Alumni Stories: Where are they now?

Material Concerns

Lauren Birrittella in hot pink blazer
Lauren Birrittella

Shopping with Lauren Birrittella, Home Products Development ’07, is a hands-on experience. She can’t help knocking on a piece of furniture to see if it sounds like wood, or running an expensive sweater through her fingers to see whether it’s fine cashmere or some kind of blend. When she visits people’s houses, she admits, it takes every ounce of self-control not to touch everything. Fortunately, Birrittella is paid to do just that. A color, materials, and finishes (CMF) specialist at Glen Raven, Birrittella is the gatekeeper of the 10,000 different kinds of materials supplied by the North Carolina–based fabric manufacturer, best known for its Sunbrella shade textiles. She runs the Glen Raven Materials Explorer, a free online database featuring 200 representative materials—from SPF-enhanced cloths and water-resistant fibers to antimicrobial finishes and industrial metal fasteners—that architects, furniture makers, automotive designers, and more consider incorporating into their creations. “We have so many different products, and we sell into so many different industries,” she says. “Sephora, Harvard Bioscience … and I have to know about all the new materials and innovations happening.”

Glen Raven’s Concept Gallery.
Glen Raven’s Concept Gallery.

Birrittella’s obsession began at FIT, when her senior trend project had her visiting Material ConneXion, the world’s biggest materials library and consultancy. “I thought it was the coolest place in the world,” Birrittella recalls. She got an internship and eventually was hired as an archivist maintaining a library of more than 7,000 materials. While there, she collaborated with her design hero Betsey Johnson on a weather-resistant mannequin for an outdoor installation called Sidewalk Catwalk. In 2011, Glen Raven wanted to launch a similar “Materials Explorer” library—to showcase its own textiles, as well as the metals, plastics, and other materials it carries from other manufacturers—and asked Birrittella to spearhead the project. “There was no library at all before,” she says, “so I had to work with all the market managers and designers and the people who make the fabrics to pick an assortment of 200 samples that represent those 10,000 different products. “It was initially a short-term contract to make the library, but I loved Glen Raven and Burlington so much that nine years later, I’m still here.” In addition to the online archive—which she updates continuously— Birrittella keeps Glen Raven’s six brick-and-mortar Concept Galleries stocked, organizing exhibitions on topics such as 3D printing for designers and R&D teams seeking ideas and inspiration. But she says that her work isn’t just for designers. “The way we interact with our world is affected by the quality or even just the feel of different materials,” she says. “Like, everyone is addicted to their phone, but if it felt really gross like sandpaper, would you keep pulling it out of your pocket? Probably not. It really affects everything. That’s exactly what my role is about—to show the importance of materials.”

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24 Students, 6 Groups, 8 Minutes

Class of 2019 Capstone Presentations

Welcome to the Future of Home

Thursday, May 9 2019 @ 6:30pm
FIT Katie Murphy Amphitheatre

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Chic! (Our trip to Chicago)

Students from the junior and senior Home Products program recently traveled together to Chicago to attend the International Home + Housewares Show, https://www.housewares.org/show/

The trip included group activities pertaining to “best in booth” judging, fact/inspiration finding for our individual upcoming projects, and a great dinner out together.

After our NY Now field trip, we were told the Chicago show was about 3-4 times larger. This was intimidating at first, except that we had about ten times as much time to explore. Starting with an early flight on Saturday morning, straight to McCormick Place to hit our assigned areas (Wired & Well, Clean & Contain, or Dine & Décor). The range of booth styles and sizes were so much larger than those at NY Now-we could actually walk around in most of them. We set out listing our faves and describing what we liked about them.

That night, dinner at https://www.loumalnatis.com (YUM-regardless of your NYC vs. Chicago pizza preference) where on the walk over, our group inadvertently traipsed through someone’s proposal, (she said yes!) and then on Sunday, back to it for Experience Day. The juniors were given an early morning additional intro to the show, and then were encouraged to split up to meet students at other tables, and while initially we all sort of cringed at the forced mingling, (joining a table full of strangers, not usually anyone’s favorite!), each table had a mentor/leader, which made the networking much easier.

Ours was Elliot Benitez, exhibiting at the show to introduce his patented 6-at-a-time tortilla toaster. Something I had never thought of, but he explained how many hours his own mother missed of family meal time, toasting one tortilla at a time for everyone having a taco, so he invented this product. He gave a lot of great insight into what brought him to now being an inventor and business owner.  His product is now available for purchase at Sur la Table: https://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-4469409/?mrkgcl=890&mrkgadid=3251052001&affsrcid=AFF0005&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=206387981&utm_term=379173094716_product_type_appliances_product_type_toasters_%26_ovens_custom_label_4&product_id=4469409&adpos=1o1&creative=45300904061&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=CjwKCAjw7MzkBRAGEiwAkOXexBnBz1ojWhzIB2yQKsmPyEckJ-ZWtEAzISXnwmg4WqUF7_INcWazJRoC9OoQAvD_BwE We had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the world of home products from someone with relevant, recent expertise.

We were encouraged to attend the sessions that interested us; included in these were cooking demos by Emeril, Robert Irvine and a range of other talks by industry experts.

Among the most interesting new products I saw was a juicer that determined the juice you should make after measuring your body mass index, by pressing your thumbs onto two small pads on the juicer. It made me wonder if someday we will be able to just get a meal plan for the day based on our body composition and goals, right in our homes. I also liked that a variety of new devices incorporated a hollow bottom for storing USB/charging cables. What a world, to not have to look through my entire apartment to find the cord for whatever I need to charge! (currently turning it upside down looking for my Clarisonic charger, so I can wash my face again).

Overall, the show was a great learning and class bonding adventure. We had some time to explore on our own (The Bean, The Skydeck), hang out together outside of class, and see where this degree could lead us.

Large enough to stand in, but no I didn’t.
This cute pink cup is actually a humidifier, and…
…this is where the charging cord goes!
Portable, inflatable hot tub!
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NY Now Field Trip!

Our HP 314/Manufacturing & Marketing of Home Product Hard Lines’ (“Hard Home”) second class of the second semester has already included an interesting field trip, to NY Now.

Instead of meeting in room 307 as we usually do, we met in the enormous Javits Center, and were advised in advance to wear comfortable shoes and take any shopping bags that were offered to us. Both very helpful pieces of advice, because there is a lot of walking, and a lot of samples and freebies to carry around!

We split up in groups, with assignments to examine products, trends and booths. Fortuantely we were given smaller categories to choose from, since there was a lot to see. I was in the Tabletop & Gourmet Housewares group, and the entire section was carpeted in a light blue rug. Once we knew what color rug to look for, it was easy!

When we got back to school, we did presentations on our favorite brands and booths. Among the faves were Swig Life, Provence Platters, Corkcicle, The Napkins, Deborah Rhodes, Bungalow 5 and a long list of others. Trends we saw included a lot of wood (trays, tabletop), varieties of sustainable products (straws, cups), and I noticed what I called “sassy sayings” (see towel), bright colors/color blocking, and faux marble.

It was hard to see everything in one three-hour visit, but it was very easy to find a lot to like! Overall, great practice for what to do and look for at trade shows!\

Swig Life’s marble martini to go
Retail Renaissance!
Sassy Sayings, Hand Towel Dept.
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London’s Brick Lane E.I.

Welcome Travelers!
by Lily Guseman, Class of 2020

Image result for brick lane london

Every year a group of Home Products Development students, from The Fashion Institute of Technology, take a trip to London and Paris over winter break for the purpose of researching trends in the home field and attending the trade show Maison et Objet. While exploring these two great cities in small groups we often make discoveries, and mine happened to be the lovely area of Brick Lane.

Brick Lane is about a 15-20 minute taxi ride from central London and it was truly the mecca for all things vintage, shopping, and street art. We began our adventure at Box Park which was a street filled with shipping containers where local entrepreneurs were selling everything from handmade jewelry to frozen yogurt.

Our trip to Brick Lane was on a Sunday so luckily we were able to walk through the flea market that takes place there every weekend. The market, best known for their fur jackets, sold for as low as 15 pounds and regular jackets for 10 pounds, a great spot for some bargains! Along with jackets, there was fresh produce, local street food, and a huge selection of accessories. If you were not able to score your dream jacket at the market, no worries because there are up to 5 vintage stores located on each street with a unique, curated selection to choose from. Brick Lane has the “Brooklyn” feel and is perfect place to go if you want a taste of New York in a new city!

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Sample Sale!

We had an ‘all hands on deck club bonding event’ on Tuesday, December 4tth, otherwise known as the Home Products Club Sample Sale!

During the semester, club members reached out to vendors to request samples, and they answered the call! Inventory came in from so many generous showrooms (Loftex, Sunham, Rizzy Home, to name a few) with beautiful options, all proceeds going toward future club activities.

Not knowing what to expect, a few of us hung around after class to help set up (we transformed our classroom into “the shop”!) and when we saw how many mugs, plates, towels, placemats, pillows (you get it, right?) were coming out of the bubble wrap, everyone put their merchandising hats on and started styling.

Customers lined up early and it was worth the wait! Candles that were regularly $40ish were $10. Plates, $2; rugs, $20. So many bargains, and so much fun for all of us to see where all this learning is leading. Someday our own products will be what people are lining up to buy!

The sale lasted an hour, which flew by, and we are already looking forward to a bigger, better one next time around.

Customers lining up!
Sale’s on!
This gorgeous mug!
More mugs!
Towels were a hot item

 

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Comp Shopping Field Trip

Our recent “Textile Applications: Home Products” assignment was to present comparisons on prices, fiber content, fabric construction and printing method on two soft furnishings. To demonstrate, Professor Cora took class on the road.

We met at the brand new (less than a week old at the time!) One Kings Lane store, at 143 Spring Street, (incidentally, 1/10th mile from where cronuts were invented/are sold). On the corner of Wooster, we admired the multi-floor glass side of the store. Not surprisingly, everything, including the building, is beautiful. Inside are cozy seating groups, a wide curved staircase, and an exposed brick wall. If these walls could talk, they would say “Can you believe this used to be a Crocs store?”

Initially I planned to do my comp shopping presentation on some of their pillows, but the woven vs. print options were all at a similar price point ($185ish), which didn’t really give enough to compare, but, it was really fun to be inside One Kings Lane and see their products in person, off the computer screen.

Next we headed to Crate&Barrel (.5 miles from the nearest cronut), always a treat in NYC to go into a place that huge. It was here that I decided to compare dish towels for my presentation.

All of our field trips this semester were really interesting, and were during great weather, which made them even more of a treat.

photo, courtesy Breonna Arnold, HP2020
photo, courtesy Samantha Edwards HP2020
photo, courtesy Samantha Edwards HP2020

 

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2019 Carole Sloan Scholar

Congrats to Jessica Jakobsson, the 2019 Carole Sloan Scholar.

I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of the Carole Sloan Memorial Scholarship this year. I am an international student from Sweden who had big dreams of moving to New York City and attending FIT. The Home Products Development program turned out to be the perfect choice for me. During my first year I have been academically challenged, gained valuable professional skills, and learned about the industry. I have had the opportunity to apply this knowledge at trade shows, showroom visits, and as an intern. I am excited to start my senior year and to honor the legacy of Carole Sloan.” ~ Jessica Jakobsson, Class of 2019

The Carole Sloan Memorial Scholarship was established in 2011 by Stephen Pond, founder of Home Textiles Today and Furniture Today, in honor of Carole Sloan who was a longtime editor and writer with the publications. The Home Products department is grateful for the continuous gift which honors a FIT Home Products Development student each year in pursuing their education and passion for the home industries.

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