For eight years, the FIT Design Entrepreneurs program helped emerging designers—at first only from New York City and later from all over the world—take their businesses to the next level. For some, that meant enhancing their online presence; for others, it meant building brand recognition; for still others, it meant developing a financial strategy. Whatever the business need, each designer developed a unique plan, and FIT guided them completely free of charge. As an extraordinary bonus, two designers from each class won cash awards—first and second prizes of $100,000 and $50,000, respectively—based upon the quality of their business plan and a closing-night presentation to a panel of industry professionals.
With the 2020 class, this free “mini-MBA” came to a close. All told, the tailored, executive-level curriculum, taught by FIT faculty and industry leaders, elevated more than 200 designers.
Originally, FIT DE was a joint effort by FIT and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to foster growth in this key sector of the city’s economy and to ensure that creative talent could continue to flourish here. In 2018, FIT took the reins and expanded the program, inviting applicants from around the world to apply. The program gained immense industry recognition and support, and the alumni network grew into a strong community.
Graduates are successful in opening retail locations, expanding internationally, and garnering press and accolades. G-III Apparel Group, Ltd. the founding sponsor, has contributed and helped fundraise more than $800,000 for FIT DE over the life of the program.
“From its inception, FIT DE was about maintaining New York City as a vibrant fashion capital and creating new opportunities for the emerging design talent that’s here,” said Jeanette Nostra, G-III senior advisor and director. “The program was successful at doing that, and we are extremely proud of the contributions we were able to make to the city.”
Additional corporate and industry supporters include Mike Gold, who funded the second prize of $50,000, the Israel Goldgrub Award, in honor of his father, for four years; as well as the Leeds Family Foundation; Abbey Doneger, president and CEO, The Doneger Group; and Deirdre Quinn, CEO and co-founder, Lafayette 148.
In the following testimonials, FIT Design Entrepreneurs alumni share what the program meant to them.
Mimi Plange, LLC
Class of 2012 (winner)
“When we joined Design Entrepreneurs, we had won design awards and dressed celebrities, and had approached design from that perspective—getting great press, getting in stores, and making amazing designs—but we didn’t have a concrete business plan. In Design Entrepreneurs, we learned the real business of fashion and how to make projections that shaped the decisions we made in order to grow with intention and direction. The most awesome thing is we still use that business plan today.”
Class of 2014
“Although certain tasks were daunting during the course—like having to project costs and revenue or having to write our comprehensive business plans—they were more than worth it. I still use those skills regularly and I think back with fondness and gratitude to have been mentored by people in my industry who believed in me and my passion. As for the friends, colleagues, collaborators and mentors that came out of that fast summer, many have had staying power and continue to this day to be significant people in my life.”
Thistle and Spire
Class of 2018
“Since completing the program, Thistle and Spire has experienced incredible growth and continues to thrive despite the unique challenges that 2020 has brought. I am saddened to see this program come to an end but grateful that I was among the impressive list of designers who benefited from it.”
Dynasty and Soull Ogun
Class of 2019
“The program transformed our mindset about how unique our company is. Being able to create a foundation around something unique can really catapult you—there is only one like you. You can look at the business plan as architecture: You have the windows, you have the doors. The way that you construct it is how you create a house that ends up in Architectural Digest, versus just another house.”
Sterling King NY
Class of 2020 (winner)
“Coming from a design background, I had never created such a thorough business plan, and most importantly, one that felt like a realizable roadmap. The program opened my eyes to numerous aspects of operating a successful fashion business and introduced me to invaluable resources and mentors who have generously extended guidance beyond the program’s end date.”
Carolina Saboya and Ariel Dubov
Class of 2020
“We were plopped into a classroom with phenomenal experts in the fashion industry and with other like-minded entrepreneurs, we were asked to commit wholeheartedly to building out a business plan and then a pitch deck, and we were held accountable. We also got constant guidance and support from our masterful mentor. All of these experiences allowed us to scale our business in an organized and mindful manner. It allowed us to establish strong and nourishing long-term relationships with other entrepreneurs and fashion experts; it gave us the pressure and added structure that we needed to reevaluate where we were heading as a brand. Thank you for allowing us to transform into a better version of ourselves. Thank you for being anchors for us and our business during these unprecedented times.”