In September, we held the last of our FIT Design Entrepreneurs competitions. This was the program that we started eight years ago in collaboration with the city as part of then-Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to boost New York’s fashion industry. We called it a mini-MBA program because it was for designers who had the creative talent to succeed, but lacked the business skills to survive. We weren’t looking for dreamers or novices. We wanted people who were already testing themselves in the market and who had sales of at least $50,000. (We actually had several designers whose annual sales reached $2 and $3 million—a nice sum, but no guarantee of survival in the fickle fashion industry.) Each one we accepted into the program had the potential to thrive financially and to become contributors to the city’s creative economy. We offered intense weekend workshops and mentors and in the end, selected as winners those designers who devised the best, most effective business plans.
As designers, they were all outstanding. Every year, as I paged through the Look Books and saw the finalists products on display, I was reminded of how much sheer talent we harbor here in New York City. Like hard working “creatives” in every field, these designers were all looking for a breakthrough. They made jewelry and coats, menswear and dresses; shoes and ladies lingerie, and so on. But, as I said, as much as the judges might have admired their artistic creativity, it was the viability of their business model that counted.
Several years ago, the city, having initiated and supported the development of the program, turned it over to FIT to run. We were delighted and fortunately, we did not lack support. Indeed, from the outset, Morris Goldfarb of GIII was the backbone of the project: he provided financial support, he solicited financial support, he acted as judge and cheerleader. Several years ago, too, Morris bolstered the program by offering $150,000 each year in prize money to help winners support their businesses. We also had numerous generous gifts from industry—perhaps the most touching was the $50,000 that Mike Gold from YM Fashion contributed for the last three years of the program to honor his father Israel Goldgraub.
Jeannette Nostra, former president of GIII, helped us all get the program off the ground and acted as its executive in residence; each year she would kick off the program with a rousing session on branding that set the tone for the students. She was joined by FIT’s Chris Helm who designed the program and managed it skillfully. I always say that FIT is in the business of helping our students realize their dreams. And for the last eight years, that is what we have been doing through FIT Design Entrepreneurs. But the program has run its course. During its time, 254 designers representing 225 companies have been its beneficiaries; all of them have learned how to build a business plan that will help them fulfill their dreams. I wish each of them the very best and look forward to seeing their unique products on the streets, online—and post-pandemic—in shop windows throughout the city.