Fashion Campus NYC features Chris Benz, Parsons alumnus as Keynote Speaker
Article Written by Victoria Petersen, Parsons Design & Management Student, 2013
As the fashion capital of the US, New York City draws thousands of college students every summer from across the globe to intern at some of the world’s most successful businesses in the fashion industry. With support from Parsons, the NYC Economic Development Corporation launched an initiative called Fashion Campus NYC, a weekend-long conference designed to inspire students to pursue business focused careers within fashion. As a senior in the Design Management program at Parsons pursuing an internship in Wholesale at Barbara Bui, I attended the event along with hundred of other interns to learn about the various fashion career paths available to us.
Now in its second year, the event opened this past Friday evening at Parsons with a panel discussion featuring a diverse array of fashion industry employees and moderated by our very own Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons. Collins opened the discussion by noting that New York is a city driven by design and that the business side of fashion is not by any means a linear career. He expressed the importance of hard work at an internship, no matter how small your role may be. “If you work at Marc Jacobs International and your job is to make coffee, make really good coffee,” he joked.
Each panelist had lots of great advice to share with the interns. Nancy Tsuei, Vice President of Merchandising at West Elm, advised us to be nice to everyone you come in contact with because you will almost certainly run into them again at some point in your career. Will McGinn, Head Buyer of Men’s at Brooklyn Industries, recommended shadowing employees in departments other than our own in order to gain a well-rounded experience and knowledge of the company.
Saturday began with a networking breakfast followed by two classes focusing on Buying/Store Planning and Marketing/Public Relations. Using excel, Nancy Tsuei showed us exactly how a buyer tracks the profit margins involved in wholesale purchases for a department store. She stressed the importance of retail math knowledge when entering a wholesale or buying position. Tom Handley, better known as the @PRProfessor on Twitter gave our class a confident lecture on his specialties marketing and public relations. With an air of confidence Handley declared that, “Advertising is something you pay for, but Public Relations is something you pray for.” He also advised us to remove the word “trendy” from our vocabulary, an effort I fully supported!
The event concluded with a much anticipated keynote interview of Chris Benz, a Parsons graduate who has founded his own thriving fashion firm. Reminiscing about his own days as an intern, Benz shared that while working for Marc Jacobs in its infancy, the designer created “fashion for fashion’s sake,” comparable to an art form rather than a business. Benz strongly advised us to intern as much as we could and compared his time at J.Crew upon graduation to receiving a master’s degree in fashion. The strong understanding of the way a business runs he gained from his time there gave him the necessary tools to found his own company later in life.
Benz then gave us the inside scoop on starting a fashion line that is produced exclusively in New York. Much to everyone’s shock, Benz shared that he only spends about one week out of the year actually designing his line. Nowadays, much of his efforts are focused on running the business he created. His creative side is not totally put to rest though as he explained that creative growth in business is equally important to creativity in design. In fact, sometimes Benz finds it necessary to be more creative in business than in design. Accompanied by his Director of Special Projects, Susie Mascotte, Benz relayed the importance of balancing a diverse team of individuals when building a modern fashion empire. These two professionals certainly exemplified the successful combination of business and creativity.
The sentiments of Benz echoed much of what we had learned and served as a great closure to the weekend. Visible by the swarming of Benz concluding his interview, I could tell the advice from so many accomplished professionals was greatly appreciated by all. As an aspiring business leader in the fashion industry, I walked away from the conference feeling inspired and motivated. I also felt incredibly lucky to attend Parsons just as Benz did, and view him as an incredible role model for any Parsons student.