A MILESTONE YEAR FOR DESIGN ENTREPRENEURS NYC
Interviews with the innovative program’s executive in residence and the 2015 winners

For the past four summers, the free, intensive Design Entrepreneurs NYC program, a collaboration between FIT and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, has taught emerging designers how to grow their brands. Over three weekends, students learn how to put together a business plan, balance their books, and pitch their work with authority and flair.
“The whole point of DENYC,” says Jeanette Nostra, senior advisor and director of G-III Apparel Group Ltd. and DENYC’s executive in residence, “is about keeping New York City the vibrant fashion capital of the world—creating jobs, creating new opportunities, and keeping business alive and thriving by supporting new talent.”
This year, G-III increased its sponsorship of DENYC and encouraged companies as diverse as Macy’s Inc., PVH Corp./Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Cole Haan, and Ivanka Trump to support the program. This has raised the prize money for the two best business-plan presentations to $100,000 and $50,000, respectively—up from $25,000 and $10,000 in 2014.
“We needed to turn up the dial on the program and who we recruited,” Nostra says. “This absolutely raised DENYC’s profile, but more importantly, it meant that the candidates were a little bit more seasoned, and their businesses were more viable.”

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Cadet’s spring 2016 men’s fashion show, July 2015. Credit: Menelik Puryear

Four questions for Raul Arevalo, Menswear ’95, and Brad Schmidt, founders of Cadet, which won this year’s $100,000 grand prize

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Admiral coat, wool, fall/winter 2015. Credit: Brent Chua

“Watch out, Ralph Lauren!” proclaims Brad Schmidt, co-founder of Cadet, the military-inspired, obsessively tailored, locally produced menswear brand that dazzled the Design Entrepreneurs NYC judges. Cadet was a lifelong dream for Schmidt’s partner Raul Arevalo, who worked in technical design for 17 years before launching the label in 2012. Now they offer a full menswearcollection, sold in their three New York boutiques.

What does winning first prize mean for your brand?
SCHMIDT: It’s instant credibility. We’ve been given this platform, but it’s up to us to make use of it. We really want to be the next great American brand.

How is Cadet different from other brands?
AREVALO: When we started, everything was the coal miner look: flannel and overalls. I thought there was a niche to do a crisp, timeless, and masculine postwar look, with a focus on fit and make.

What will you do with the prize money?
SCHMIDT: We’re going to invest in advertising and marketing. We’re trying a paper mailing for the first time. We are all confronted with a lot of advertising noise—we’re figuring out how to break through all that.

What’s next for Cadet?
SCHMIDT: For spring ’16 we launched a wholesale collection, available through Amazon Fashion and at high-end department stores. We plan on building out our wholesale arm and launching a retail footprint on the West Coast. We also just launched a women’s capsule collection at Fashion Week.
Arevalo: The Cadet girl will be strong, professional, creative, and feminine but not girly. Feminine with that masculine edge to it.
SCHMIDT: In other words, no sequins.
AREVALO: Never say never!

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Nostra addresses the designers at DENYC’s kickoff reception. Credit: Lorenzo Ciniglio

 

Jeanette Nostra, DENYC’s Secret Weapon

The experienced businesswoman helped launch the Design Entrepreneurs NYC program in 2012 and has steadily worked to improve it, increasing its funding, providing mentorship to students, and refining the syllabus. Nostra talked with Hue about DENYC and its future.

Why is your company, G-III, working so hard to help young designers?
Morris Goldfarb, my CEO, is enormously philanthropic. He’s civic-minded, and an entrepreneur down to his shoes. He sees this as an investment in our industry.

After four years of stewarding DENYC, what gaps have you noticed? What do the designers need from the program?
The designers know how to create product and get it made; the hurdle is getting it to market. They need a showroom, they need sales representation. We are exploring that for the next phase of the program. How wonderful it would be for me to be able to call the team from Saks or Bloomingdale’s and say, “I want you to bring your menswear team to Design Entrepreneurs and I’m going to show you seven, eight emerging designers in one day, in one space.”

Have you had a favorite moment in the four years?
With each and every person that I have mentored, there have been a couple of aha moments—and it’s electrifying! One student had a product—women’s apparel—that was so expensive that it was never going to get traction. And we, together, rethought the entire pricing, merchandising strategy. Another team—a women’s accessories business—had design and production, but needed the third leg of the tripod, marketing and sales. They eventually brought in a third partner so that they could move forward. You need that third leg or the tripod falls over.