It was as if they had done this before. They were in Gilchrist Auditorium, but they could have been in a corporate boardroom anywhere in the country.
Eighteen Loomis Chaffee students enrolled this spring in the Innovation Trimester (I-Tri) have been working for two weeks on issues facing Unknown Clothing of New Britain: how to effectively open a second store in West Hartford and improve the e-commerce portion of the business. Unknown sells high-end street clothing.
Six groups of three students each made presentations on Thursday, April 6, half on the West Hartford question and half on the online business challenge.
After the presentation, Maciah Clark, owner of Unknown, felt he had witnessed something special.
“The students asked a ton of questions Day 1; they came in and they were just firing away,” Mr. Clark said, recalling the group’s trip to the New Britain store to begin the process.
After the visit, the students went to work devising plans.
“And today, coming into this, I didn’t think the presentation was going to be as developed as it was,” Mr. Clark said. “The level of thought put into this … it’s impressive. I’m going to go back to the drawing board and will implement as much as we can. I’m astonished and appreciate all this work. People pay big money for this.”
“Oh, the bill is coming,” came a response from Loomis Chaffee Director of Innovation Scott MacClintic.
The room broke out in laughter.
I-Tri students step away from their regular classes in the spring term of their senior year to offer innovative solutions to problems faced by local businesses and nonprofit organizations. The I-Tri started in 2019.
Associate Director of Innovation Jennine Solomon and colleagues Naomi Appel and Jake Leyden are working on the I-Tri with the students this year.
“When we plan I-Tri, we do not suggest things to the partner,” Jennine said. “We ask what they are working on and what they would be willing to let our students work on for them. It's not something the businesses have solved, but something they are working on and need the answers.” Many of the students are drawn to the I-Tri because they will not only learn a lot, but also make a difference for someone, she said.
On Thursday, the students talked about revamping the Unknown Clothing website; increasing the business’ social media presence; using TikTok; staying on top of trending hashtags; using Buffer, a software application designed to manage social media accounts; targeting Gen-Z shoppers; managing price points; continuing to build community and give back to the community; working with local colleges; using brand ambassadors; and having customization of clothing and co-creation of clothing, where people come in and do their own designs.
All of those recommendations just touch on the surface of what the students conveyed, speaking with authority yet without notes while supporting graphics were displayed on a screen.
After each of the six segments, Mr. Clark was asked if he had questions. The first presentation regarding the website set the tone. “I’m blown away,” he said. “No questions.”
Unknown is a Black-owned business, important to the I-Tri goals.
“The students in the I-Tri program the past three years are 50 percent or more students of color,” Jennine said, “so we are intentional about making sure the partners we work with represent our students so that they can see themselves in the entrepreneurial stories we’re lifting up.”
Think SoHo in New York and throw in a little LA fashion when you think of Unknown’s clothing. Before you know it, there might be an I-Tri logo on a hoodie.
This is the first of six projects the students will undertake this spring. Some are quick turnarounds, a matter of just a few days. The students head into the next challenge building upon what they already have learned.
Be flexible, said one student. Be open to change, said another. Be willing to learn, said a third. Adapt to the situation, said a fourth. Good lessons in all walks of life.