Designed as a free “mini-MBA” for emerging designers, the six-month program offers education, resources and cash prizes for top business plans that are presented to industry leaders and judges at a culminating pitch event, held in June. FIT Design Entrepreneurs scouts designers that have created brands and merchandise across womenswear, menswear, luxury and affordable, jewelry, shoes and accessories categories. The program requires that applicants’ businesses have been operational and generating sales for at least 12 months, according to FIT. Entry into the program is highly selective, as this year’s class was chosen from a pool of 246 applicants.
FIT Design Entrepreneurs launched in 2012 and began as a partnership between FIT and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Today, the program has helped 155 companies develop strategic plans. The top prize, $100,000, will be awarded to the designer that presents the most cogent and achievable business plan — the runner-up prize is $50,000. Its founding sponsor is the G-III Apparel Group, Ltd., and is also supported by The Doneger Group, YM Fashions, Scott Kay, Herman Kay, and Lafayette 148. In addition, retailer Lord & Taylor pledged $25,000 to the program and said it will showcase the winner’s designs in-store this summer.
Its program is structured into four weekend learning intensives, held from January through April: Branding and Marketing; Sales and Distribution; Financials and Strategy; and Business Plan Development and Mentoring. Designers will also attend weekly workshops, salon speaker series, events and have access to industry contacts. A direct industry mentorship is assigned to each designer to aid in cultivating and completing their business plan. And the program offers a 5,400-square-foot FIT Design Entrepreneurs Collaborative, a space featuring private showrooms for nine tenants and a larger “networking/collaborative” room to “extend and leverage the FIT Design Entrepreneurs experience,” according to FIT.
FIT President Joyce F. Brown, told WWD, “I noticed this year there was a lot jewelry and [that there] were many, many applicants in [that sector],” she said. “There’s tremendous energy and the program really is one that transforms their lives, whether they win or not, because we pair them with people from the industry that care enough to give their time, and really become mentors for them.” Brown continued, “Now [the designers will] have a guiding principle around which they can build, make decisions and figure out how to grow their business. It’s kind of a blueprint for them.”
The 23 participating brands for 2018 include: From the Road; They New York, Kent; Thistle & Spire; Ariana Boussard-Reifel; Baker & Black; Mimi Prober; Oblik Atelier; S/H/ KOH; Bode; Kozaburo; Altered by Kimberly Barasch; Anissa Aida; ARK; Chikimiki; Christine Alcalay; Hathairat; Heike NY; Marté; Minan.Wong.NYC; Muehleder; Onyii & Co. and Vaquera. Notable designers and brands that benefitted from the program include Yestadt, WXYZ, Study NY, Novis, Post-Imperial, Thaddeus O’Neil, William Okpo and WWake.
Contestant Susan Easton of From the Road told WWD, “It’s a really great opportunity and I’m grateful that FIT has put this together. I’ve been able up to this point to focus on the design and working with artisans and doing the day-to-day, and it’s great to have this program where there are mentors, classes on the weekends and [having the] guidance to put together a business plan really getting some strategic help in how to move the business to the next level.”
And Mimi Prober, a textile and fashion designer of her self-named brand, said that “I’m so excited to be part of the FIT Design Entrepreneurs program. Being an alumnus of FIT, it’s been great to see all of the familiar faces and meet so many new faces. There are so many talented designers and I’m just looking forward to learning alongside them.”
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