Stern Stories

Design Possible

As part of the Stern Solutions Sustainability for Competitive Advantage course, MBAs worked with Studio One Eighty Nine & co-founder Abrima Erwiah (BS ‘02) through the CFDA + LEXUS FASHION* INITIATIVE
Stern MBA students stand with alumna Abrima Erwiah (BS ‘02) and actress Rosario Dawson, co-founders of Studio One Eighty Nine

In today’s global landscape, how can social enterprises create value for society and protect the environment while also remaining competitive? 

NYU Stern MBA students gained insight into this challenge through the Spring 2018 Stern Solutions course “Sustainability for Competitive Advantage,” offered through Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business and taught by Professor Tensie Whelan, the Center’s director.

Through the class, MBA students collaborated with the CFDA + LEXUS FASHION* INITIATIVE, a sustainable business development program that works with select brands to provide education and mentorship, along with the potential to be eligible for awards underwritten by Lexus. MBA teams worked with designers in the program to help address specific business questions and challenges around sustainability.

"Our students got a crash course in how to assess sustainability in an industry, how to integrate positive environmental and social performance with profitability for a specific firm, and how to identify opportunities for sustainability driven innovation, marketing and growth,” said Professor Whelan. “It has been a very inspiring and fun experience for all."

“Collaboration between education and industry is a catalyst for change and innovation,” said Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the CFDA. “Connecting Stern’s MBA talent to the participating designers within the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative is a great example of design and a business strategy working together to place ideas into action.”

“Through our partnership with NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business, our designers have received strategic input and recommendations through a live case study, where they had the opportunity to problem solve and discuss challenges that many business owners face in this industry from a sustainability standpoint,” said Rachel Espersen, Creative Programming & Partnerships at Lexus. “It has been a rewarding experience working with NYU to provide the CFDA + Lexus Fashion*Initiative designers with the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation around sustainability and business development.”

One of the teams — comprising MBA students Edward Dearie, Amy Gu, Shantel Sullivan, Gregory Waters and Lia Winograd — was paired with Studio One Eighty Nine, an artisan-produced fashion lifestyle brand and social enterprise co-founded by Stern alumna Abrima Erwiah (BS ‘02) and actress Rosario Dawson. Based between New York and Accra, Ghana, the brand curates, produces and promotes African and African-inspired content and clothing by working with artisanal communities specializing in traditional craftsmanship. Studio One Eighty Nine works to support the communities it collaborates with through job creation, education and skills training. 

“Social enterprises empower the communities they work with while creating sustainable business solutions,” Abrima said. “It’s empowering when artisans are able to use the money they have earned themselves to make purchases and support their communities. We focus on bridging the gap between markets, taking a local and international approach in all that we do.”

The Stern MBA team consulted with Abrima to create a framework to assess the benefits, risks and success of current and future Studio One Eighty Nine initiatives from both a sustainability and a business perspective.

Learn More About the MBA Student Experience:
Stern Questions Student Responses

What skills & knowledge did you draw on from your MBA experience to effectively approach this project?

“I enjoyed working with a team that brought different experiences and skills, but that had the same overall passion for and interest in sustainability. As MBA students, we brought our analytical, strategic, and problem-solving skills to create frameworks that can be used in the long-term for objective decision-making.”
-Lia Winograd (MBA ‘19)

During this project, you’ve worked with Abrima Erwiah of Studio One Eighty Nine directly. What value has working with an alumna provided to you as an MBA student at NYU Stern?

“I chose this project so that I would be able to see the first-hand experience of an alum with a real-world business challenge. It has been great to hear about Abrima’s experiences and the manner in which she runs her business.”
-Shantel Sullivan (MBA ‘18)

How did working on a real-world challenge in real time broaden your experience?

“From working on this real-world problem, I gained an understanding of the challenges a social enterprise faces in the context of an emerging economy as they’re trying to scale their impact. It’s not enough to do good; to be sustainable in the long term, that good has to be measurable, profitable, and relevant to the context.”
-Amy Gu (MBA ‘20)