By Sarah Fielding and Rachel Basel
In 1944, a select group of industry professionals led by Mortimer C. Ritter and Max Meyer sought to bring a greater level of education to workers in the fashion industry. They opened what was then known as The Fashion Institute of Technology and Design on the upper floors of the High School of Needle Trades, accommodating only one hundred students. Since its move in 1959 to Seventh Avenue, it has evolved into the institution it is today. But as a SUNY community college with only two majors available back then, design and scientific management, it was still recognized as one of the most innovative schools of its kind.
The Fashion Institute of Technology comes with an impressive list of founders and original board members. Many of these names are recognizable by the buildings dedicated to them. Mortimer C. Ritter, one of the main players in rallying for the creation of the school, was the first director and president of FIT. Max Meyer, Ritter’s partner and founder of the Educational Foundation, was the first chairman as well as having served as president for a short time. Morris Haft raised the necessary amount of funds to jumpstart FIT. He also served as chairman and was on the Board of Trustees. At the time, Union Activist David Dubinsky was the president and Isadore Nagler was the vice president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Nagler also served on the Board of Trustees. The last two founders were Abraham Potofsky and Andrew Goodman, a vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Although not founders, many other influential people including Marvin Feldman, Gladys Marcus and Shirley Goodman were also played important roles in shaping FIT. Feldman was the longest serving president of FIT, holding that position between the years of 1971 and 1992. During his time at FIT the college went through many advances: enrollment rose from 5,000 to 12,000, many more courses became available and the number of buildings expanded from two to eight. Additionally, FIT began to offer Bachelor’s programs in 1975 and Master’s programs in 1979. Gladys Marcus originally was a professor at FIT and later became the Dean of the Liberal Arts School. She expanded the number of classes offered and initiated overseas curricula. Marvin Feldman stated, “If there is a single person whose vision and guidance have been most influential in shaping FIT., that person is Shirley Goodman.” Since the beginning, Goodman had pushed the fashion industry to open its doors to the students of FIT, offering showroom visits and lectures.
Fast-forward to the year 2014 and FIT’s list of accomplishments, impressive alumni and industry respect is widely acknowledged. The school is frequently ranked as one of the top five fashion schools in the world while still maintaining affordable tuition for students. Today, twenty-nine unique and specialized majors, including the only toy design program in the country, make up FIT’s undergraduate program. The campus provides state of the art labs including those for the departments of Cosmetics and Fragrance, Textiles Technology, Jewelry Design and a broadcast studio among others. FIT puts a lot of effort into giving its students every chance to get involved, not only in school, but also in New York City-based industries. Multiple student clubs and the career services and internship center give students unique opportunities available only at FIT. The school has produced many talented alumni throughout the years such as Michael Kors, who is easily recognized as one of the top designers in today’s contemporary fashion industry. In fact, Kors still makes an effort to come speak at his alma mater to help the younger generations succeed in the fashion industry. Nina Garcia is currently the creative director of Marie Claire where she has been for the past five years. Garcia is also recognizably known for her spot on “Project Runway” as a judge, where she used to sit beside fellow alum Michael Kors. Calvin Klein is one of the more recent big names that comes to mind instantly when thinking about FIT alumni. Since his departure from the institution he has received an honorary doctorate from the school and has gone on to become a renowned classic American designer.
The Fashion Institute of Technology has always been ahead of its time. Since its founding the mission has always been to educate, prepare and connect students with the fashion industry and allow them to explore its many career options. Thanks to people such as Mortimer C. Ritter and Max Meyer, people interested in fashion have a college they can attend and receive a premier education at an affordable price.