Caroline Daniels, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship, became aware of a pent-up demand for fashion and apparel education in the spring of 2016, when she taught a class on future trends. Given an open-ended assignment to study an industry, a good third of the class chose to focus on fashion. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, Daniels—supported by a few grad students—put together a “fashion discussion table” on campus that fall to gauge interest.
“We expected maybe 30 people,” says Daniels. “Eighty showed up.” Thus was born the Fashion Entrepreneurial Initiative. FEI brings in high-profile speakers and has hosted numerous events on campus, ranging from a student fashion show to an annual “Future of Fashion” panel. This past winter, FEI partnered with the Digital Experience Initiative, the Babson Marketing Club, and the Babson IoT Club for a two-day “Imagine-a-Thon,” in which teams of students worked to “re-create the theme park experience for the home.” Nigel Simpson, director of tech strategy for The Walt Disney Co., served as one of the judges. Then in April, the group hosted an action tank to discuss environmental challenges facing the fashion industry with Kathryn Hilderbrand, founder and CEO of Good Clothing Co.
Clearly, the group’s brief is broad. But the push toward fashion at Babson is about much more than style. Students, who largely drive the FEI agenda, are interested in all aspects of the apparel industry, from production to labor practices to sustainability to retail and distribution models. “One of our main goals,” says Carrie Hecker, MBA’18, “is to let undergrads and grads know there are many other areas of fashion they can get involved in.”
February’s Imagine-a-Thon aptly demonstrated the breadth of FEI’s mission. Student teams had 24 hours to come up with a project and a prototype; the winner posited a “magic box” that could enhance the experience of streaming videos by adding such ambient effects as wind, fog, flashing lights, and aromas. Fun, but is it fashion? “The question really was about all the sensory elements that add up to Disney, and that very much does include fashion,” says Chad Caisse, MBA’18, an FEI member who participated in the event. “The princess costumes alone are huge.”
FEI also looks at fashion through a more conventional design lens. Its members are excited about the Weissman Foundry, currently under construction on campus, which will provide resources for hands-on projects; Daniels and the FEI team worked to ensure that the new makerspace includes a fashion room where students can hone their fabricating skills. But iconoclasm and disruption are baked into the idea of FEI. “What the fashion industry needs,” says Caisse, “are people who question the fashion industry—question its schedule and its process and its ideals and bring it into a new age. And I think there is the brain power here at Babson to do that.”
FEI was created, at least in part, to help disseminate that message. Says Daniels: “We’re building toward leading-edge education experiences around fashion business models. We’re going to show the world that we have a global fashion community.”—Jane Dornbusch