There comes a time in most college students’ lives, when they question whether that college degree and those classes will actually benefit them in the real world. For Marist alumna Rachele Fitz, though, the answer is a resounding yes.
Graduating with a degree in fashion design and a minor in fashion merchandising in 2010, Fitz split her Marist years between hours in the fashion lab and time on the court as a member of Marist’s women’s basketball team. Now, four years later, Fitz has combined her two great loves and launched her own women’s athletic clothing line: FitzU Design.
Combining style and practicality, Fitz’s line was designed with the intent to provide clothing for women in a sport where men’s clothing is usually the only option.
“When I would go to buy athletic clothing, I would have to try on men’s shorts and they would be below my knees,” Fitz remembers. “I found a niche and saw that there needed to be something for women – something more feminine that would complement their bodies.”
Erin Doughty, the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team, agrees with Fitz. Too often she has noticed girls on the team struggling to find clothing that actually fits them.
“Rachel’s clothing line is unique for female athletes because it provides comfort and the correct fit for a women’s body,” she said. “A lot of times athletic gear is made for the male body or females that are petite and tiny. For example, sometimes in Nike women’s gear we have team members who have to wear XL or XXL to get the proper length or size to fit their muscular physique. I know our taller athletes always struggle with sleeve or pant length.”
Although Fitz struggled with this while she was an athlete at Marist, the idea to design her own line didn’t strike her until she began working at Ohio Basketball. At the camps, Fitz coaches girls of all ages and trains kids on the side. It was at one of their tournaments while watching the girls play that the idea was born. She then went to Ohio Basketball, who agreed to help finance her line. Starting with basketball shorts and t-shirts, the line expanded to include leggings, sport bras and long sleeve shirts.
Debuting in early 2014, Fitz began selling her products at Ohio Basketball tournaments, and this past summer she officially launched the FitzU Design website where customers can shop and buy online.
While Fitz has enjoyed success so far, usually, starting a fashion line is a difficult task. Sonia Roy is a professor in the Marist Fashion Department. According to her, there are two main hindrances to a successful launch. First, just the cost of a start-up design and finding places to produce the product for a reasonable price are major obstacles. Second, once the product is created, a designer has to find a way to distribute it, whether online, in stores or by some other means. Even though the internet is widely accessible, the challenge is bringing people to the site.
However, Roy acknowledged that Fitz has an advantage that other designers don’t: extensive knowledge of the field and market.
“I think what makes Rachele’s line unique is that she truly understands her customer,” Roy explained. “She is an athlete and understands the aesthetics that her customer will respond to and more importantly she understands the features that her customer value in the clothing she’s designing.”
For Fitz, though, it was her education from the Marist Fashion Department that prepared her for starting her own business. While at Marist, Fitz was immersed in a wide range of classes from designing to sketching to product development, giving her a view of the fashion industry as a whole and all of the intricacies that accompany it.
“The fashion program gave me a hands-on approach from every angle in the industry,” Fitz said. “It was a huge factor in helping me to become familiar with the industry and dive into it. I understood all the lingo and was able to communicate knowledgeably with the people at every level.”
In addition, the professors in the department pushed Fitz beyond her comfort zone as well as provided the support she needed.
“I would come into class satisfied with my work and they opened up doors to new ideas for me,” she recalled. “I could reach out to all my professors with questions about class and the future, and they were there for me.”
Beyond the classroom, the Silver Needle Fashion Show sponsored by the Fashion Department every year is another way for students to gain real-world exposure. Students collaborate and create the whole event from designing the clothing to fitting the models to organizing the details.
“The most rewarding experience was seeing my senior collection on stage,” Fitz said. “There were seven girls up there modelling all of my designs, and it was amazing to see all of my work on display.”
For current students as well, the fashion department and Fitz’s success provide encouragement for the future. Abbie Tyler is a junior fashion merchandise major currently interning with the Marist in Manhattan fashion program.
“The Fashion Department has a great internship program,” Tyler said. “Even now that I am only halfway through my first internship, I feel as if I have made so many connections that I would have not made elsewhere.”
In regards to Fitz, Tyler notes how important it is to see a former Marist student succeed in the business, despite the obstacles.
“To be able to turn your passion into your own business and make a living off of it is one thing I can only dream of one day,” she said. “I think knowing that Rachele, who was someone just like me, had success with what she loved to do definitely makes my goals and dreams more realistic.”
Fitz’s success has also impacted potential fashion majors on the basketball team as well. Doughty notes that being able to use Rachel as an example of what the Fashion Department offers, encourages athletes and fashion majors alike.
And while competition on the court and the fashion world is fierce, Fitz feels prepared to handle all areas of it.
“Due to the fashion department, I can perform everything,” she said. “I’m not area specific, but can do anything as I understand the fashion world. I can start a fashion line and pick up everything.”