In a Ringling College classroom just off the North Trail, Richard Eisenberg, co-owner of a Manhattan-based menswear company, is having his own 50-year-old brand patiently explained to him by a 20-something art student.
“The core of the brand is inclusivity. We want to reach out to as many people as possible,” explains Bria Jackson, a bowtie-clad, second-year graphic design major.
Eisenberg, who recently moved to Sarasota from Connecticut, had heard about Ringling College of Art and Design and had approached the college with an ambitious request: to make Eisenberg International, the company his father founded in 1967, appealing to today’s young adults. “Men’s tailored clothing is not exactly cutting edge,” Eisenberg says.
It was the perfect fit for Ringling’s Collaboratory program. Under the supervision of Ringling faculty and with regular check-ins from Eisenberg, 20 Ringling students have spent the semester rebranding Eisenberg International as “MiSuit” (pronounced my suit). This day was the culmination of their work.
“It’s classy but still relatable,” sophomore Caio Arias, the lanky leader for the project’s branding team, tells Eisenberg. “And if we’re doing personalization focus, then why not come up with different looks that appeal to different types of people?”
Arias and Jackson point Eisenberg to a wall display showing glossy photos of dashing, young besuited men under labels like “The Casual” or “The Rogue.” “We’ve done all kinds of market research—what the industry is, who millennials are, what they want,” Jackson continues. “Millennials like customization and DIY. This is a lifestyle brand.”
The Collaboratory began five years ago as an initiative of Ringling president Larry Thompson with support from the Patterson Foundation. Real-world companies frequently approach the school in search of high-quality work and a next-generation perspective. The Collaboratory is where those partnerships play out.
A big concern for students looking to enter the workforce is, “How do I get experience if I don’t have a job, and how do I get a job if I don’t have experience?” says Angela Leed, faculty project director for the Collaboratory. “We feel we found a formula that will help solve that issue.”
Leed and other Ringling faculty say there is no other program in the country as extensive or immersive; unlike business incubators or work-for-hire programs, the Collaboratory is faculty-run, academically focused (faculty creates curriculum for each business partnership) and open to all Ringling students. Projects here may be a one-off assignment, a multi-weekend project or, as in Eisenberg’s case, a full semester-long class, for which students earn elective course credit.
The flexibility allows faculty to maximize a wide range of opportunities for their students’ benefit, while companies of all sorts and sizes get to work face-to-face with young creative talent. Recent Collaboratory projects included a competition to design a new image for Porter Family Vineyards in Napa Valley, the development of a user-friendly platform for online recording studio SnapJam, and the creation of the comprehensive, multi-platform “BLUE + YOU” campaign for the Sarasota Police Department. American Zoetrope, L’Oreal and General Motors also have been Collaboratory partners.
For Eisenberg’s project, the 20 students divided into teams to handle photography, branding, social media, website and in-store displays. Eisenberg likes knowing that he’s helping students jump-start their careers. “They can see an ongoing small business and interact with someone who understands the business inside and out,” he says.
While he’s happy to mentor, he’s happier to get fresh ideas. “If I come in with just a narrow set of ideas of what I want, then I may miss some of the best ones,” he says. “I knew enough [about millennials] to know what I didn’t know. And I’d rather ask, and listen, and learn something.”
As the end-of-semester presentations move on, Eisenberg goes down the line to hear each team’s final plans for the MiSuit brand: a six-page “look book” featuring custom photography of Ringling student models showing off different ways to accessorize the suits; a multi-platform social media launch targeting audience engagement (“There’s no brand out there that doesn’t have an Instagram,” says one third-year); an easy-to-navigate website that allows online orders to be drop-shipped to the nearest retailer; and an in-store display with sharp signage and branded takeaway cards with a wedding checklist for grooms.
“It’s more than what I even expected,” Eisenberg says. “I not only have a brand; I have a whole media package.”