NEW YORK — At a press conference at Coach headquarters here Monday morning, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the New York City Economic Development Corp. unveiled their partnership to provide high school and college students 100 paid internships at fashion companies citywide this summer.
Twenty-two fashion companies have signed on so far to support NYC Fashion Forward, including Coach, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Killer Collection, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane von Furstenberg, Rachel Comey, Kate Spade & Co., Nicholas K, Alice + Olivia, Opening Ceremony, J. Crew, New York Embroidery Studio and Designers & Agents.
The initiative will give young people in the Ladders for Leaders program first-hand, real-world job experience. Each Ladders for Leaders participant receives 30 hours of pre-employment training. This year’s program will begin in July and last for six weeks, with students working about 25 hours a week.
Gabrielle Fialkoff, senior adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio and director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, thanked Coach for being a founding partner of NYC Fashion Forward. She said the program will provide a pipeline of talent for the fashion industry for years to come. As a former fashion executive, Fialkoff recalled how valuable interns were to her business, Haskell Jewels. “Not only did they work hard and offer enthusiasm and new skills to our workplace, but they also provided a fresh perspective. And we all know how important that is to our business,” she said.
When she joined the de Blasio administration in 2014, she realized that the workforce problem in the fashion industry was a far greater issue. “Despite how hard it is to find young talent that every business is looking for, our young people do not have the career exposure and the workplace training that they need to be put on a path to a successful career in college,” she said. Very often, she said, it’s those early experiences that really further someone’s career.
Last May, her office launched the Center for Youth Employment, which not only connects young people to early work experiences but ensures those are “quality experiences.”
“We also want to offer a career launching pad, as well as a platform for employers to inform and shape the skills that these young people will learn. That’s a win-win to our students, their families and our city’s businesses as well,” said Fialkoff.
In addition to fashion, Fialkoff said she’s doing similar programs in media and entertainment, hospitality and financial services this summer.
The city has a goal of investing over $15 million in the fashion industry. “As part of that investment, we want to ensure that the industry has a strong foundation, and there is no stronger foundation than the workforce and pool of talent,” she said. “It is my hope in a few years, we’ll have hundreds of young people who will have worked in our fashion companies, big and small, all throughout the city and throughout our five boroughs. And together we can ensure that our youth and our city are better prepared to compete in the 21st century economy,” said Fialkoff.
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, said one of the group’s goals is education and making sure young people who want to work in the fashion industry have the opportunity to do so. He pointed to several CFDA programs, such as CFDA Plus, where the best graduating college seniors are connected to jobs in the fashion industry, as well as Master’s Programs, where the CFDA pairs MBA students with fashion companies. “This program is a new incarnation of what we do. It’s New York City kids in New York City jobs,” said Kolb. “When we go out to our membership with our MBA program, we get a good response. When we went out with this program, we got an amazing response. The industry, the designers, our partners, they really see the value of this.”
Victor Luis, ceo of Coach, said that the company has always played an important role in the fashion industry in New York City and has offered a summer internship for many years to 50 to 80 college students. He said that young students always want to work with European brands. “I personally had that dream once. One of the dreams of our team here is to ensure that young people can fulfill those dreams right here in our great city,” said Luis. The company, which is 75 years old, has 15,000 team members around the work and 1,500 in New York City who will move in the next two months to new headquarters at Hudson Yards.
“New York City’s diversity and the energy of its youth have always been an important inspiration to our brand and what we bring to the world with our product, to our stores and marketing message,” said Luis. The new internship program is not only another way in which the company can help develop young individuals, but Coach benefits from the energy and passion they bring to the brand, engaging with their team across many business units, he added.
Coach will take in five high school and college students.
Fialkoff said there’s a benefit to bringing in high school students. “We’re very excited to give high school students the same opportunities that college students have had. It’s often been more difficult for them [high school students] to find summer internships. If we want to effect a young person’s choices in college and career, we want to get to them a little younger and start to shape those choices at an earlier state,” she said.
Maria Torres-Springer, president of the NYCEDC, recalled when she got the call from Fialkoff and Alicia Glen, deputy mayor. “In about 10 seconds, it was clear there was something we could do here and do very quickly,” she said. “Sometimes in government, things take too long and there’s a lot of bureaucracy…but this is an example that the stars aligned completely. It just makes so much sense. Not just to ensure young people are getting skills, but also to work with an important part of the city’s economy. We’re so happy to be able to support this program,” she said.
She pointed that New York is home to over 900 fashion companies that employ nearly 185,000 people. “Fashion jobs are high-quality jobs and reach a wide spectrum of professions, not just design and manufacturing, but public relations, journalism and even technology,” she said. She noted that New York Fashion Week generates 550 million visitors, and the total economic impact is nearly $1 billion every year.
Last year, the mayor said his administration would triple the city’s investment in the fashion industry to $15 million with its Made in New York Fashion Initiative, which included programs such as a marketing campaign and a design certification program.
Michael Miller and Katie DeGuzman, partners in the jewelry firm Killer Collection, who were at the press conference, said they will be taking on summer interns.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for young people to get involved in it. When I was younger, I wished someone could give me hands-on experience,” said Miller. DeGuzman said she’s looking forward to having her interns learn about responsible fashion. She added, “I wish that when I was in high school, I had an opportunity like this. I changed from culinary to photography to the fashion industry,” said DeGuzman, who went to The New School’s Parsons School of Design for furniture design.