NEW YORK, United States — Few institutions are as stitched into their nation’s fashion community as New York’s LIM College. Situated in the heart of the industry’s commercial capital, the institution has a comprehensive internship programme and works with more than 850 companies in fashion and related industries. LIM students complete over 1000 internships per year. Those studying for their bachelor’s degrees are required to do three internships connected to their curriculum, and in their final semester intern at fashion or fashion-related companies for 28 hours a week for 4 months.
The business specialist orientates its curriculum around professional courses that teach real world skills its students can take straight into the workplace. Its faculty is largely drawn from individuals who have worked in the industry in the past, or continue to do so today. Student projects can range from creating professional standard marketing plans, judged by The Accessories Council, to collaborating with Amazon Fashion. With ever-evolving course offerings designed to meet the needs of today’s employers, the college continues to equip its students with a pragmatic preparation for the realities of working in fashion, while offering them opportunities to learn from some of America’s most successful global fashion businesses.
BoF sits down with industry veteran Michael Londrigan — vice president for academic affairs at LIM College — to hear how the institution is making professional preparation for a career in fashion more accessible than ever.
BoF: What separates LIM College from other educational institutions?
I think the clear differentiating factor where LIM College is concerned is our specific focus on the business side of the fashion industry. Our internship programme is also a hallmark of our education. Another piece that truly distinguishes LIM is the professional nature of its courses. Teaching is very much focused on skills that students can bring with them into the workplace. As well as teaching students to become very proficient in some of the more everyday skills required in employment, such as Excel and Illustrator, having professionals from the industry teaching many of the courses means that lectures are framed in a real-world way and infused with industry insight.
We are also located in one of the fashion capitals of the world, which means our students keep learning every time they step out of the classroom. We are actually located in three buildings in Manhattan: one is at East 53rd Street between 5th and Madison Avenues; another is at the corner of East 45th Street and 5th Avenue; and then we’re also on East 45th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Our residence hall is a quick subway ride away on the Upper East Side.
BoF: Who do students learn from?
I think the thing our students find most rewarding is the ability to interact with faculty. The faculty is recruited from a myriad of backgrounds, from publishing to PR to product development, sales and supply chain, and a lot of them teach maybe one class while they’re working full-time in industry. They could be working for a global company like Li & Fung; they could be working for Polo Ralph Lauren. We have faculty who teach in our graduate programme who are luxury brand marketers from Chanel… so it really does cross a large contingent of both domestic and international companies. I myself spent close to 30 years in the menswear industry, starting my retail career at JC Penney, and then going into the wholesale side and doing sourcing, marketing and sales for a number of companies, sourcing all over the world before I got into education.
In total, we presently have 33 full-time faculty. Many work in the industry or have worked in it, and then we also have more traditional academicians, you know, PhD holders who teach accounting, marketing, management and finance classes, as well as our arts and sciences classes.
BoF: What advantages does the college’s location award students?
One of the greatest advantages is our internship programme — LIM College has almost unparalleled relationships with the industry in New York, and we really ensure that our students who attend classes on campus really benefit from living in a fashion capital. Students in four-year undergraduate programmes complete three internships during their studies, and in their final year spend four months interning within a fashion or related business for 28 hours a week, which is an incredible opportunity to gain experience and also build contacts.
In addition, because we are situated in a fashion capital, we have access to national institutions. We started a partnership with the Accessories Council here in the US and we’ve created a course around it that includes a scholarship competition. Students work with some of their members, who provide financial support, on a project specific to the company. It might be around watches, it might be around bags; it’s a new programme for us, and so far we’ve enrolled 25 students into the class for a full semester.
We also have students who are very active in the NRFSA, the National Retail Federation Student Association; we had a finalist last year in their scholarship competition who won a substantial financial award. So there’s a lot of these activities that go on around the college in support of students, helping provide them with additional opportunities to network and to find employment, and in some cases to possibly get some additional financial support from industry partners.
BoF: How accessible is a fashion education at LIM?
The students that we get are from very diverse backgrounds. A lot of them have already participated in our programmes for high school students; we have Saturday and summer programmes, to get a feel for both the industry and what we as a college have to offer. We’re seeing an increase in our reach throughout a lot of different areas in the US — including Florida, Texas and California — and we’re building new international partnerships as well.
Teaching is very much focused on skills that students can bring with them into the workplace.
Something that’s relatively new for us is delivering degree programmes fully online. Last year we began delivering two of our MPS programmes — our master of professional studies in fashion marketing and the MPS in fashion merchandising & retail management — fully online. This of course reflects the changing landscape of education. Now, we’re beginning an associate degree online, launching this fall. That is a two-year degree designed for students who perhaps cannot follow the traditional path of graduating from high school and immediately enrolling in college. They might have been working for a few years in either the retail industry or another field. As higher education changes, and the needs of the fashion industry change, we evolve our offering accordingly. It’s what we’ve been doing for almost 80 years.
BoF: How many students gain employment following graduation?
One of the things that we’re so proud of is that six months after graduation over 91 percent of the students from our undergraduate Class of 2016 were employed. We have alumni who work at Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger and PVH — you could name a fashion company and more than likely we have a student or graduate who is there in some capacity. And I think that’s the brilliant thing about the fashion industry; there’s always entry-level positions, there’s always change, there’s always movement, there’s always companies that are growing and new opportunities are always opening up. At LIM we prepare our students to be able to take advantage of that straightaway.