FIT PETE Entrepreneur Award goes to Haley Schwartz, Founder of Vertige – WWD
The winner of the first FIT PETE Entrepreneur Award is Haley Schwartz, 22, whose company Vertige plans to make fashionable adaptive clothing for people with different health conditions and disabilities.
The award was unveiled Thursday night at an event at FIT.
The PETE Award is administered by the FIT DTech Lab as a jury-selected merit competition that recognizes excellence in the development of new, insightful and creative ideas that demonstrate design-driven and innovative thinking.
Schwartz will win a grand prize of $30,000 and the opportunity to participate in the Entrepreneur Incubator Program for a year, where she will receive office space at FIT’s new Innovation Center at Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as marketing, legal, financial, creative services. and operational advice on how to create and launch an innovative business.
Some 40 teams applied and applicants had to be registered with FIT as full-time or part-time students.
The award is inspired by Peter G. Scotese, FIT Chairman Emeritus and pioneering entrepreneur. Seed funding is provided by Edwin Goodman, former Chairman of the FIT Board and partner at Activate Venture Partners, an investment firm whose mission is to develop a new generation of venture capitalists whose aspirations are to leave a lasting impact on the industry.
Dr. Joyce F. Brown, President of FIT, said, “Words cannot express what Pete Scotese has meant to FIT. “The PETE Award – which is truly meant to evoke passion, empathy, tenacity and enthusiasm – captures the spirit and driving force of the self-made man who never loses sight of his guiding principles. It was recognized with countless honors in his industry and an honorary doctorate in 2004 from FIT.He helped grow our Innovation Fund and not only get it started, but continued to help garner support from other benefactors throughout the over the past five years. Haley’s work will certainly enhance Pete’s legacy.
“I hope what we started here will take on a life of its own and will continue and be of great help to students and also contribute to the entrepreneurial community that is New York,” Goodman said.
In an interview on Friday, Schwartz said the adaptable garments that exist today are mostly suitable for people in wheelchairs and people with reduced mobility and have features such as magnetic snaps.
“But there is nothing to accommodate people with other types of health problems. For my first launch, I am targeting people who need to wear heart monitors and colostomy bags,” she said.
Initially, she plans to design pants, shorts, a dress, and shirt for women, and pants, shorts, and a polo shirt and button-up shirt for men. One feature it is developing is waterproof, charcoal-lined interior pockets. The waterproof interior will protect the heart monitor since it cannot get wet. She said colostomy bags tend to leak a lot and this causes an odor that the charcoal element could absorb.
“I did a lot of research. Before, I had to wear heart monitors, and I still do,” Schwartz said. “I have four family members who have needed colostomy bags for a long time,” she said.
Rather than just designing a shirt larger, there will be small openings (which look like a welt pocket) above the pocket, which will allow the drawstrings to come out of the clothing and sit in the pocket, this which reduces clutter and allows cords to stretch better so they aren’t as noticeable. Schwartz is also developing a cord guard inside shirts that will be looped, or channels that cords can pass through that will prevent them from getting tangled, she said.
Although she hasn’t found out exactly why she won above the other finalists, Schwartz said she received comments along the way that her personal story was something of interest for the judges. At age four, Schwartz was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia (a type of abnormal heart rhythm) and had to wear heart monitors growing up all the time.
“I couldn’t find clothes that matched and I was embarrassed and didn’t want to go to school or do anything,” she said. “And then in high school I passed out a lot and started putting outfits together just to make it more enjoyable because it was really stressful. Fashion is what I loved and I just wanted to make it better. I realized that people were starting to take me a lot more seriously, my teachers were more understanding, and when I went to the doctor, I was just treated with a lot more respect.
“That’s how I realized that fashion plays a huge role in how people treat you and how you feel. Those experiences really shaped my love for fashion,” she said.
Schwartz said she chose the name “Vertige” for the business because she struggled with constant dizziness, and Vertige is vertigo in French. “I just like the way it sounded,” she said.
Along with the prize money, Schwartz said she would put the sample garments into production because she wants them tested and worn by as many people with disabilities and health conditions as possible and wants feedback before placing any orders. Once she gets it, Schwartz said she’ll start ordering inventory and working with manufacturers. Having worked in her small apartment, she is delighted to have an office space.
“I came to FIT for opportunities and relationships like this, and it was such a valuable experience even more so than any class. …Meeting the people who taught at the workshops was so inspiring. J learned so much and I’m so grateful that my mom told me I had to sign up for this. I feel like it completely changed the course of my life,” said Schwartz, who follows business class at FIT and has her AAS in fashion design from school. She plans to start manufacturing soon and hopes to be up and running by May. The business will initially start with e-commerce, and she also wants to create pop-up shops.
Judges for the award included Cathleen Sheehan, chair and professor of the FIT Fashion Design MFA program; FIT alumnus Keith Kirkland, co-founder of Wear Works; Sara Griffin, a communications, creative and business strategist working in design, art and architecture; Kristine Pizzelanti, VP of Marketing, Store Experience and Global Licensing at Gap Inc., and Amber Allen, Founder and CEO of Double A Labs, an enterprise Metaverse platform.
“We had criteria to look at for the award, and they were all so strong,” Sheehan said. “The acronym (Passionate, Empathetic, Tenacious, Enthusiastic) was a major factor in evaluating the teams, and Haley went above and beyond in these areas. We were also told to look for things that reflected the vision of FIT to lead the creative industries with socially responsible solutions that positively impact the world, and there’s no doubt that Haley does. Personally, I’ve found that her own story and experience has not only transformed what “she felt for herself, but also had an impact on how people interacted with her. She felt like her teachers and friends treated her differently, proving the transformative power of fashion. The world has need his product.
The other two finalists were Rendly, led by Catherine Gabriel and Marc A. Santiago Ruiz, whose mission is to create a global online platform that hosts commercially certified 3D furniture files that designers can use in their renders. , and Seed to Rack, whose founder Giovanna Cruz Haddad partnered with Donald H. White, Ph.D., who holds a patent on the process for making biodegradable nanocellulose composites, which allow for a significant reduction in the amount petrochemicals used in textiles. The company also wants to incorporate 3D printing technology which will help reduce total material waste by up to an additional 35%.