Sustainable fashion, employment equity in focus at PVH Ground Floor Challenge
| Mar 07, 2022 | Michael Benigno
By Claire Curry
From an app that could save someone in a health emergency, to a social community for secondhand shopping, to recycled clothing repurposed into couture fashion fit for a runway, Gabelli School students developed 130 innovative, sustainable business ideas for the required first-year Ground Floor course, all while learning business basics.
Throughout the fall semester, teams used $100,000 in fake “seed money” to develop their ventures and create business plans. After presenting their ideas to faculty judges, 22 finalists were selected and, on Feb. 8, the top seven teams delivered their final pitches at the Gabelli School’s third annual PVH Ground Floor Business Plan Challenge.
Created three years ago, the PVH Ground Floor Challenge is the result of a collaboration between the Gabelli School and PVH Corp., the global apparel company known for popular brands, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
“Teams are challenged to not only identify a market need, but to also develop a solution that incorporates one or more socially innovative or socially responsible approaches in the way it conducts business,” said Robert Daly, assistant dean and Ground Floor course coordinator. “Each new business venture weighs environmental, social, and governance issues with an eye toward which of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals their business helps address.”
Six judges, including four from the event’s sponsor, PVH Corp., and two from Fordham, selected the winning team which was awarded $2,000 in prize money. FitSwitch is a mobile app that allows users to post images of their clothing and swipe through other users’ accounts to match up with peers who share their personal styles. The model is similar to the popular dating app “Tinder,” but instead of finding dates, users connect to swap clothing pieces. In addition to saving money, FitSwitch reduces the amount of waste in landfills and helps to cut carbon emissions from clothing manufacturing.
FitSwitch’s CEO Bhavika Yendapalli, BS ’25, explained that the secondhand fashion industry is currently worth $36 billion and is projected to grow 11 times over in the next five years. In their presentation, she and other members of the team—Tate Ahn, Stefano De Leonardis, Gianna McGrath, and Tyler Zhang—identified Generation Z and younger Millennials as their target demographics. “This significant growth reflects the changing consumer preference among Gen Z, who are really evaluating sustainability with every purchase that they make,” Yendapalli said. “We hope to foster a community that shows our customers how sustainable fashion can not only be creative, but can also save the environment.”
In second place was Pulse, a mobile app designed to monitor the user’s heart rate, connect them to emergency contacts, and record their surroundings to save them from dangerous situations like, for example, if a drug was put into their drink at a party. TurnAround, the other runner-up, aimed to repurpose secondhand clothing through the talents of up-and-coming New York City designers who could turn fabrics into new, high-fashion garments sold at affordable prices.
Other finalists received recognition for their contributions in addressing a broad scope of societal and environmental issues. They included BounceBack, a program to give the formerly incarcerated valuable employment skills; E-Compact which offers affordable and sustainable multi-use furniture; and mobile apps Finance Nerd, a student loan tracker, and Start-Up, which aims to help keep small businesses afloat.
Judges from PVH’s Corporate Responsibility Department included Gretchen Keller, senior manager of sustainable business operations; Melissa Riepe, director of ESG reporting and transparency, Caitlyn LaCorata, manager of sustainable supply chain operations, and Camille Mori, manager of corporate responsibility. They were joined by Fordham’s own Shaun Johnson, associate director at the Fordham Foundry, and Sadibou Sylla, the director of Fordham’s Social Innovation Collaboratory. Two members of last year’s winning team Resolar, a solar panel recycling company, John Guo, BS ’24, and Armand Rabasa, BS ’24, co-hosted the event.
“We are deeply grateful for our partnership with PVH,” said Elizabeth Cosenza, JD, associate dean of undergraduate studies at the Gabelli School. “PVH selected the Gabelli School as an academic partner in building knowledge about, implementing, and evaluating socially innovative approaches to business.”