Creating Community in a Virtual Environment

Devon Elovitz is a current Fashion & Luxury MBA, specializing in luxury marketing and business analytics. Prior to Stern, she worked at Christie’s Auction House in New York where she was a Business Manager for the Wine & Spirits, Watches, and Handbags teams. In 2020, her team launched the Streetwear collecting category. This role inspired a love of craftsmanship, storytelling, and innovative business models. 

I’ll be honest, I am not the most outgoing person and multiple personality tests have told me I’m an introvert.  So when I found out that I would begin my MBA program during the pandemic, I was nervous that I would have a difficult time finding my space and my people.  Especially considering the condensed nature of the program, I wanted to be sure I got the most out of the twelve months and a big part of that was networking, making friends and feeling connected to NYU.   

It’s never easy adjusting to a new place or routine but somehow because that “new place” was just a click away, I found that with the right tools and outlook I was settling in and finding my way in no time. I firmly believe that experiences are what you make them and this rule applies to virtual business school as well. For me, I’ve found that being engaged, actively reaching out to others and creating a dynamic experience that combines work and play has allowed me to find my footing and engage with the broader NYU community. Here are some key tips and takeaways from my experience thus far:

  • Don’t get lost in the zoom grid 

Unlike being the new girl in school (I’ve been there, it’s hard), the great thing about business school is that everyone is new and on the same page. Everyone is eager to make new friends and interact so there is no reason to be intimidated. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you’re present and engaging with others. It’s too easy to hide behind a screen and get lost in the zoom grid. Raise your hand, participate in class and turn on your camera, even if it is an 8am accounting class. I promise everyone else will have a messy bed in their background and be wearing their pjs bottoms too. Being present will not only help you absorb the information better but it is a way of putting yourself out there so that others get to know you.  

  • Engage on Social Media

Outside of class you’ll want to get to know your peers on a more personal level. Again, don’t be afraid to friend someone on LinkedIn or Instagram. It isn’t creepy, I promise. One great thing our cohort leaders did was to create a google doc where people could post their handles to different platforms. Once your friend request is accepted, you’ll begin to learn a lot more about your classmates and when you see something fun or interesting, send them a message! I discovered one of my classmates loves to cook and I followed her cooking account. When she posts something that looks especially delicious I let her know with a hand clap or fire emoji. I think it makes her feel good and it helps develop the beginnings of a friendship that will hopefully lead to many invitations to taste her homemade treats…

  • Online Yogaahhh

I am a group fitness junkie and exercise classes have always been a way for me to feel connected to a community. One of the last things I did pre-quarantine last March was go to a final yoga class and I’ve really missed the vibe that comes with group exercise. With campus gyms closed, NYU has done a great job of organizing regular fitness programs that are accessible to the entire NYU community. My favorite is MindfulNYU which offers free yoga and meditation classes. The teachers are really engaging and I’ve found that there is still a great connection made over zoom. For me, this has been a great way to engage with the wider university community.  

  • Google Sheets and Slack are your friends

Tools like Slack and Google Sheets that I took for granted before are now necessities and, when used correctly, can facilitate meaningful conversations and connections. Business school is heavy on group projects and I have a tough time imagining how group assignments happened before Google Sheets existed. This is the key to successful group work and provides a perfect collaborative space in which to share knowledge and have all voices heard.  Likewise our cohort’s Slack channel has been a lifeline for our group.  We have channels about everything, from sharing academic resources, to podcasts and news articles.  #random was blowing up on April Fools with jokes only a FLUX student would understand.  Slack is also a way to vent about tough assignments, celebrate birthdays, and share much needed GIFs after particularly stressful classes. Think about it as a communication tool for all the things you would normally talk about in the hallway while walking to your next class. 

  • Coffee Chats 

There has never been an easier time to schedule a coffee chat.  In fact it’s so easy, you don’t even need the coffee. Zoom has opened up a whole new level of networking where asking for 30 minutes of someone’s time really means just 30 minutes and not a 20 minute subway ride to a busy cafe where you can’t find a spot to sit and talk quietly.  Now, just a click away, you can dive into a rich and informative conversation with the person across from you. NYU Alumni are known to be generous with their time and are eager to engage with students and taking advantage of Zoom means you can have efficient conversations and make meaningful connections. 

While the pandemic has been rough, it has also taught us how to utilize new tools in ways that I believe are able to enrich community building, especially within the context of graduate school.  Very soon there will be a day when in-person lectures and happy hours return, in the meantime I’m happy to report that I already feel part of the NYU community and feel I have found my people and my (virtual) space. This foundation built virtually will make that first real world experience that much sweeter.

7 Tips for Incoming Stern Fashion & Luxury MBAs

Whether you’re considering applying, you’ve just been accepted, or you’re just about to start your MBA experience at Stern, you’re likely wondering, “where do I start?” when it comes to preparing for this new, exciting challenge.

Having been in your shoes a short while ago, I’ve gathered some tips I found helpful, plus some things I wish I knew before the first day of orientation!

1. Go shopping. You’re in the fashion and luxury MBA program! Visit stores, talk to sales associates, and get a feel for what’s happening around you in retail. While you don’t have to buy anything, you will want to know what’s happening in stores. Continue this practice well into school, popping into shops before or after class. Thankfully, Stern is conveniently located just north of SoHo.

2. Get your annual doctors’ appointments out of the way before school starts. Not only will appointments be hard to schedule among classes, group projects, internships, and events, but you’ll also want to spend every “free” minute being totally free (i.e. traveling the world, not traveling back home to get your eyes checked). Plus, if you ultimately have to sign up for student health insurance, you can ensure your annual check-ups are with your doctors while you’re still in-network.

3. Set up one-to-ones with everyone in your cohort. I wish I had done this much earlier, but COVID restricted the feasibility of doing so. Make an effort to reach out individually to each person, set up a walk, a coffee, or a happy hour drink and get to know them! If you want to be an executive one day, you’ll need to know how to build relationships and work with everyone, not just your friends.

4. If you’re able, take time off. At least a week. Relax, reset, and gear up to be super busy. Knock the things off your to-do list and treat yourself to the things you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t had time to do. For me, that was reading books, visiting The Met, and trying out restaurants on my “to visit” list.

Leisure reading, “just for fun” museum visits, and drinks with friends before school started.

5. Google Calendar will be your BFF, so start using it and referring to it now. Be smart and add dates from all of Stern’s emails to it too. Your future self will thank you.

6. Sign up for events and classes that sound a little scary and out of your comfort zone. The journey you’re about to embark on is meant to challenge you and change you. Seek out and embrace new experiences with new people. Chances are, you know more than you think you do, and you’ll learn something along the way. Plus, school is meant for making mistakes. While you may fear you’ll sound dumb, it’s better to get mistakes out of the way through practice before you do it at your next gig. 

The leadership event planned for Saturday morning? Or the class requiring multiple presentations? Sure, they sound annoying, and maybe a little terrifying, but they’ll help you push your boundaries and become a stronger professional.

7. Clubs are a great way to meet fun people and do fun things. But remember: this program is fast-paced and intense. While you’ll have time for club membership and activities, don’t feel pressured to take on a leadership role. Likely, you’ll stretch yourself a little too thin for only three words on your resume. Most alumni advise, “a club leadership position is not worth your time given the nature of this program.”

Of course, you’ll find what works for you, but keep these tips in mind as you prepare for the Fashion & Luxury MBA at Stern. You’re taking an incredible and exciting next step in your career path – embrace it!

Mastering the Art of the Coffee Chat

Hoping to transition into the fashion industry and luxury sector, I knew Stern would set me up with the right connections to pivot successfully. Beyond the skills and industry-specific knowledge taught in classes, Stern offered a chance to regularly speak and build relationships with industry experts. In fact, Stern reminds students to set up coffee chats every chance they get!

Ahead of detailing how Stern makes these connections happen, a brief confession: before coming to Stern, “coffee chat” personally conjured an image of an often awkward conversation and was perhaps, I thought, the most “I’m Getting My MBA & Need A Job” phrase one could possibly utter. A coffee chat, or informational interview, was not something I was looking forward to doing as often as Stern recommended.

Now, however, I love a good coffee chat, and I even aim to have two or three on my calendar each week. I can thank Stern for the change in attitude. Each person I’ve reached out to – from professors to fellow students, from alumni to industry leaders – replies with enthusiasm, eager to share their experiences and offer a word of advice.

Here’s how Stern’s network showed me the importance – and the joy! – of informational interviews:

Classes, Classmates, & Professors

Many of the aforementioned connections in the Fashion & Luxury MBA are built into our classroom experiences, providing a natural channel to reaching out for a one-to-one conversation. From speakers in our Solutions course to my own classmates, I’ve been able to hear and discuss different job functions, brands, and ideas with a breadth of people. A few examples:

  • Early in the semester, I sent a LinkedIn request to a Stern alum, now working for Ralph Lauren, after she spoke to our Solutions class. Not only did she quickly accept my connection, but she offered time out of her calendar to speak – unprompted!
  • Stern professors are well-connected and take joy in connecting their students with their acquaintances. After reaching out to a professor with a question on a project, I was promptly connected by him to his friend, an expert in the area I was researching.

Stern Network

A few weeks into school, we were introduced to the Stern Network, Stern’s internal LinkedIn/Facebook for alumni. Within the platform, users can browse and connect with current students and alumni, narrowing searches by job function, company, industry, location, and more. Once set up on the Stern Network, users work through a tutorial on best practices for requesting and conducting an informational interview. As part of the tutorial, users are required to search for alumni and connect with them.

This requirement led me to an alum at Estee Lauder. Less than ten minutes after sending an introductory message within Stern Network’s platform, they had already replied, offered their time, and we secured a meeting the following week to chat for thirty minutes. This one conversation led to two more coffee chats with folks at Estee Lauder, each recommending I talk to one of their colleagues to learn more.

Thanks to the Stern Network, I got an in-depth look at one of my target companies through multiple different people and conversations.

Mentors

Stern actively connects its students with experts outside of the classroom, too, teeing up these connections as mentorships. So far, I’ve been matched with three different mentors:

  • As part of our MBA program, we are matched with an industry expert on the Fashion & Luxury Council. Here, we’re able to express interest in leaders from fashion, beauty, luxury, and more and get matched with one of these leaders to meet over the course of the program.
  • Upon starting at Stern, we were each paired with a Focused MBA Program Partner. Affectionately called our “buddy,” this mentor is a graduate of the Fashion & Luxury MBA and offers invaluable advice on classes, job searching, and more. I can best describe this mentorship as, “when you need me, I’m here.” I found my Program Partner super helpful in selecting electives and getting an overview on our professors.
  • After joining the Graduate Marketing Association, I enrolled in their mentorship program too. After filling out a brief survey focused on my goals, I was matched with a GMA alum, who also happened to be a FLUX grad! SWIB also offers a mentorship program. 

Events

Every day, there’s a different event to go to at Stern. Naturally, these events are a means of networking and seeking out my next coffee chat.

Recently, I attended an OCD event called “Cross-Class Connections.” Here, MBA 1s, MBA 2s, Focused MBAs and Langone students met in breakout rooms facilitated by OCD career coaches. Conveniently, when we were sharing our interests and goals, one of the students in my breakout room was taking a class focused on supply chain – a topic I had expressed interest in exploring. After the event, he connected me to his classmate who had experience in supply chain at a fashion brand. From there, I received recommendations on how to learn more about supply chain over the course of my time at Stern, both through classes and activities, like the Center for Sustainability and the Center for Business and Human Rights.

I also had the opportunity to listen in on a roundtable discussion at The Retail Hive’s Digital Luxury Week through Stern. The discussion was made up of eight fashion, beauty, and luxury experts, all of which I was connected with after the event. Within twenty-four hours after logging off Zoom, half of them had already replied offering their time to take the conversation further via an informational interview.

So, take it from me, as someone initially wary of the “how” aspect of networking at business school. Not only does Stern make it easy to connect with people, but they also foster an environment of openness and excitement to chat over a cup of virtual coffee.

Tips & Tricks

Like all things, practice makes perfect. After conducting many informational interviews over the past few months, I’ve not only grown more comfortable with coffee chats, but I’ve also found a few secrets to success:

  • Show up with genuine curiosity. Do your research and prepare questions ahead of time. While the conversation can go in any direction, you’ll be thankful you have a set of thoughts prepared to lead the discussion and get insights out of it. 
  • Make it research for your next assignment. During coffee chats, I often ask, “what’s one challenge your team is working through right now?” This way, I hear real-world problems companies face today. With this information in my back pocket, I can focus upcoming class projects on relevant issues to build out my portfolio for my eventual job search.
  • Be direct and specific. While it may seem polite to request a generic chat, I’ve had more success asking, “can I hear your thoughts on XYZ,” over “I’d love to set up some time to talk.” Suggest a specific time and place to keep the email ping-ponging to a minimum, saving the other person time.
  • Be human. Many of these chats are happening on Zoom, so don’t be afraid of moments of levity. Be yourself!

My Decision to Apply to the Fashion & Luxury Program (from an Industry Insider)

If you would have told me when I first moved to NYC that I would still be here ten years later, I would probably be genuinely surprised. I moved here shortly after graduation, and I planned to stay no more than 2-3 years. However, when I started working in the fashion industry, no other city could compare to the resources and companies in NYC. Once I decided that I wanted to be a fashion buyer, I spent the next five years working for two major retailers – in departments ranging from color cosmetics to golf apparel – and learning as much as I could in each role.

As my career progressed, I noticed there was something missing in my plan when I would journal about my long-term career goals. On the one hand, I worked in a competitive field in my dream job. Some days I felt like Andy from Devil Wears Prada after her fashion makeover – why would I want to give that up? But on the other hand, I could feel the world around me exploding with new ideas and industries. I was less interested in next year’s fashion trends and more interested in the macro forces influencing each trend.

Following a trip to Morocco, I became fascinated with the Middle East – North African region, and my wheels were turning on how I could return there and work. How could I connect the dots and get myself from point A to point B? My deciding factor to apply to business school was when I was in a department meeting with our chief strategy officer, a business school graduate. We were discussing product inventory for an upcoming season, and he was talking about EBITDA strategy. I remember blacking out and not knowing what EBITDA meant, but I also remember that “my light bulb turned on,” and I realized that I wanted to be on the other side of the table, the side of the table making strategic decisions. I wanted to know more than my limited industry knowledge, and I wanted additional transferrable skills. The most fitting path was business school.

When I began my business school process, I knew I wanted to stay in the industry, so I only looked at programs that had a retail presence. I learned about the Fashion & Luxury Program through an admissions consultant and was instantly impressed by its focus and curriculum. I attended two in-person information sessions with current students, and although it was a new program, their excitement and passion were palpable.

The program had access to companies that I had always admired, and the Stern Solution courses (which act as in-semester internships) would allow me to work hands-on with these companies on a range of projects. The fashion & luxury retail industries are a lot about your network, and I loved that the program offered a mentorship council with industry executives. The opportunity to take classes that focused on growing concerns in the industry – like supply chain and corporate responsibility – was also really important. Furthermore, the Fashion & Luxury program is supported by Stern’s core classes and electives, so I could strengthen my quantitative and business acumen while also learning with classmates from Stern’s other MBA programs.

Choosing the Fashion & Luxury program was a great decision because it bridged my two passions: a passion for the fashion industry combined with a passion for continued learning. Although I was nervous about staying in NYC entering my 10th year here, being a student and seeing the city through the eyes of my classmates from Chicago and Israel makes it feel like Year 1 again. I always felt like an outsider in previous roles because I was interested in “the bigger picture,” but it is gratifying to be in a program with other fashion nerds who geek out on Women’s Wear Daily.

Applying To Stern: My Application Journey & A Few Tips

If you’re working on your application to B-school, I was where you are not too far back. My experience with the application was spread over – believe it or not – 2 years. Since Stern was the only school I was applying to, and the Fashion & Luxury MBA was the only program I was interested in, it was an all or nothing play for me, which in hindsight is what made the entire process that much more stressful and daunting, but in the end equally rewarding.

For me, the starting point was understanding Stern as a school. The concept of IQ + EQ is in almost every Stern post because it is very much ingrained in the DNA of the school. What it means from my perspective is that along with having quantifiable professional achievements, one also needs to be self-aware and emotionally in touch with their environment and the people who inhabit it. This for me was the very foundation on which I built the rest of my application.

I did use this blog for a lot of inspiration when I was preparing my application, so I find it surreal that I am actually writing this blog post now. Talk about life coming full circle, you know! Similar posts from past students were critical in keeping my focus and conviction strong. I am hoping to pay it forward and will be thrilled if anything I write below will be helpful for you. If I can come this far, trust me, so can you!

Resume:

Coming from a design background, I wasn’t sure if my resume would be valuable to a business school admissions team. While there is the idea of a “non-traditional background,” which could have given me a few brownie points, what I felt was lacking was a demonstration of my interest/experience in traditionally MBA-related roles, eg. marketing, managing projects and teams. So I looked for opportunities in my role to extend myself into these projects. I’m not saying this is the only way to do this, but it was very helpful for me as an experiment to even understand if digital marketing or project management would be something I would be interested in doing full-time post-MBA. To me, this also showed that I was inquisitive to push the envelope of my abilities and, irrespective of my admission in the program, I would continue to explore business-related roles in my industry, cementing my genuine interest in the program I was applying to. The added benefit was that professionally, I was able to add many more feathers to my many hat which is good to do anyway, irrespective of your application to b-school. At the end of your resume writing process, your final product should actually make you feel really proud of your achievements and give you a sense of genuine confidence about your abilities and professional history.

Key Takeaway: Your resume is an advertisement of YOU and it should be written like that. All ads carry the best features of what their product has to offer, not everything, but the best. So be mindful of what you want to call out and what you want to maybe discuss in person and hence omit on the single sheet that you will upload. Quantifying your achievements is helpful as well. (Shout out to my friend Sneha who taught me all this!)

Standardized Tests:

I struggled with this part of the application the most. NYU does not have a preference between the GMAT or the GRE, so if you are feeling anxious about the GMAT, you should try the GRE. I spent 6 miserable months studying for the GMAT along with a very demanding full-time job and took it three times before I got a passable score to apply with. I took the GRE sample far later into my GMAT prep and would have much rather just prepped for the GRE and taken only that. Also, please know that the standardized test scores are only one small aspect of your entire application. Apply with the score you are most proud of and trust yourself.

Key Takeaway: I recommend taking free sample tests online of GMAT, GRE, or any other accepted exams and build from there. You might realize that you are more comfortable with one exam format than another and I feel that’s half the battle won.

Professional Aspirations Essay:

Authenticity is the highest priority in this section. If you try to use a formulaic approach to an essay, it really shows. An admissions officer is an expert at their job and can easily identify a genuine interest versus a vaguely written, generic submission. Your authenticity will show through your research and knowledge of this program, of Stern, and how it relates to your personal and professional journey. Remember the IQ + EQ value and use that as your anchor. I felt it was important for Stern to see that this was the only program that I could even think of doing and I probably read every article, news report, blog post, website page available to inform my decision. It may not be possible for everyone looking to apply to multiple programs across multiple schools, but I feel you should try to do as much research as you can because it will only make your writing stronger and your arguments more convincing.

Key Takeaway: Don’t try to fake it or be superficial. It will be very evident. Since there are limited words, value each word and ensure it adds value to your statements. There will be multiple drafts and that’s fine (I submitted draft 37, really). Once you’re done with a draft, read it line by line and ask, “Why is this important/Why does this matter?” If you can’t come up with a good answer, rephrase your statement. Once you feel you are confident about your writing, take feedback from friends, peers, mentors, anyone you trust, and reiterate till you feel your writing is most true to you and authentically represents you. The best essay is the one you feel most confident about.

Pick 6:

This was an image in my Pick 6. I love the Met Gala so I added this image along with the caption “The Costume Institute Gala is a confluence of three of my key passions: Fashion, Museums/Exhibitions & Business and continues to influence & educate me about the cyclical impact of costume on the themes chosen.”

This is the most unique aspect of the Stern application. I don’t know if any other schools have a similar personal expression essay. It really is an opportunity for Stern to see who YOU are, what you value, and what makes you YOU. I have often struggled with boxing myself into a few obvious compartments of my life like what I do for work and what I do in my free time, but this exercise made me think of all the facets of my personality. What helped me start was asking my closest friends about whatever comes to their minds when they think of me. I did this exercise multiple times with different sets of people, and received a variety of words I expected to get and then some I didn’t even think of which came up again and again from different people. It made me realize the attributes that people associated with me without me even knowing, which makes this a good exercise on self-discovery and the EQ portion of self-awareness. From all of these responses, I started to think hard about what really mattered to me and shortlisted visuals I thought best represented me and my life.

Key Takeaway: Try to have fun here. In this age of Instagram, we are all for the most part, fairly used to selecting aspects of our lives and sharing a snippet for the world to see. Which is what this is. It is a space for you to express yourself personality, so let your personality shine and be proud of who you are and what you believe in. That’s what makes you unique and that is what will make your essay stand out.

Interview:

  
If you get invited to interview, congratulations! I just needed an excuse to come to New York, so I actually flew in from India to New York for a 30-45 mins discussion. I am in no way saying that it is essential to get admission because a few people in my class who are from New York interviewed remotely (#PandemicProblems). What is essential is that your story and your passion shine through your conversation with the Admissions Officer. My interview was very conversational and made me feel incredibly comfortable to the effect that I didn’t even feel like I was being interviewed. It was like having a coffee chat (which you will eventually do a lot of during your MBA).

Key Takeaway: Revisit your application. It’s important that what you submitted is the same content you say during your interview. An authentic, true-to-yourself application will be the easiest to prepare since that is your true story. And don’t worry. The interview was the best part of the admissions process for me. Relax, be yourself, and show your passion. You’ll thank yourself later.

Closing Notes:

My final advice to you is to be very surgical and systematic about the application process. My dad kept telling me to do a SWOT analysis (he tells me to do this even today) and I pass on that wisdom to you. Do a SWOT analysis of yourself. Write down your Strengths, your Weaknesses, the Opportunities you have or need to create to either display your strengths or overcome those weaknesses, and finally the Threats that may create a path of resistance. What helped me was to look at my resume and see what I had achieved professionally and looked at LinkedIn profiles of Stern alums to see what I was missing or what were my areas of development. Then I needed to find or create opportunities where I could fill in these gaps while being prepared to tackle any obstacles along the way with backup plans. This broad structure helped me keep my focus intact.

Also, ask for help, even when you feel you don’t need it. You’ll be surprised how much value another perspective adds to your application. Have your essays read by another person, get your resume reviewed, and understand how someone else is reading what you have written. When you are so close to your own work, you forget to have a distanced perspective which is more valuable than you can imagine. I can safely say that I would not have been able to crack this admission without a strong support system.

Finally, your strongest application is the one you are most confident about. I said it before, and I really mean it. Apply to the deadline you feel most prepared with and let your hard work do the rest.

All the best and I hope to see you on campus!

Moving to NYC: Maximizing Space in a Small Apartment

When I decided to move from my spacious condo in Chicago to my charming West Village studio in NYC, I knew I needed to downsize my belongings. Determined for my new space to still feel like home, I set out to make it a mini-version of my Chicago condo. Here’s how I did it:

Measure twice, move once. Even before I secured my NYC apartment, I had a general idea of what would fit into a studio. With that knowledge, I made an initial cut of what I needed to sell or give away. Next, I measured the furniture in my apartment that was coming with me. As I looked at apartments (virtually due to COVID restrictions), I requested floorplans and wall measurements. With these sets of measurements, I plotted my furniture on the floorplans to confirm that it would all fit.

Get creative with furniture and storage. There are many small space storage tips out there, but these are a few of my favorite learnings:

Consider a platform bed frame to save space. The area designated as the bed nook is small. To accommodate this, I kept my queen-sized mattress but bought a wood platform bed frame. The bed frame does not take up any unnecessary space, and to make up for not having a headboard, I hung a large canvas of art above my bed.

Maximize a small kitchen with creative storage. My apartment’s kitchen takes up one of the walls in the main living space. I did not want my kitchen to be visible at all times, so I hung curtains with a suspension rod to block off the kitchen area. Since my kitchen is small, it also does not have any drawers, a pantry, or ample storage for pots and pans. To remedy this, I bought a console table with drawers to store eating and cooking utensils, hung pantry shelves on the inside of the coat closet, and stored pots and pans in the same closet on some wire shelves.

Make use of that decorative fireplace. Decorative fireplaces are a common feature in many pre-war apartments. I love the charm it adds to my space, but it also takes up a lot of valuable real estate. Since I did not have room for bookshelves, I realized this was the perfect place to stack my books. Not only does it look chic, but it uses space that otherwise would have sat empty.

Don’t worry about closet space for your clothes and shoes. As someone enrolled in the Fashion & Luxury MBA cohort, this might surprise you. Let me set the record straight: I have a lot of clothes and shoes. But, I realized looking for apartments with ample closet space was a fool’s errand. Instead of finding the perfect closet, I transformed part of my entryway into a closet. I installed clothing rods and shelves and curtained the area off with a tension rod (again). This provides me with even more closet space than most of the apartments I looked at.

While my apartment is still a work in progress, moving into an NYC studio was not as difficult or restrictive as I thought it would be. It does require upfront planning and a little imagination, but do not let that intimidate you. I love my little “chateau” in the middle of West Village, and it unquestionably feels like home.

A Designer at Business School – Why Stern? Why FLUX?

There are many posts here on this blog about why students chose Stern and this specific MBA program. Many of these stories have a few things in common about how Stern is great and the opportunities of being in New York and that is all still true even today. What these stories also have are key but subtle differences on why this was important to them. As much as a professional decision it becomes an equally personal one and, here I go adding another statistic to this long list of “Why Stern, Why FLUX.”

As a designer, in what now seems like a past life, I wasn’t thinking of applying to business school. I always knew I wanted to be in New York so my entire research was structured around being in New York. I came to New York on a holiday in 2016 years ago and was visiting design schools to look for a master’s in museum design. Through my many conversations with different schools, one thing everyone asked me was to find patterns in my background and see if there was a central anchor. When I did that self-reflection, I found that Fashion and the very concept of Luxury was something that kept coming up; in my desire to go to design school (instead of engineering or law or medicine), in my choice of studying Exhibition Design (I wanted to design Fashion Show sets and Broadway Stages), in my first job (a Set Designer for fashion events), in my choice to switch teams at Amazon (from selling books to Fashion to Luxury). It now seems obvious to look at when you write it in this sentence, but it took me a while to notice it. This is what brought me to exploring studies in Fashion & Luxury since it was evident that that is what my anchor was. I was speaking to a faculty member at FIT and she recommended I look at Stern.

“But Stern is a Business school,” I thought to myself. “Can I, as a designer really study business? Do I even have the capability to do this?” I spoke to many people, read a few blogs, and stalked LinkedIn profiles. I realized that the whole point of going to a business school is to learn how to study and apply business concepts. If you already know how to manage businesses, why would you come to business school? So, I did open up to the idea of a business school education, and what that would mean for my career. I do feel that something about getting an MBA puts people at an accelerated path on their careers, with more transferable skills, more access to opportunities, and more options. In my experience, MBAs somehow know how to navigate corporations and business structures better than those who don’t. To be honest, it meant I could be a CEO one day and I wasn’t going to let my self-doubt get in the way of that.

So, I booked an appointment at Stern with the Campus Tour group and the Admissions Ambassador took me and a group of other prospective applicants around campus. It sounds cheeky, but I do believe spaces have energies that just sometimes click for certain people. I’m as pragmatic as the next person but this is something I have come to believe. And Stern did that for me. I had been visiting so many schools in the past week but walking into the Stern building, I could see myself studying there. And when you get such a feeling, you try to not ignore it. The campus, the resources, the academic environment all of it was comforting and inspiring in a way I hadn’t expected. Which is what dropped me down a rabbit hole of New York X Stern X MBA X Fashion. I spent the next 2-3 years working on my career, building up skills, and figuring out who I needed to be then to be at Stern later. (More about my application process in a later blog post.)

 

 

This was my Why Stern, Why FLUX story. If you’ve read this far (or scrolled down) I’ll reward you with a few bullet points that convinced me that this was the right thing to do:

Why a Focused MBA? Why FLUX?

  1. Shorter – It’s a 1 Year program. You get basically the same education in 1 year instead of 2. After 8 years of working, I did not want to be a student for more than 1 year. The duration of the program was a big pull. Also, 1-year programs are cost effective! Less tuition, only 1 year of living expense, and only 1 year of not getting a salary.
  2. Specialized – It’s very focused like the name suggests. I knew I wanted to be in the Fashion or the Luxury industry and I did not want to be in a classroom studying about, for instance, petrochemical companies and their balance sheets. If I’m going to be studying accounting, it better be for Hermes. And that is exactly what the Focused MBA gives you. You are in a class of 20 other students who all have a similar interest and the professors tailor the course accordingly. If you want to be immersed in the industry you want to work in, do a focused MBA. If you are open to different industries and still exploring what you want to do, go for the 2-Year MBA.
  3. Specific – It’s all about Fashion, Luxury, and related industries. Yes, it is a business program, but it is about business in the context of Fashion and Luxury. If that’s something you want to study and do eventually, you will not find any other program in the western hemisphere like this, I guarantee it.

Why Stern?

  1. IQ + EQ – There is a general notion in the industry that Stern has the nicest, kindest, most helpful, and most collaborative geniuses you will ever come across. It seems statistically impossible, but I am experiencing it first-hand.
  2. Expertise – There is a reason Stern is consistently one of the top-ranked MBAs in the world. It’s not PR or paid advertising. It’s true. A brand name like Stern can open doors and give you access to alumni and opportunities globally and I don’t mean to say that lightly.
  3. Location – Being at the proverbial center of the world has many advantages. Stern is in the middle of the madness of New York and I say that in the best possible way. It puts you in the heart of the industry you want to be in and what more could you ask for from a school.

Why New York?

  1. Because it is the center of fashion and luxury in the Americas.
  2. Because most headquarters of most fashion/luxury brands are in New York. If you want to speak to someone from a certain organization, chances are you will find them in New York.
  3. Because it is New York

This was my story. I hope it helps you write yours!

What to Expect in Your First Few Weeks of Classes

When telling my colleagues, friends, and family about starting the Fashion & Luxury program at Stern, many warily said, “well, I’ll see you in a year!” I thought, “huh, is school really going to keep me that busy?” 

Three months in, the answer is yes.

In twelve weeks, our cohort completed six foundational courses, plus a week of orientation. This week, we’ll tuck one additional course, Economics, under our belts and also begin Finance. Looking back, I’m impressed by the number of papers, projects, and presentations we submitted, plus the amount of learning we’ve accomplished in a condensed timeframe.  

So far, I’m having trouble picking a favorite among our classes. 

In Leadership, we used case studies to understand decision-making and leading change, first with emotion, then followed by logic. Most memorably, groups pored over a case about race cars, tasked with the decision to race or not to race, knowing we risked an engine failure at a certain temperature on race day. Fast-forward: turns out the data and situation in the case were identical to the problem presented to engineers launching NASA’s Challenger. The takeaway? Always ask for all the data before making a critical decision, no matter the risk to reputation or reward, and know when to stop, regardless of investment or emotional attachment.

In Business Communications, we learned by doing, presenting multiple times per class, and simulating a group presentation to senior executives at a company (of our choice) facing a reputational risk. This short-but-snappy course quickly got us into shape, conditioning us on best practices in presentation-making, email-writing, and public speaking.

And then there was Accounting, my first 8am course ever. Despite my personal wariness at the beginning (I don’t do numbers before noon), Professor Bonacchi guided us expertly, using the process of producing and selling chocolate cakes to walk us through income statements. Furthermore, he knew when to take a step back, more than once commenting, “I see your eyes are like a branzino in the oven…let’s take a break!” Another highlight? The CFO of Gucci joined us as a guest speaker. 💁‍♀️ Suffice to say, I have many fond memories of Accounting.

In Statistics, we tackled real-world probability concepts, once dissecting an article about MBA salaries for a group paper. Here, we learned how to identify confounding and lurking variables, understand the importance of sample size, and interpret data given to us. I walked away from this course with not only new math skills, but also an appreciation for asking questions about the presentation of data.

In Marketing, we had guest speakers from Converse and Smart Design, plus examined cases about Sephora and direct-to-consumer brands. By the end, we were able to choose a brand and string together a complete customer journey based on our newfound marketing knowledge.

On top of these five foundational business courses, we simultaneously worked and learned in our NYC Immersion course. Unique to the Fashion and Luxury MBA program, this class placed us in front of industry experts and icons, plus allowed us to get our feet wet as MBA consultants at PVH and Perry Ellis International. If we’re playing favorites, this class was mine.

Highlights included…

  • Kicking off with a presentation from the CFO and COO at Bonobos, David Sasson, detailing the types of jobs and functions we can consider in the industry
  • Hearing from a panel of our program’s mentoring council, moderated by Professor Jeff Carr
  • Pitching brand ideas to Sarah LeFleur, founder and CEO at MM LaFleur
  • Listening to Fern Mallis and PC Chandra speak to the history and future of NY Fashion Week
  • Hearing from the digital team at Tapestry about their innovations in e-commerce
  • Speaking with Revlon’s Head of Marketing in their luxury division 
  • Presenting final proposals to PVH/Perry Ellis on our consultancy projects

… plus many, many more. As someone with minimal professional experience in the fashion and luxury sectors, I found this class brought me up to speed on the challenges and trends in the space, both in light of COVID and more broadly. Now, headed into the rest of the program, I feel Stern has set us up with a solid toolbelt of foundational skills, plus industry knowledge, to guide our focuses, electives, and soon, job searches – all in just twelve weeks!

International Immersion: Paris

After leaving Milan, we flew to Paris and experienced amazing food, culture, and learning. Just like Milan, there was no shortage of excellent dining options. The first night we arrived there, some of us went to dinner at a French restaurant called Bistrot Victoires, and a two-course meal with about half a bottle of wine per person was about 20 euros! Despite the transit strikes that were going on in Paris, there was no issue getting around. Paris is a very beautiful and walkable city, which we took advantage of by walking everywhere.

I highly recommend going to Bistrot Victoires while in Paris. It’s authentic Parisian cuisine and very affordable!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Hermes

The visit to the Hermes store was amazing for a variety of reasons:

1. The store’s architecture is absolutely stunning. 2. The craftsmanship and quality of the items in the store are unparalleled. 3. The Hermes Birkin & Kelly Bags. We learned the rich history behind the Birkin and Kelly bags and the amount of time that goes into their creation. It still amazes me that the bags can retail for +$100,000. Unlike most stores, the Hermes we visited in Paris is appointment-only and has average volumes of around 2,000 visitors per day. Sadly there was no NYU Stern discount offered for students 😉

Taking a group photo inside Hermes.

We were walking on our way to the Hermes store and could not help but notice the beautiful architecture and decorations throughout the streets.

A beautiful stroll through the streets of Paris!

Guerlain: Luxury perfume

The visit to Guerlain was another eye-opening experience.  This Guerlain parlor was located on the Champs-Elysees, one of the most beautiful shopping areas in all of Paris. No different than Hermes, this store was also stunning. As soon as you walked in, you were shown high-end fragrances. A store manager was kind enough to give us a tour and brought us upstairs, where bespoke scents are created for luxury clientele. These scents could cost the customer thousands of dollars. The upstairs parlor was similarly exquisitely crafted and made you feel as if you were transported to another world.

A look at some of the high-end perfumes available at the parlor.

Versailles

On our final day in Paris, we were given the option to be able to explore the city independently or visits Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. Having already visited Versailles, I knew how beautiful it was; however, I knew that the gardens (which are much bigger) are also a sight to see on their own (even in January). Rather than spend our time enjoying the interior of Versailles, we decided to spend two hours walking through the gardens, and we barely scratched the surface! Lucky for us, the weather was about 45 Fahrenheit, which made it optimal walking weather.

The picture does not do the gardens of Versailles justice.

 

Between Milan and Paris, the international immersion was a wonderful trip that I will remember for the rest of my life!

International Immersion: Milan

It’s been a tough time fighting the coronavirus everywhere in the world. Italy has been one of the countries that is severely suffering from it. Faced with the COVID-19 outbreak that has brought this country to a screeching halt, Italians decided that fun is the best medicine for a healthy spirit. Videos have been shared on social media that captured people singing and dancing from their balconies and windows in an attempt to boost morale during the nationwide lockdown.

This reminds me of the discussion we had in Milan during the Fashion & Luxury MBA international immersion. It was the kick-off class in the first day in Milan where Professor Thomai described the personality of Milan and Milanese as introverted. Milan has earned its reputation for aloofness, at least by Italian standards. When walking around the city, there are magnificent buildings with well designed doors that are never opened and a lot of beautiful hidden gardens that you can only wander from the outside.  But these days what has been shown in the videos featuring Milanese talking to their neighbors for the first time through windows and balconies, comforting one another, forging new bonds, growing closer — albeit from a distance, is a romantic demonstration of how introverts make the best out of the worst amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Milan is one of the birthplaces of luxury brands and has the most amazing fine food. When you look at the way Italians do business, they are focusing on delivering the best craftsmanship and making the most well-done products, instead of expanding the business commercially to the extreme. That’s why there are a lot of small businesses and many Italian luxury brands remain family businesses, versus French conglomerates. 

Our trip in Milan included classes in Bocconi Business School in both lecture and case study formats, and onsite visits to Mantero silk factory (one of the silk suppliers for most of the luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Dior), Dolce & Gabbana and Vitale Barberis Canonico. Here are some of my key learnings:

Think deeper and wiser. We discussed the similarities and differences between the Italian luxury industry and the French luxury industry. This immersion not only confirmed some of my thoughts on this topic based on my experience working in the industry, but also deepened my understanding. For example, I used to think French brands were better in doing business globally – they are more organized and adaptive. But after this trip, I learned how to think deeply to understand why and think from different angles – history, government regulation and personality of the country. In addition, I learned to never judge something simply as right or wrong, good or bad, but to think more critically and better appreciate the good side of everything.

Manage changes. We had a case study on one of the most famous Italian luxury brands. The founder has built his luxury empire in a short period of time and done a lot of amazing jobs. But for the past few years this brand has been struggling due to lack of product innovation and unclear brand positioning. It’s a reflection of the struggles many traditional brands are facing – how do they scale and stay relevant, especially for those family businesses with highly centralized power on individuals (usually founders)?  I think changes and transformations need three things: 1) The ability to not only predict the future trend of the industry, but also visualize it into companies’ long term strategy. 2) Courage/boldness. No transformation comes from being risk-averse. It’s usually easier said than done to take risks. 3) Ability to convince stakeholders and get resources in a big corporate to implement the changes, including the grit when facing obstacles and short-term losses – remembering the goal is for long-term and it takes time to turn the changes into real positive business impact.

A Bite of the Big Apple – NYC Immersion

Moving from Shanghai to New York is one of the biggest decisions in my life, and the best one I have ever made. In New York, it’s easy to fill your schedule with iconic experiences and anything that says “awesome” to you. The NYC Immersion course we took in this past summer semester – an experiential leaning course with the formats of company visits, industry panels and skill-based workshops – is a perfect demonstration of the resources the city has to offer in fashion and luxury spaces. 

Now I’ll guide you on how we took a bite out of the Big Apple through exploring some of the company visits and guest speeches we had in the summer.

  • BVLGARI

We had a session discussing BVlGARI’s brand strategy in its flagship store on 5th Avenue. The clientele experts showed us the most stunning pieces of the BVLGARI jewelries and watches, presenting the branding strategy and client experience the company is delivering. Professor Serdari visited the store with us and explained the theory of luxury marketing using the real examples we saw in the store. 

 

  • SALVATORE FERRAGAMO

We visited Ferragamo’s flagship store and the US headquarter on 5th Avenue. Donald Kohler, CEO of Americas, gave us a presentation about the brand strategy and initiatives in the digital landscape.

 

  • GUCCI

Andrea Pini, CFO of Gucci North America, came to our last accounting class to share with us how to use the accounting knowledge we learned this semester to collect insights and make decisions in real-world business situations.

 

  • SoulCycle

Julie Lieberman, Senior Director of Merchandising at SoulCycle, came to Stern to talk about SoulCycle’s apparel collection and its retail initiative.

 

  • MM.LaFleur

We were invited to MM.LaFleur’s showroom in NYC. Narie Foster, Co-Founder of MM.LaFleur, shared with us how they started the company, scaled the business and manage the young team.

 

 

  • Warby Parker

We visited Warby Parker’s fancy office in Soho, had a panel discussion with the leaders in different functions focusing on retail experience and omni-channel.

 

The balance of taking a deep dive into both established brands and startups gave me a holistic view of the transformation this industry is undergoing. I love the fact that I can explore new ideas and meet interesting people everyday in New York. It has been a “the world is your oyster” kind of experience.

Learning Through Experimentation: Leadership

The bar was set high

Receiving my undergraduate degree in business, I really thought that my core courses over the summer were going to be a carbon copy of college- I was wildly incorrect about that in the best way possible. Every class exceeded my expectations; however, Leadership with Nate Pettit was on another level. Going into leadership, I had insanely high expectations of the class because I had taken classes somewhat similar to leadership in college, such as Organizational Behavior and Law & Ethics. Both courses in college provided HBS articles with discussions to follow in class- your fairly typical b-school experience.

So you want to be a leader…. Right?

Professor Pettit was able to take that typical business school class experience and morph it into a genuinely thought-provoking mixture of tough conversations to have(with classmates, himself and co-workers), coursework, in-class exercises, and reflections. One of the first questions that he asked in class, “ so who wants to be a leader?”…. Every hand in the 22-person class goes up. The professor then follows up, “so why?”.  Not one sustentative answer was provided.  Some twenty minutes later, everyone was participating in a thought-provoking conversation as to why the term “leadership” tends to be glorified, especially in business school.

You will have an amazing case and conversation with Professor Pettit over Mount Everest.

In Class Experimentation

Another example of Professor Pettit making Leadership an amazing experience was our in-class exercises. One such class focused exclusively on verbal and non-verbal communication. Prior to the class, I thought I had great interpersonal skills and was great at communicating with everyone- little did I know, I was wrong. This specific exercise was broken up into groups that had to be silent and play a card game. The rules were that no one could verbally communicate and you would be penalized if you muttered a word. Once someone lost, they moved to another part of the class to play the card game with another group. My group won the first game, and then a classmate of mine came to our group. We played our silent card game, and I won. As I went to claim the cards to assert my victory, she signaled vigorously with her hands that she had won. I thought to myself, “she’s definitely wrong, she doesn’t know how to play cards at all; clearly I won according to the rules provided to me.” Shortly after the second game, people started whispering to each other, a clear violation of the rules. Then those whispers became louder and louder as the game went on, and no clear winner was assigned. Finally, after several rounds, a confused group of students went back to their seats to find out that Professor Pettit had given each group in our class a different set of instructions. Each team playing cards would, therefore, think they won and would have to non-verbally communicate with everyone else in the group to assert who won. After the exercise, we de-briefed, and it was fascinating to learn: A) how much we rely on verbal communication, and B) communication can break down too early.

What separates Professor Pettit from other teachers is his unwavering ability to accept feedback and try to make the class better as we go along. He places an extraordinary emphasis on making sure students feel fulfilled rather than getting the highest paying jobs possible. In almost every class, he talks about a personal or professional failure of his in order to make the classroom conversations more approachable. He is always asking tough questions in order to help his students improve personally and professionally, and I am incredibly thankful to have taken his class.

 

Transitioning to NYC and Stern from Chicago

When I found out in late March that I was accepted to Stern’s 1 year Fashion and Luxury MBA program, I was absolutely ecstatic. And then it sunk in that I had about one month to move myself (and my boyfriend) from Chicago to New York City, find an apartment, and get settled in before classes started.

The first step in my transition was attending Stern’s MBA Preview Weekend in early April, and I cannot recommend that experience highly enough to all prospective or committed students. It was a wonderful way to meet a majority of my classmates ahead of the first day of school, and I was also able to make connections with students in both the 1 year Tech MBA and 2 year MBA programs. Though it was an intense two days of activities, I can’t stress how nice it was arriving to Stern on the first day of school in May and recognizing friendly faces that I met during Preview Weekend. Secondly, Stern’s Women in Business club (SWiB) hosts their annual conference on the Friday of Preview Weekend, so it was a great opportunity to be part of a club’s signature event and see some really fantastic speakers at the same time.

The third advantage to attending Preview Weekend was being able to apartment hunt without having to buy a second plane ticket for a separate trip. I would definitely recommend using one (or a couple) of the different apartment-search apps available and the resources Stern provides online and doing some research before arriving in New York to set up appointments. Another tip a resident New Yorker gave me was, “Come prepared with all of your application documents and a check book in hand.” Everyone says the New York apartment market moves quickly, and it is certainly true. Good apartments are in high demand, especially in the more attractive neighborhoods, so if you find one that works for you—apply on the spot! It was incredibly helpful to have scanned copies of important documents like my passport and driver’s license ready to hand over to the real estate agent. Also, if your apartment requires a guarantor because you’ll be a full-time student, it’s helpful to give that person a head’s up beforehand  and to have their documents ready to go as well.

After securing an apartment, the next step was preparing to move from Chicago. Though I’m no moving expert, the biggest advice I can give is to not pack more than can fit in your apartment. There is a good chance that wherever you’re moving from, your current apartment is bigger than your future NYC apartment will be — and you don’t want to end up paying to move items you’ll just need to get rid of once you arrive, so enjoy the purge!

Lastly, once I was getting settled in, it was time to start exploring the city. Sign up for all of the free newsletters that detail events happening across the city, and you’ll soon find that there is something happening every day and there is no shortage of unique events to attend. Use these events as excuses to go out with your classmates, to find people with common interests, and to go to events you wouldn’t otherwise attend. It’s a great way to do a lot of cool stuff and bond with your classmates at the same time.

Looking back, I can’t believe that just a few months ago I was furiously searching for an apartment in a completely new city because now it feels like I’ve been here for years. The summer itself went by so quickly, and I believe it’s because I was maximizing every minute by taking advantage of all that New York City has to offer. I certainly enjoyed filling up every day/night with something meaningful, even if that is a quiet run by myself, and I encourage everyone to do the same.

Taking Care of Yourself: Applications Through Graduation

One of the most important things you can do throughout the entire business school journey, truly start to finish, is developing skills to take care of yourself and reflect on the process.  No matter where you are, whether you are just starting to research schools or you are starting with us in May here are some things you can try out.

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

This year at NYU has truly flown by, it seems like just yesterday I was excited and nervous about moving to NYC.  Now I am on apartment number 2 and graduating in just two months. One of the best things I have done is keeping a gratitude list.  Every night I write down at least 5 things I am grateful for from the day. School goes by quickly and can get stressful and hard, this list kept my mind on what was going right and reminded me why I loved the program.  Doing this every night set a habit of reflecting that served me well in prioritizing my time and energy in this whirlwind. If something was consistently making the gratitude list, like seeing my friends at school, I knew I should make sure I was setting aside time to hang out with people every single day even when I was busy.  If something was never on the list, I knew it was time to drop that commitment. Time is precious, especially in a short program like this, keep track of what is meaningful and what isn’t serving you and adjust accordingly.

No More Zero Days

During this program I have had weeks that were so busy I didn’t think I would see my apartment, a book for fun or the gym ever again.  I realized these always threw me out of whack, which made my work less efficient which in turn just increased the likelihood of this cycle happening again.  I started making the commitment to No More Zero Days of what I need to take care of myself and my body. Yoga is my workout of choice, so on days when a full class isn’t in the cards, I make sure I do just 1 vinyasa at home.  The first step is the hardest so this usually turned into a longer workout, but sometimes it didn’t! I grew this list as I could, I love reading and it calms me down much faster and more effectively than watching TV..  Again, I decided to read just one page a day, which some days turns into multiple chapters, but sometimes is just one page. I encourage you to find 1-3 things that make you feel happy and at peace and aim for just 1 every day. Some days I still hit 0, but on the days I hit just 1 page and 1 vinyasa even if that is all I do, I go to bed much happier and calm.

Professors Who Have Made a Difference: Jack Hanlon

Jack Hanlon

It is easy to only write about the applications and social things going on around at school, My Pick 6, travels with friends.  But I wanted to take the time to talk about part of what makes being on campus amazing, the professors and the classes they teach.

Bio: My first spotlight is on Jack Hanlon, an adjunct professor who spends his days heading up retail analytics at Jet.com.  Professor Hanlon taught Retail Strategy & Analytics, a required course for the Fashion & Luxury Program, during the Fall semester. One look through Professor Hanlon’s Bio (Forbes 30 Under 30, Cofounder Kinetic Social) will tell you he is more than qualified to be spending his Tuesday nights with the FLUX crew.

 

The Class: More than anything, Retail Strategy & Analytics taught me how to think differently about retail.  Obviously, I am a shopper, and an avid one, so it is easy to view every problem and case study through the view of how I shop.  I made this mistake almost every class and every class Professor Hanlon showed me a new way to examine it. Should a Midwestern supermarket keep dollar deals? Yes, things will fly off the shelf… right into a deficit that will close them down.  (Don’t you dare separate finance and strategy). Does Best Buy have a chance of surviving Amazon? No way. “You could not pay me to shop at Best Buy” said by me just weeks before I started ordering pick up in store items at Best Buy. He proved me wrong time and time again and it felt good to twist my thinking around in circles until I saw what he was trying to show us.

 

The Difference: Every week we had to write a reflection about the class and our biggest takeaways.  I usually sat after class to write so I wouldn’t forget to turn them in. Without fail Professor Hanlon would check in after class with anyone still sitting to see how we were doing outside of the classroom and how we were learning inside of it.  He was always readily available and giving with his time before and after class to talk through any thoughts we had on a topic. And those reflections I stayed after to write never went unread or unresponded to. Rather, Professor Hanlon wrote a full paragraph back each week to each of us about our reflections.  I never felt like I was doing work just for the sake of work, each item we handed in was read and examined fully.

 

Professor Hanlon pushed us as a class to learn more but always made sure we were sticking with him in and out of class.

Join a conference committee!

During business school there are a million different things pulling you in all different directions, it is up to you where you put your energy, time and dedication.  One of the most common questions I get from perspectives is what club do I join and in what capacity. Don’t get me wrong, I joined everything I could and dove headfirst into being a Graduate Ambassador (GA), a VP of Knowledge Management for LuxRet and an AVP in SISA, and loved all of them.  However if you could only join one activity, it should be a conference committee and let me tell you why.

1. Concrete Deliverable

Everything I am involved in has different rewards, as a GA watching someone I have talked to through all aspects of application finally get accepted makes my heart soar! But with a conference committee, I get to spend a whole day celebrating and showing off the work I did all year.  I worked on the NYU Social Innovation Symposium, mostly on sponsorship and had the chance to plan and host a panel. I have never felt more pride in a snack room than the one I got to fill with my hard work. (Even if I did accidentally drop and smash a carton of glass bottles at the beginning of the day).  Watching a panel I spent months coordinating go off without a hitch made me giddy. Working on a conference team you get to watch all of your efforts unfold in front of you.

2. Close Friends

A conference team is usually a group of 5-10 that plans together for months to make the conference day happen.  That means you have 5-10 people you are spending a crazy amount of time with, usually once a week for months. We became a team quickly, things go wrong during planning, it is inevitable and working together to fix problems under pressure makes you close quickly.  I can’t tell you how happy we all were after the conference closed. It was a great way to meet people and develop close connections naturally.

3. Explore Your Interests

As part of a conference committee, you are planning panels, workshops, keynotes etc.  Each conference is hosted by a club, for me it was SISA, and you can get more specific with panels. This usually means you get to choose a panel, workshop or keynote to take responsibility for and plan.  I hosted a panel on the circular economy in consumer goods which included fashion brands like VICENZI and Eileen Fischer, as well as Toast Ale and Mobley. Planning this panel gave me the opportunity to meet new people and dive deeper into something I was interested in.  I know more about the circular economy and sustainable initiatives after planning than I would have otherwise.

 

If you have to be super selective of where you put your time and how you get involved (which you will in a 1-year program) I highly suggest spending that time on a conference planning committee!

What Classes Should You Take?

There is limited space for electives in the Fashion & Luxury program so make sure you use it wisely.  For some that might look like focusing on a specific specialization like Sustainability or Finance. For others, it might be taking as many different classes as possible to gain a wide net of knowledge.  I like to keep my classes organized under three categories, one where I struggle, one where I know I’ll succeed, and one to expand my horizons.

Struggle

Over the summer we took the courses business courses like strategy, communications, accounting, and finance. For me, and I am sure for many, it was very clear which classes I struggled with and which classes came easily to me.  It would have been the easy choice to spend the rest of the year picking classes that came easily to me and avoiding the classes I didn’t do well in like the plague. However, I came to business school to learn. Finance was a struggle for me and my lowest grade over the summer.  NYU has grade non-disclosure which prevents students from putting their GPA on their resume or companies from asking for it. Grade non-disclosure means I get to learn more and take the classes that I struggle with without worrying about lowering my GPA. I am taking Valuation right now with a beloved finance professor because I know it will be a challenge that pushes me to learn more in an area I struggle with.  I encourage you to pick just one elective for a subject matter you find difficult. Challenge yourself to get better, or at the very least to learn. I am not going to leave Valuation ready to go into finance, but I will leave it with a more in-depth understanding of what seemed daunting before.

Image result for dolly chugh
Professor Dolly Chugh

Succeed

For many people, the classes you do best in are also the classes that feel the easiest to you.  This does not mean the course is easy or that you are guaranteed an A, but it does usually mean you will be swimming with the current while doing the homework.  For me, Communications and Leadership were my favorite courses over the summer, I loved public speaking and understanding interpersonal interactions in an organization.  So this semester I am taking Developing Managerial Skills with Dolly Chugh. This has easily been one of my favorite classes during my time at Stern, Dolly is a phenomenal teacher and the course work is fun and engaging to me.  I look forward to doing the reading and am usually a few weeks ahead on work in the syllabus because I love it! Make sure you are taking an elective that you love and plays to your strengths.

Expand

The last category for selecting classes is expanding your knowledge field.  Stern offers full semester courses and half-semester courses. I like to expand with half-semester courses. For me this looks like taking classes on topics I don’t know a ton about and may never use but want to learn more about.  Right now I am taking Digital Disruption and New Media Marketing, each as half-semester courses to expand my field of understanding. Use these credits to expand on something you have always wanted to learn about but may not be directly relevant to you, maybe it is a class in Business & Law, entrepreneurship, or social issues.  

 

Spring Break in Israel

The one year program is too short to do a full semester studying abroad, but that hasn’t stopped me from traveling every semester to a new country.  Over the summer break, I went to Croatia with other one year Tech and Fashion MBAs. I spent part of winter break in Mustique and Italy, and just finished my spring break in Israel.  Some of my trips were student organized, Stern offers both “Doing Business In” and “Trek” options for organized travel. DBi’s are more business focused and usually involved class time and a professor.  Treks are organized by different student organizations and meant to allow people to explore a different culture. For my spring break, I chose to go on the Jewish Student Association’s Trek to Israel.

Day 1 – Jerusalem

This first day we did a walking tour of Jerusalem including visiting the Western Wall and the Stations of the Cross. Watching thousands of years of history and worship overlap in a city and holy sites was moving beyond belief.

Day 4 – Masada & Camel Rides

One day we woke before sunrise and hiked to the top of Masada to watch the sunrise, we played the Circle of Life as the sun broke over the mountains.  After the hike, we did a short camel ride in the desert before our next stop. I did not know I was both terrified and allergic to camels until I was on the camel we named Monte Carlo.  

Day 5 – Sea of Galiee

For many Christians, Capernaum is the holiest site, where Jesus’ preaching was first received and he completed miracles.  We got to dip our toes into this holy water after touring the area. It was hard not to feel a deep connection to the water in such a peaceful setting.

Day 8 – Tel-Aviv

After spending the week traveling all around the country from South to North we ended the trip in Tel-Aviv.  We spent time exploring the city, sitting on the beach, and partying for Purim.

Reflecting on Milan

The new semester is already in full swing but before we came back to NYC we got to spend a week in Milan learning about Italian Luxury.  The DBI in Milan was a two-week excursion with the first week on NYU’s campus learning about the basis of Luxury from Thomai Serdari. For the second week, we flew to Milan to learn from a mix of site visits to companies like Montero and Lamborghini and classroom time at Bocconi.  We spent a ton of time learning and the rest of the time exploring and celebrating how far our class has come.

 

Even though I am in the Fashion and Luxury program, most of my attention had always been in fashion or beauty retail.  I had never really appreciated or understood luxury until learning from Thomai during those two weeks. We started by covering what exactly luxury is; the perfect intersection of philosophy, science, engineering, and design. Followed by how the luxury industry has evolved from open-air markets to our current market.  There is no one who can make the luxury retail space sound more like an enchanting, mystical and beautiful than Thomai. After her lectures, I could fully see the beauty of luxury goods for the first time.

 

The following week in Italy made these lectures on craftsmanship come to life.  We watched silk printing happen in real time at Montero and took a tour of the Lamborghini factory that made me interested in cars for the first time.  These visits truly encapsulated what craftsmanship means in the modern day.

For me, the visit to Milan was especially meaningful since the first night was my 26th birthday. The FLUX class is small at 27 but large enough that getting a dinner reservation for all of us seemed difficult.  Luckily, our class is full of people with different skills who are willing to help out. A classmate took the lead for me and planned a birthday dinner, found the restaurant, took care of gathering information on who would or wouldn’t make it, found a place to go dancing after, and kept a google calendar invite in check for me. Thanks to her my birthday was perfect, almost all 27 people gathered for dinner and then went dancing with me to American top 40s (which was my one goal for my birthday celebration). I am so grateful that I got to spend my birthday in Milan celebrating with classmates. They even sang Happy Birthday to me in Italian at a site visit earlier that day!

Prepping to Apply to Business School

Everyone has a different process for prepping to apply for business school.  I often get asked how much time should be set aside to prepare for everything from GMATs to essays and full applications, what should I write about, am I connected to fashion enough?  It is easy to feel a little lost and overwhelmed looking at the whole application process so I am going to break it down a little.

First, the process is about you, so don’t feel like you need to stick to any prescribed timeline.  

For me, I found out about the Stern Fashion & Luxury program in August and applied for the November deadline.  I studied for the GMAT every weekend and only took it once before applying. My turnaround time between looking at the application and submitting was only a few months because I knew the moment I saw the program I wanted to join.  One classmate spent a full year talking to people at Stern, from students to administrators, before applying. She spaced out her time for the GMAT, took a class to prepare and took it a few times. That year allowed her to take her time and work through everything as slowly as she wanted.  Both of us got accepted and both of us are thriving here at Stern. Your application is your own process, you know yourself best so don’t get too caught up in what everyone around you is doing.

Second, let some fun seep into the process, it doesn’t have to feel like work.

Applying for business school can be nerve-wracking and stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be.  This is a big step, but it is a fun step too that gives you some space to think about your future. Maybe writing the goals essay was easy as pie for you because you’ve always had a 5-year plan, or maybe it can be your space to think through what you want from a career.  The Pick 6 can be your time to reflect on what you value. While there is a goal to this application, enjoy the journey and wade around the in the self-discovery aspects of your application process.

 

Third, let your passion shine through!

The Fashion & Luxury Program is a focused program for a reason, everyone is passionate about something under that retail umbrella.  You are going to be surrounded by people who are as enthusiastic about retail and fashion as you are! If you are looking at this program there is probably a reason for it and you should let that excitement come through in your application.  I was a Gender Studies major during my undergraduate degree where I researched makeup and gender presentation. I then worked as a makeup artist before coming to Business School. These aren’t aspects that immediately come to mind when putting together an application, but they do represent what I am passionate about and I wanted that to come through.  Make sure you include what made you excited about this program in the first place!

 

Choosing Stern

For me, and a few others in my program, the NYU Stern Fashion & Luxury Program was the only program we applied to because we knew it was the only program for us.  For the majority of the class, there were a number of options to pick from for Business School. When you are looking for which program is right for you it is easy to determine the normal strengths like academic rigor, reputation etc, but I didn’t realize the main benefits I got from Stern until I was on campus.  

We all gathered together for Stern Gala

1) Community

Over the summer just the Tech and Fashion & Luxury program are on campus, which for us was a total of about 60 people.  That means for three months you are spending everyday Mon-Thu 9-4:30 with the same 60 people. Within a short period of time, I had a network of people I felt incredibly close with who were all experiencing the same thing as me. My favorite day of the week was Sunday when many of us gathered in the cafe, which come Fall would be full, but over the summer was just us.  We would work on homework together and laugh about what we did over the weekend. It was easy to feel comfortable and at ease with my classmates. The community didn’t end when the Fall started and the cafe filled with other students. Many of us all still sit together to work on homework and giggle and outside of school we still got together for things like Beer Olympics and Friendsgiving.

2) One on One Attention

I’ll admit it, moving to a brand new city, with a new roommate, and starting a new program where I knew no one was a little scary! I came from a non-traditional background and was worried about getting lost during classes or through my career search.  How would anyone on campus even know me when it is always full of people?! What I quickly learned is that at Stern everyone gets special attention. Over the summer we had a number of Office of Career Development (OCD) programming that left me on a first name basis with a number of OCD members.  Another time, we had a special lunch where 3-4 students were paired with two leaders of the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) where we just talked about our life outside of our resume. I learned more about my classmates than I had known before and I felt close with two key people in OSE. When I felt lost about where to go with a problem I reached out to the same OSE members who got back to me within the hour.  I feel known as an individual by almost every office at Stern.

3) Connections

One thing that continues to amaze me is how integrated into the city and industry Stern is.  Our immersions had us talking to C-Suite level employees asking us what we thought of their current business landscape.  The fashion board gave each of us a mentor and an amazing and interesting project for Stern Solutions. The industry is tight-knit and even if Stern didn’t have a connection to a particular company, which is rare, one of my classmates who came from the industry did.  It felt like all the companies that felt so fancy and far away from outside NYC were suddenly all at my fingertips.

Traveling with Sternies

After an intense summer filled with classes, happy hours, and company visits, six other classmates and I decided to go on a REAL vacation to Spain. Prior to coming to business school, I’ve heard from old coworkers and friends that one of the greatest aspects of Stern is the opportunity to travel with classmates.

Step 1: Location

Being in New York City, we had many options to choose from. Some initial ideas ranged from driving down Pacific Coast Highway in California to exploring the Sahara Desert. After a couple days of thinking, we decided on Spain – a place with beautiful beaches, delicious food, and great shopping.

Step 2: Planning

A detailed google spreadsheet was created. We all met up after class one day and planned the itinerary within hours. After identifying the schedule with corresponding dates, we delegated a large but exciting to-do list.

The Fun Part! 

Barcelona

A real football game, shopping, delicious food, long walks on the beach

Seville

Sightseeing in 100-degree weather, siesta hours, more food, salsa dancing

Ibiza

Boat cruise, lots of dancing and napping by the beach

Valencia

Tomato Festival

Barcelona

More sightseeing and exploring this beautiful city

NYC Baby!

I’ve lived in a number of cities in my life: London, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and DC.  No matter where I ended up I was always drawn back home to New York. I grew up in Upstate New York in the Albany area, but my love has always been The Adirondacks, only a short drive away from my parents home.  My heart settles into its place whenever I am surrounded by the peaks and valleys of The Adirondack scenery. So it seemed logical that the next city I dip my toes into should be New York City, close enough to home I can still make it to the Adirondacks but far enough that I felt like I was in a new world.  

Part of choosing Stern was choosing NYC.  Stern directly benefits from the city it is located in, from unparalleled faculty to access to industry leaders. This is especially evident in the Fashion & Luxury program. Where else could you study the business of fashion in the epicenter of where fashion is happening?  I can take a night class with a retail analytics industry leader spending his “spare” time teaching at Stern. I spend my Friday’s with my Stern Solutions fashion client in their downtown headquarters talking about strategy and watching people walk through their store. When this is done I can go shop in midtown at the same Ferragamo store location where I had an immersion session with the CEO and leadership team.  The possibilities are literally endless in NYC when it comes to Fashion & Luxury. Where else could you do site visits with any major store you can think of, usually all in one NYC neighborhood?

The benefits of NYC don’t end with Stern possibilities. It is also a huge part of the Stern culture.  Whenever we want to spend time together as a class we have an enormous number of restaurants, and bars to explore.  If we want to take it easy and enjoy the weather we can meet in Central Park to people watch. When it’s colder we can explore any of the 100 museums in NYC. If for some reason we want something outside of NYC, we are also close to 3 major airports and have taken trips to Spain, Croatia, Mexico, and soon Miami for a change of scenery during the program.  Best of all, our classmates are at most a 30-minute train ride away, while most are walking distance from school.  If we need each other at a moment’s notice, we can be there for each other ASAP.  I can speak from personal experience that I have texted our F&L cohort asking for help carrying something up my 5 story walk up and have immediately gotten responses.  When I need comfort I have friends who bring me a sweater and sit for brunch within a moments notice. Stern Fashion & Luxury provides us with a tight-knit community and big city benefits.

 

NYC may not have the peaks and valleys I am used to. They aren’t green and changing with the season.  But they are still stunning enough to take my breath away and settle my mind.

A Peek into my Pick 6

A regular question I get as a GA is what to put in a Pick 6 application.  Are certain photos too cheesy or regularly seen? Should it still be focused on my work experience or qualifications? What is Stern really looking for in this part of the application?

Don’t overthink it. Stern wants to know and understand you as a person! There is a reason our slogan is IQ + EQ.  Part of emotional intelligence is being empathetic and curious about the people around you. The Stern community is as diverse as it is cohesive, a big part of that is Stern selecting people with unique backgrounds who are as excited about everyone else’s unique background as they are in Stern.  The ‘Pick 6’ is your chance to show who you are outside of work and outside of a resume. We want our community to be built off of seeing the whole person, not just a resume. This is evident in Stern Speaks, an event where students talk about their life outside of Stern and work, and in Stern Chats, a podcast featuring Stern students, professors and administrators who share their life stories.  We want to see who you are in this part of your application and what you are going to bring to our community.

So when it comes to picking photos, choose what makes you unique and special.  This doesn’t have to fit any specific format. Some people used photos of food to describe their heritage, some focused on their favorite cities, and I focused on my family.  During this whirlwind application season use this time to stop and think about who you are, your values, and what makes you proud of your life. This reflection is going to serve you well in and out of business school.  I know regardless of any job, external accomplishment or failure, my family will always be my number one priority and a big part of what makes me, me. Here are two of my ‘Pick 6’ about my family, and I hope it can provide some inspiration to your own Pick 6.

“Almost every summer my mother, brother and I go on a cross-country trip to explore a new national park – being in nature and climbing mountains is one of my favorite memories and daydreams.”

I am lucky enough to be a part of a combined family, the oldest of four siblings – one biological and two step; getting all of us together for holidays is my favorite time of year and also the loudest.”

Know that Stern is so excited to find out about who you are!

Why the Fashion and Luxury MBA?

Getting an MBA has always been a goal of mine, but the Fashion and Luxury program here at Stern offers so much more than that.  My name is Ally Reiner and I am part of the programs inaugural class.  Prior to Stern, I worked in the fashion industry at Ralph Lauren in sales and merchandising.  In my day to day work, I was yearning to utilize my analytical side of the brain and also knew that growing my career required strong business skills.

Picking Stern was a no brainer for me.  The community is magnetic, you instantly feel welcome by just stepping on campus. There are so many ways to get involved and the strong Alumni community was just proof of how much this experience at Stern matters to the students.  Although I knew I wanted Stern, picking the program required a little more debating.  Ultimately, I chose to apply to the Fashion and Luxury program and it could not be a more perfect fit.

Focus

Compared to the two-year MBA program, this program is extremely targeted.  I am very focused in my career ambitions and know exactly what I want to do upon returning to the fashion industry.  Having this expedited program allows me to have that focus academically, taking classes that are specifically formulated to my interests.

Immersion

What also attracted me to the focused MBA was the experiences through the immersion programs.  In the two-year MBA, I would have one internship.  In the Fashion & Luxury MBA, I view it as having a multitude of internships where I am involved in different companies doing different functions; thus, enhancing a variety of my skills.

Connections

The connections within this program are one of the most impressive aspects.  In our mentorship program, I got matched with the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger.  The industry is excited about this new program and helped aid in shaping the curriculum to develop us as the new leaders of retail.

Resources

Additionally, being a part of such a small program allows for impeccable visibility.  The Stern faculty and professors are known for their guidance and help, but, being one of only 60 students here during the summer, we got to take advantage of these resources to the fullest.

Being Welcomed onto Campus

The one year program is unique to the two-year program, we start in the summer, May to be exact, and with a cohort of 30 instead of 400. The two Focused One Year Programs, Tech and Fashion & Luxury, have their own orientation program in the spring where we first meet before starting classes. We then have a whole summer to bond over classes, our immersions, and our dedication to our focused programs. While the campus feels small over the summer with just the 60 of us, it feels booming starting in the fall when the two-year program comes back to campus. Suddenly the 60 students in the Fashion & Luxury and Tech cohort are surrounded by another 800 students. This seems like it could be overwhelming, except Sternies are a welcoming group and not only were they excited to meet us, they were enthusiastic about mixing us into the larger Stern culture.

First, as we started our new semester I wanted to reach out to other MBAs in Stern who interned in the Fashion & Luxury industry over the summer. Everyone receives a list of students with their internship, past experience, and contact information as Stern encourages coffee chats across programs. In this spirit, I emailed six people assuming maybe 1-2 would respond and be able to set up a meeting. Within 12 hours, every single person I reached out to had responded and worked with our crazy schedules to set up a coffee chat or phone call. One student and I got bubble tea and walked around Washington Square Park (NYC location benefits!) while we talked about retail startups. Another gave me a call to go over his internship and interests in sustainability, which led to me applying to be on the conference committee of SISA. Everyone is excited to share their experiences and wants their peers to succeed!

Another way our Focused Program integrated into the larger Stern culture is through clubs and leadership positions. Since we are in the Fashion & Luxury program it makes sense that we would want to be a part of the Luxury and Retail Club, LARC, here at Stern. The leaders of LARC were incredibly excited to integrate us into the club. They set aside a number of Vice President, VP, positions specifically for focused one year students so we could be more involved. Being on the board of a club allows us to get to know our fellow 2 Year, Full-Time MBA students better and mingle with other students interested in the same industry as us.

The last, and maybe the most fun, way we mix in with the 2 Year MBA students is Beer Blast and other mixers. Every Thursday a club hosts a Beer or Bar Blast that takes place at or near Stern. Everyone from the 2 Year , Part Time, and Focused Programs come together to socialize and talk about their week. The first Beer Blast I went to I met a number of the first and second year  MBAs, one who even helped me with my Fantasy Football Lineup! It’s an incredibly fun way to meet new people and mix into the larger Stern culture. The Focused One Year MBAs may be a unique program, but there is nothing separating us from joining together with everyone else at Stern!

Summer Semester in the City

With the summer semester over, we are officially a third of the way through our course. Time has flown by and I’m amazed by how much we’ve accomplished over the past few months.

Starting school in the summer has been a novel experience. While the working world is in vacation mode, we’ve been working hard finishing all our core classes. As each subject only has six 3-hour long classes, we’ve been processing a lot of content in a short span of time. The core classes have been a mix of quantitative (e.g. Accounting and Finance) and qualitative (Leadership and Communications), giving us a strong foundation going into the fall. This jam-packed schedule of classes with plenty of readings, assignments and group projects has definitely made me sharpen my time management skills!

Despite the heavy workload, there has still been time to enjoy New York City in the summer. As an international student, I moved here with a whole bucket list of things I wanted to see and do, and I’m happy to be steadily going through it. Some of my highlights have been visiting the Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Met, exploring the rooftop bar scene, and watching the 4th of July fireworks from East River park with a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline.

Being on campus during the summer has been very peaceful. With not many other students around, it’s been nice to have the whole building to ourselves and its always been easy to find a space to study. I expect that to change dramatically come fall when the returning and new full-time MBA students come back to school. I’m excited for us to meet the broader MBA community, return to a more ‘normal’ academic routine, and begin participating in club and social activities.

The Fashion & Luxury NYC Immersion

The Fashion and Luxury NYC immersion has definitely been one of the highlights of the summer. Every Friday over the semester, we’ve had the chance to strengthen our knowledge of the fashion and luxury industry in New York through a host of classes, speakers and field trips and leverage our location at the heart of this dynamic fashion capital. Here are some examples of experiences I found inspiring and informative:

Field Trips

From being treated to a private viewing of Sotheby’s Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art Collection to drinking Belvedere cocktails in the Magic Room at the LVMH headquarters, visiting companies off campus is always such an inspiring experience and something unique to studying in New York City. These visits are made possible due to the strong industry connections Stern has cultivated. This is also reflected in our Fashion and Luxury Council, which is comprised of C-suite executives and thought leaders from across the business.

My favorite visit was to the Carolina Herrera HQ. We were welcomed by Emilie Rubinfeld, President of Carolina Herrera, Ltd. , who gave us an overview of the company’s history and present-day status, after which we were guided through the company’s atelier. The whole experience was very on brand and every bit as exciting as you’d imagine it to be. Having such a prestigious brand to open their doors to us was truly special and such learning experiences was one of the main reasons that drew me to Stern.

Alumni Panels and Office Hours

Over the Summer we’ve also had multiple opportunities to hear directly from Stern alumni who have pursued careers in the fashion and luxury industry upon graduation and learned how having an MBA degree has benefited them. One of the most important skills they said they learned was gaining a holistic view of an organization, being able to speak intelligently to a wide variety of teams and understanding the different KPIs that each team focuses on.

Aside from panel discussions, the Office of Career Development has also hosted alumni ‘office hours’, which has given us the chance to speak to alumni in smaller group settings, enabling us to get to know them on a more personal basis. All the alumni I have spoken to have been extremely honest and helpful, and it was great hearing from people who have been in our shoes.

Why I Chose Stern

Last summer, I was sitting in the same chair as you — wrapping up my GMAT and starting to decide which business schools I should apply to. Previously working at Apple in eCommerce strategy and planning, I wanted to go back to business school to strengthen my foundation of business knowledge and continue my professional journey in an industry I was more passionate about — fashion and luxury. When deciding which business schools would make my list, I primarily looked at three factors: schools that had a focus in fashion or luxury, experiential learning opportunities that would expose me to different areas of the retail industry, and lastly, a strong, cultural fit. While many schools catered to one or two of my preferences, NYU Stern’s Fashion and Luxury MBA Program was the only program that fit all my criteria.

The Fashion and Luxury MBA Program was perfectly designed to broaden my exposure of the retail industry, challenge conventional thinking, and build an invaluable network of Sternies who are retail-minded and intensely collaborative. The retail-focused and core curriculum would allow me to build upon my existing knowledge of digital retail from Apple. Stern Solutions would provide me with invaluable opportunities to network with professionals in the industry, and put my in-class learnings to action by partnering with global retailers. Lastly, the school placed a high emphasis on a IQ + EQ and stressed the importance of collaboration both inside and outside the classroom.

Fast forward to today, I can say that Stern has surpassed all my expectations. Classes such as Leadership have taught me frameworks to be an effective leader in the retail industry. Through Stern Solutions, I have had the ability to engage with industry leaders in roundtable discussions and networking sessions. And lastly, the Stern community – classmates, alumni and professors – have been more supportive than I ever imagined.

Even though I am a couple months into the school year, I know that Stern was the right decision for me. When choosing which business schools you want to apply to, if the reasons outlined above appeal to you, definitely make sure to add Stern to your list – you won’t regret it!

INTENDING

Given the structure and intensity of the one year MBA, I realized very early on that intentionality is key to maximize my experience and fully take advantage of everything Stern has to offer. Being intentional helps to set goals, from which I can work backwards to develop an actionable plan to success. Most importantly, this attitude will hopefully serves as a GPS, navigating me through my career transition and personal development while at Stern.

Intentional about goal-setting
Coming into Stern, I was absolutely sure about one thing – absorbing as much information as I can to enable my career switch from finance to brand management. With that, I looked into resources at Stern that would widen my network and introduce me to new opportunities. For example, I’m excited for Stern Luxury & Retail Club’s various events to start in the Fall semester, especially the Annual Stern Luxury & Retail Conference. I also look forward to building a relationship with my mentor Elana Drell-Szyfer. Professor Carr had set up the mentoring program where every student in the Stern Fashion & Luxury (F&L) MBA program is paired up to a mentor from the Stern Fashion and Luxury MBA Council. Beyond these, I made a list of activities and clubs that would help in my career transition. Although the list is constantly adjusted as I receive more information and develop more interests, having a concrete goal to strive towards set my sail straight in these first couple of weeks at Stern

Intentional about choosing classes
Choosing classes for the Fall semester is one of the most stressful things I have done thus far. Knowing that I only have one year and a finite number of credits for electives, I was initially overwhelmed by all the options. And even more so after talking to fellow students and alumni on which classes they found most intriguing. After dreading and avoiding the task for a week, I turned to my trusty old friend Excel and made a matrix. I went through the course catalogue, researched different professors and read samples syllabi. Eventually, I came up with a short list of classes that were interesting and listed (even color coded) them by professors, reviews/ratings and which specializations the classes fulfilled. This list saved me from multiple potential nervous breakdowns! Ideally, I’d like to graduate from the F&L program with specializations in Luxury Marketing, Strategy and Digital Marketing (very aspirational, I know). Because I am looking to expand knowledge in specific functional areas, being intentional with class selection was extremely important for me. With this list, I was able to assess how classes stacked up against each other and which ones maximized exposure to brand management and marketing skills.

Snapshot from my handy class selection list

Intentional about finding your tribe
The world isn’t just rainbows and butterflies and things get rough more frequently than we’d like. And so it takes a village to succeed. I’m so glad to share my MBA journey with these classmates and look forward to getting to know each other better in the course of next year. It’s crazy to think that we will be spending almost (if not) every day together for the next year. Cheers to friendships, shared experiences and growth!

BECOMING


Michelle Obama recently announced that her autobiography, Becoming, will be released in November 2018. I love the book’s title – there’s an air of sincerity in expressing one’s transformative progress. To quote a friend, “becoming” is moving towards the fullness of one’s existence, and I couldn’t agree more. As we truck through the various stages of our lives, we’re constantly becoming something else, something new, and something different. I, too, am excited for a new chapter in my life and what I will become.

Becoming Unemployed
Leaving Coty, my former employer, was harder than I thought. I had found a group of people who supported my development and decision to go back to school even if it was against their own interest. Someone once told me that early 20’s is for launching our careers. As we accumulate experiences and establish our network through 20’s and 30’s, there will be a tipping point where our careers will suddenly take off. For me, taking the next year to explore new opportunities and acquire a wider set of skills and knowledge will enable my transition from finance to brand management. It is a step in the right direction as I integrate my passion for female empowerment with my professional aspirations by using the beauty industry as a platform to reach women of all backgrounds.  

Becoming a Sternie
It’s been almost two months since all 27 of us gathered for the first time at orientation as the inaugural class of Stern Fashion & Luxury MBA program. We have received an incredible amount of support from faculty and were welcomed to the overall Stern community. One month in, classes are well underway. My favorites so far are Leadership taught by Professor Pettit and Fashion & Luxury NYC Immersion. The classes are extremely engaging and I’m constantly challenged to think beyond my experiences and encouraged to develop a holistic and equitable view. The lectures are a collection of concepts and perspectives that I may be vaguely aware of but couldn’t have articulated myself. As I’m having these “aha moments” every so often in class, I realize that a big part of my education at Stern is re-learning how to think so that I’m able to conceptualize things around us and apply that in both my personal and professional life.

Meeting like-minded people who share similar career aspirations and interests is another reason why I chose to pursue my MBA, especially since Stern offers a focused Fashion & Luxury MBA program. Almost all of us come from retail or fashion/beauty, albeit in different functional areas. Because of that, classroom discussions are usually detailed and in-depth as students with merchandising, marketing, operations, and finance backgrounds exchange and share knowledge.

Tech MBA students also started the sametime as us and it’s been really fun getting to know 33 other students who collectively as a group couldn’t be more different than us. As we get to know each other and build deeper relationships, we realize that we share more things in common than we thought. I’m looking forward to many more afternoons in Central Park or hangrily wandering around University Place while looking for a suitable lunch spot for a group of 10.

Friday afternoon happy hours with Tech MBA students

Becoming a better version of me
I came to Stern with a goal of transitioning my career from finance to brand management. By the time I left Coty, I realized that those with the most influence are usually people who can tell a good story and sell that. The story that I want to tell is still developing. But I am excited for what’s to come, excited to see how Stern will play apart in my transformative progress of becoming a better version of me.  

The Power of Iconic Products

One of the main aspects that attracted me to Stern’s Fashion and Luxury MBA was the emphasis placed on experiential learning. As part of our Summer NYC Immersion series, we’ve had opportunities to hear directly from industry experts on their career journeys and real-world business insights.

Last week we had the pleasure of meeting Donald Kohler, CEO Americas & Chief Global Retail Officer at Salvatore Ferragamo, and Nicolas Topiol, CEO of Christian Lacroix. Something I learned from both these sessions was the importance for luxury fashion brands to have icons and emblems that consumers can immediately associate with their brand.

For Ferragamo, one of their most iconic products is the Vara shoe, which was originally designed by Salvatore Ferragamo’s daughter Fiamma back in 1978.  To this day, it’s a classic style and has been worn by modern day fashion influencers like Olivia Palermo and Alexa Chung. The shoe’s grosgrain bow is so iconic that is has also been applied to other product categories, like their Signora perfume.

Mr. Kohler spoke about how constant reinvention of iconic styles like the Vara shoe will always be an integral part of the Ferragamo assortment, however there is also a rich brand archive that designers can dip into and create new styles from. It’s important for luxury brands to strike a balance between heritage and relevance – i.e. using emblems and motifs from a brand’s history in a modern way. An example of this would be Gucci’s use of bees and other nature symbols, which were always part of the house codes but have been reinvented by Alessandro Michele in a very cool and relevant way.

Icons have a very different story in the case of Christian Lacroix. While Mr Lacroix himself became globally renowned as a master couturier, his brand did not have a logo, specific stylized attributes (e.g. Chanel’s pearls or camellia) or distinctive pattern (e.g. Gucci’s monochrome print). Mr Topial acknowledged that this was necessary for a luxury brand, especially when it comes to expanding into new product categories (e.g. homeware, stationary, etc). Hence the brand developed its butterfly logo and its signature “Paseo” motif.

In an age where customers are exposed to multiple brands on multiple touch points, having iconic logos, emblems and products are important in making a brand stand out and remain front of mind.

Going to School in New York City

Growing up in Shanghai, I have always viewed the city as my second classroom, a place that constantly sparked my curiosity, exposed me to different people and surprised me with new ideas. After living in rural and suburban California for the past 15 years, I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter from Stern’s new Fashion & Luxury program. The months leading up to orientation were filled with anticipation. Though I was extremely nervous about moving across the country, I was excited to begin my long-awaited MBA journey and meet my new classmates. After a month of being in school, I’m happy to report that New York City and Stern sure didn’t disappoint! Whether it is spotting the latest fashion trends inside a crowded subway or speaking to a C-suite retail executive about the current market trends, the past month at Stern has been filled with endless opportunities to immerse myself in real-world business and connect ideas outside of textbooks.

As one of the fashion capitals in the worlds, New York City is filled with industry veterans. Every Friday, my classmates and I attend the Fashion & Luxury NYC Immersion, an experiential introduction course that provides a broad context for specific business functions in which we are interested in. This course not only opens doors to experiential learning opportunities but also creates a pathway into various networks, including retail executives in different stages of their careers. Thus far, we have met a number of members on the Fashion & Luxury Council, who will be our mentors for the next year. The hands-on learning is one of the many reasons why I chose to come back to business school. Because the retail industry is rapidly changing, it is critical that we gain real-world experiences while in school. As a recent career switcher from investment management to retail, I arrived at Stern with very limited knowledge of the luxury sector. Through on-site visits to Ferragamo and weekly speaker panels, I have learned so much in the past weeks that is only possible in a city such as New York.

At first, I was worried that going to school in a city like New York would hinder my experience bonding with different classmates. Turns out to be the complete opposite! Whether it’s visiting the latest Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the MET (pictured below) or getting together every Friday for happy hours, I have had so many opportunities to connect with classmates outside of the Stern building.

Why I Applied to the Fashion & Luxury MBA

This post was written by Fashion & Luxury MBA student Ashma Kunde

I remember it was back in 2013 that I read an article in Bloomberg Businessweek titled “At NYU Stern, Fashionistas Can Get an MBA, Too”. It spoke about the Stern Consulting Corps project in partnership with the CFDA and it was the first time I read about a business school placing emphasis on the fashion industry. The act of bringing together trailblazing creative talent with tomorrow’s business leaders showed a progressive thinking and collaboration that I found really exciting.

As someone who was keen on progressing my career in the business of fashion, this article was a turning point for me, as it made me consider the value of an MBA in this field. I began toying with the idea of applying to B-school but was hesitant about the time commitment.

Fast forward a few years, and Stern launches the focused MBA program in Fashion and Luxury and applying was a no-brainer for me. This program encompassed all the things that excited me about Stern’s traditional two-year program, but with the benefits of a condensed time frame and focus on industry-specific experiential learning. The latter was a big draw for me, and something I knew the school’s NYC location (a city at the nexus of fashion, business and technological innovation) would be highly beneficial towards.

The launch of this program once again made me appreciate the school’s understanding of where the industry is headed and its unique demands. One such growing trend is the importance of data and analytics. While in the past mass market retailers had the advantage in this realm, nowadays an increasing number of fashion and luxury brands are valuing data as much as design in guiding their decision-making. It’s been great to see how this program provides a solid foundation in data analysis, while also allowing us to build on our knowledge through electives in this field.

Another aspect that drew me towards this program is the fact that we still cover all the core courses, like Marketing, Accounting and Finance, ensuring we have a holistic view of business in general. Having heard from a few alumni in the fashion and luxury industry, a key message that was echoed was that this holistic view enabled them to speak intelligently to a wide variety of teams in their organizations and was one of the biggest benefits of having the MBA.

While I didn’t know it at the time of applying, one of the most exciting things about joining this program has been the chance to connect with the 26 other like-minded individuals on my course. It couldn’t be more different from my undergraduate experience, where the vast majority of my peers pursued traditional career paths in investment banking and management consulting and veering off the beaten path to pursue a career in fashion had been quite a solitary experience for me. Now, it is amazing to have peers who have shared career goals and appreciate both the analytical and aesthetic sides of the industry. Additionally, as the inaugural cohort for this program, it’s been exciting to experience this new one-year MBA program together.