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A Fashion Education That Meets Market Needs

Increasingly aware of a growing demand for industry-specific skills, NYU Stern has launched the first fashion and luxury-focused MBA for a US business school.
NYU Stern Campus in Greenwich, NYC | Source: Shutterstock
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NEW YORK, United States — Located in New York University's Greenwich Village campus, NYU's Stern School of Business has educated the next generation of business professionals since 1900, with its curriculum rooted in industry practice and practical application. Today, the business school offers a one-year Fashion & Luxury MBA programme, and both two-year full-time and part-time MBA programmes with a Luxury Marketing specialisation. NYU Stern's Fashion & Luxury MBA is currently the only programme of its kind, and the first fashion and luxury-focused MBA for a US business school.

The decision to launch the programme and expand the educational offerings came about after leaders at the institution became increasingly aware of a growing demand by the industry for business-educated talent capable of meeting the challenges and capitalising on the opportunities that have emerged during the industry's continuing disruption. Following an extended period of consultation with highly regarded businesses including alumni and friends from brands such as LVMH, Tiffany & Co., Warby Parker and Tommy Hilfiger, along with the wider industry in New York, the inaugural class began their first semester in May 2018.

Kim Corfman, academic director fashion & luxury MBA | Source: Courtesy

To meet the demands of the fashion industry today, NYU Stern will educate future fashion professionals in the practical realities of running fashion and retail businesses in the digital age, while also immersing them in the culture of the fashion industry, with all of its idiosyncratic rhythms and unique nuances. Crucially, as part of the Stern curriculum each semester, students apply the theories they have learnt by consulting with industry partners on their business challenges.

BoF sits down with Kim Corfman, Stern’s academic director of the Fashion & Luxury MBA, to discuss the school’s approach to the industry’s evolving demands and the careful curation of a programme that marries business with fashion and luxury.

How would you describe the ethos of NYU Stern?

One of the things that we pride ourselves on is having a very collaborative community. We have stories we like to tell about students coming out of high-pressure interviews and telling fellow students waiting to go into the same interview, “Here are the kinds of things they’re going to ask you — be ready,” which we really like, because our philosophy is that you learn better in an environment in which the community is supporting you and helping you learn. That’s the culture we work hard to build. Students typically say that this is one of the things they value most and many students who choose to come here have said it is a driving reason.

Why have you chosen to launch the Fashion & Luxury MBA now?

Before, students who wanted to be in the industry didn’t think that an MBA could be part of the career path. But we have had a more than 500 percent growth in student enrolment in our courses related to fashion, luxury and retail over the past 10 years. What’s more, in the last five years, among applicants to the traditional two-year MBA programme, fashion and luxury have seen the largest growth of all career interests.

However, the most important reason for our timing was to meet increasing industry demand for MBA talent. We have heard from enough companies in the industry, through our many MBA alumni in the industry and the executives who sit on the NYU Stern Fashion & Luxury Council, that they value the MBA degree and are looking for MBA talent.

We have the right faculty, with the necessary expertise and experience to teach these courses. We built the group over time, making additions as industry needs have evolved. For example, we recently hired a executive to teach retail strategy and analytics. Other faculty have taught luxury marketing, supply chain management, brand strategy and more, for a long time.

How have you designed the curriculum to reflect current market needs?

We started by surveying our alumni from the MBA programme over the last decade who are in fashion, luxury or retail, to ask them not only about their own trajectories and what was most helpful to them along the way, but what they wish they had in the people they are hiring now. That was an important driver of the design, in addition to conversations with more senior executives.

Our philosophy is that you learn better in an environment in which the community is supporting you and helping you learn.

This confirmed, for example, that business analytics are critically important, no matter what function, so we built the subject into the programme. More and more fashion companies are valuing the knowledge and skills you can get in an MBA programme.

How have you cultivated industry ties to benefit your students?

With an increasing number of our traditional MBA students taking roles in fashion, beauty, accessories, and fashion-related lifestyle companies, we have developed stronger relationships with those companies, further fuelling the rise in MBA placements. We also structured the programme so companies can see that students are getting real experience in addition to classroom learning. Within the programme, students are required to take two semester-long courses in which they serve as consultants to fashion and luxury companies under the supervision of faculty.

Stern Solutions, which is our experiential learning department, works with the faculty to source projects focused on problems companies are trying to solve today across different business functions, such as finance, operations, marketing, and e-commerce. Each semester, clients pitch projects to the students in the first class and we create small consulting teams based on student interest.

What kind of students thrive at Stern?

The students who seem to do the best are those who manage to balance the demands of the academic programme, getting as much out of it as they should, and the opportunities of New York City. It’s tempting to spend a lot of time taking advantage of everything the city has to offer, but they do reach that balance. A lot of this has to do with the culture we create and the amount of support we give them. In addition to the faculty, we have a large administrative staff and each student has access to the NYU Stern Fashion & Luxury Council members, who meet with them regularly.

What makes Stern graduates stand out in the job market?

One of the easiest answers is that we’re the only MBA in the United States that has an MBA in fashion and luxury. There are a couple of MS programmes in fashion management, only one offered by a business school, and some business courses offered by design, art, and fashion schools, but we’re the only MBA programme.

Students should be prepared to work extremely hard. It’s an intense programme, necessarily so because we don’t want to take more than a year of their lives and we want them to learn all of the business fundamentals. They come out with an MBA that is very much like our other students’ MBA. The difference is, our two-year and part-time MBA programmes allow for more exploration and experimentation with career and industry choices. The Fashion & Luxury MBA students get the same firm grounding in business but are already committed to their industry and get a jump start into it.

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