A part-time business student has taken home FIT’s first-ever PETE Prize for Entrepreneurs. The winner, chosen from 40 applicants, is 22-year-old Haley Schwartz, Fashion Design AAS ’22, who plans to make fashion-forward adaptive wear with her company, Vertige. The award comes with $30,000 in seed money for her business, along with office space (located at FIT’s new Center for Innovation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard) for one year, plus marketing, legal, financial, creative, and operational guidance on how to build and launch an innovative company.
The PETE Prize is administered by the FIT DTech Lab as a jury-selected merit award competition that recognizes excellence in developing fresh, insightful and creative ideas that demonstrate design-oriented and innovative thinking.
The award was announced Thursday, September 29.
The prize is inspired by Peter G. Scotese, chairman emeritus of the FIT Board of Trustees and a pioneering entrepreneur. Initial funding has been provided by Edwin Goodman, former chair of the FIT Board of Trustees and a partner of Activate Venture Partners, an investment firm with a mission to develop a new generation of venture capitalists whose aspiration is to leave a lasting impact on industry. “My hope is that what we’ve started here will have a life of its own and continue and be of great help to the students and also contribute to the entrepreneurial community that is New York,” Edwin Goodman said during the award presentation event.
“Words cannot express what Pete Scotese has meant to FIT,” said Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT. “The PETE Prize—which is really meant to connote passion, empathy, tenacity, and enthusiasm—captures the spirit and driving force of the self-made man who never loses sight of his driving principles. He has been recognized with countless honors in his industry and an honorary doctorate in 2004 from FIT. He helped develop our Innovation Fund and not only seeded it, but has continued to help build support from other benefactors over the past five years. Haley’s work will certainly lift up Pete’s legacy.”
Vertige, an outgrowth of Schwartz’s very personal story, would cater to people with heart monitors, colostomy bags, ports, feeding tubes, breast cancer, and many other health conditions. The clothes will not only accommodate various conditions, but make people feel confident, comfortable, and ready to take on whatever they set their mind to.
At the age of 4, Schwartz was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia—a type of abnormal heart rhythm—and had to wear a heart monitor at all times. She couldn’t find clothes that worked with the monitors and later, in high school, she began fainting as part of her condition. As both a coping mechanism and to be treated with more respect, she started to focus on fashion. “I always associated fashion with my health because it was the thing that got me through everything,” she recalls.
With the prize money, Schwartz plans to get samples into production because she wants to get these tested by as many people as possible and have people with disabilities and health problems try them on. She adds that the most important thing is serving people with disabilities and health conditions, so she wants to get their feedback before she starts ordering the product. After that, she plans to use the money for ordering inventory and working with the manufacturers.
“The office space is also so exciting to me because right now I’m just cooped up in my tiny apartment,” Schwartz said. “Having this office space is going to give me an official space to do my work, have a place for meetings.”
The evaluation criteria were a combination of the applicant’s personal qualities that reflect the PETE acronym (passionate, empathetic, tenacious, enthusiastic); their experience and vision, both personal and professional; a video, which was optional; and a business proposal. The proposal represents a for-profit business idea, distinctive in the demonstration of creativity and imaginative qualities. The idea includes a focus on art, business, design, mass communication and technology connected to the fashion industry and promotes FIT’s core values of innovation, sustainability and diversity.
“When I found out about the PETE Prize, it seemed like a long shot,” Schwartz said. “I’m not afraid of failure, so I thought I’ll totally do it, but I did not think in a million years I would be sitting here as the winner right now. FIT allowed me to explore that and gave me the opportunity do something different, so I owe it all to FIT.”
The judges for the award were: Amber Allen, founder and CEO of Double A Labs, an enterprise Metaverse platform for people to learn, connect, and play with a purpose; Sara Griffin, a communications, creative, and business strategist working in design, art, and architecture; FIT alumnus Keith Kirkland, co-founder of Wear Works; Kristine Pizzelanti, vice president of marketing, store experience and global licensing at Gap Inc.; and Cathleen Sheehan, chair and professor, FIT Fashion Design MFA program.
Read more about Schwartz and the event in WWD.