlines match our picture books or that the spectator shoes are brown. If you’re looking for historical accuracy, hit up a couple episodes of Downton Abbey. What matters with this film is that Luhrmann uses costume in the same way Fitzgerald used fashion—as a means of distinguishing between old money, new money, parvenus, self-made women, and working girls. The meaning of the clothes mattered to Fitzgerald and as my time in that oversized closet confirmed, it matters to Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, too. We’ll be talking about the costumes not because they are beautiful (which they will be), but because they are the social context of the film. In fiction, film, and real life, clothing is social context.
Deirdre Clemente served as a historical consultant for the costume on the forthcoming The Great Gatsby. She is a historian and curator of 20th century American culture, specializing in fashion and clothing. She is an assistant professor of history at University of Nevada Las Vegas. Dr. Clemente earned her MA in Museum Studies from FIT in 2004 and remains an active and proud alum. Read more about Dr. Clemente at www.deirdreclemente.com.
FIT is renowned for its sustainability initiatives, from implementing green projects throughout campus, to bringing sustainable design issues to curriculums, to raising awareness at its annual conference. No doubt, Sustainability at FIT inspires graduates to incorporate green practices in their personal and professional lives. Melissa Mendez (Production Management: Fashion and Related Industries ’10) is one alumna who is committed to producing an environmentally-friendly product with her soy candle artisanal business, The Bronx Naturals. Learn more about her work and how FIT has helped her in her endeavors.
Tell us about the ways The Bronx Naturals candles help the environment.
I love this question! My soy candles help the environment in many ways. The material that I use is 100% natural soy wax. Soy wax is a natural material and non-toxic, and the fragrances I use are also non-toxic and Phthalate Free, therefore soot and other harmful elements are not released because they are not there! This makes my candle family-friendly as well as a great alternative to anyone who may have asthma or other respiratory conditions. Soy burns cooler and longer, which makes the value better as well. The glass that I use can be reused as a drinking glass or pencil/pen holder after the candle is finished and there is minimal packaging–the possibilities are infinite. Soy is very green!
What inspires your fragrance concoctions?
Diversity! All of my candles are very different. I like to think that each type of candle could represent different personalities, and moods. I also create special fragrances for events such as bridal showers, weddings or any other special occasions, Scented or unscented are available. I really enjoy when a client sends an email and asks, “Can you blend Lavender and Pear? That scent has a sentimental meaning to me!” I enjoy the challenge of creativity!
Can you tell us about your choice to study at FIT and how it’s helped you in your business venture?
I chose to study at FIT because it was my dream college. FIT is a college that has a very focused curriculum and is very directional. I believe those characteristics fit my personality and work ethic. There are so many resources to take complete advantage of at FIT. The one that I especially loved is having professors who actually worked in the industry. I got the chance to ask very specific questions related to production, fashion, wages, work-life balance and was better able to understand if I could work in that industry and if it fell into place with my personal values and aspirations in life.
Is there a particular class that prepared you for your work?
Professor Mario Federici’s class, one of my favorites, has had a lasting impact on me. It allowed me to see that anything is possible and it helped me devise a business plan and marketing strategy for The Bronx Naturals. In this class, we had to create a company and source the supplies, create spreadsheets, production plans the works. The project was for apparel, but I have used many of the same principles to file my companies’ incorporation papers and to reach out to potential clients and businesses to carry my candles! Knowledge increased my courage.
What do you hope customers feel from the scents of your candles?
I hope that customers feel relaxed, energized, sensual and peaceful. Ultimately each candle is very different and will provide a different experience to each individual. My main goal is to Brighten up people’s day! I want my customers to feel great!
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Work hard and have patience, ask the right questions. Don’t worry, you will be smarter if you do. No is not a ‘no’ forever. Ask again, try a different approach and every lesson is one to learn from. Never throw them away!
I am so excited to once again take part in FIT’s annual Dance-A-Thon, where students stay up on their feet and dance for 12 hours to raise money and awareness for kids in poverty. Yup, 12 hours! These fundraisers have become very popular across college campuses as student philanthropic projects, and the FIT student body will once again be supporting Kids in Distressed Situations, Inc. (K.I.D.S.) for this third annual event.
For over 27 years, K.I.D.S. has provided over 70 million underprivileged and disaster-struck children with nearly one billion dollars of brand new clothing, toys, shoes, juvenile products, books, and much more. Thanks to these generous donations from retailers and manufacturers, K.I.D.S. has been able to provide children, and often their entire families, with self-esteem and hope.
Want to help? Why not be a part of this year’s Dance-A-Thon! We welcome all donations and we encourage you to spread the word to your friends, family and co-workers. For every dollar donated, K.I.D.S. will match it on a 10:1 ratio in new product. That means your $10 can turn into $100 of most-needed essentials!
1. Visit the website: kidsdonations.org/fitdanceathon
2. Click on “Donate Now”
3. Fill out all required information under “Contact Information”
4. Under “Optional Information,” click on “In Honor Of” and write the dancer’s name you are sponsoring in the text box.
5. Make sure to fully complete the “Payment Information” and “Security Code” sections.
6. Click “Submit”!
7. You’re done! Thank you for helping support K.I.D.S!
The event will be held on April 26th, 2013 from 7pm-7am in the David Dubinsky Dining Hall located at Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. Please feel free to stop by! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please contact: Mandy_cho@fitnyc.edu.
It was twenty-eight years ago that Shelley Sarmiento “accidentally” began working in the retail industry. After a chance encounter with a friend of a friend who was about to launch White House Black Market, Sarmiento stepped up as the company’s Executive Vice President and Co-Owner. Sarmiento attributes her success to chance, but after getting to know her, it’s clear that her knack for startups and her zest for adventure has a lot to do with it.
Sarmiento’s entrepreneurial qualities are as vibrant as ever. She completed certificates through FIT’s Center for Professional Studies, currently teaches a course there, and launched Little White Fashion Truck last year. She was on her way to Nashville when we caught up with her to talk about returning to college and what the road ahead looks like for her business.
You’ve had a successful career in retail. Why did you decide to return to school?
I decided I wanted to go back to school to learn about aspects of the industry that I love but never had time to explore. FIT offered courses that covered areas I had the least exposure to on a daily basis, such as hands-on design and garment construction. I am also an education fanatic and crave knowledge by nature!
And now you’re sharing your knowledge with students as an FIT instructor. What’s that experience like?
I took Professor Jaye Edelstein’s class several years ago and she approached me and asked if I might be interested in teaching at FIT. I was overwhelmed by the honor. Teaching at FIT is a great privilege and I absolutely love each and every second of it. The students at FIT epitomize invention and creativity and having the honor of being part of their great journeys is something I am very proud of.
How did the idea of launching a mobile boutique come about?
I was commuting from Maryland to NYC and working 3-4 four days a week out of town and spending way too much time away from my teenage daughters. I simply needed to be closer to home. I used to stand in line for grilled cheese at the “Grilled Cheese Foodtruck” in New York and it inspired me to buy a bread truck off of Craig’s List and start a mobile Fashion Boutique.
Those are great inspirations! When did you launch?
I launched Little White Fashion Truck about a year ago and we now have two trucks on the road and third scheduled to open for June. My mobile journey is innovative, successful, proﬁtable, and so much fun. Little White Fashion Truck uses social media to market itself and to developing our very own Truck Culture!
Where are the trucks currently stationed?
I presently have Little White Fashion Trucks on the road in Maryland, DC/NoVa with my Nashville Truck scheduled to debut in June. I have plans to launch ten trucks by year’s end.
What aspect of being mobile as a boutique do you love most?
My favorite aspect of Little White Fashion Truck is everything! We are an innovative concept that has uncharted potential and we get to meet the best people each and every day.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have many treasures in my life: I am engaged to Derek St. Holmes, who’s the lead singer and guitarist for Ted Nugent. I have two beautiful daughters, Sophie and Ivy. I have my best friend, Nash, a 180 lb. Mastiff puppy. I have my two miniature donkeys, Cowboy and Sunny. I simply have the greatest support system and coolest family ever. I am just so grateful for their love and never ending support for my crazy vision and intense ambition!
What is a little-known fact about you?
Probably the only little-known fact about me is that I aspire to one day retire on my ranch in Nashville and ﬁnally learn to play the guitar. I have been working on this behind closed doors for about ﬁve years and I really enjoy it. I am horrible at it!
Something tells us you’ll nail the guitar in no time! What advice would you give to those pursuing their wildest dreams?
No idea is a bad idea. Live your passion. Don’t be happy just talking about it. We are all born average and any effort made above this is extraordinary. Just ﬁgure out how extraordinary you want to be and go for it!
For more information about FIT’s Center for Professional Studies, please visit their website.