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Hicksville Native Wins FIT Award

Hicksville native Jae Lee recently rose to the top of his senior class at New York Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), winning the Critic Award for sportswear. But fashion wasn’t the path that Lee originally chose.

In high school, Lee excelled in art classes and thought that he wanted to go to college and major in fine arts. However, he said, it was while watching an episode of “Project Runway” that he had a revelation. “All of a sudden I was thinking that it was something I could/should do and that’s what kind of led to it,” he said. He made up his mind that he was going to apply to fashion school and enlisted the help of one of his art teachers in school to help him. “We really scrambled and put together this presentation in about two weeks, where other people, I’m sure, worked on theirs for months,” he said. Lee said that when he went to present his portfolio, he didn’t think the meeting went well at all. “Everyone was really well prepared,” he said. But, he admitted, it must have gone better than he thought, because he was accepted to FIT.

Fast forward four years and Lee began working on FIT’s Critic Award, an award that everyone in the class is eligible for. “In senior year especially, everyone is so talented. It pushes you to work harder, but it definitely makes you insecure to see the talent that surrounds you. There were moments when I questioned my designs, but my friends and my teachers were just telling me, ‘Jae, make what you make in the best way you can,’ and that’s what I did,” he said.

When he first met with the critic, he wasn’t sure that she liked his designs at all. “I was disappointed after the first meeting,” he said. “But once she saw the garments, that’s when I think she changed her view,” he said. Lee went to work making the pieces the best way that he could, often staying at school until 2 a.m. to get things done, and followed the critic’s advice when it came to refining his designs. “Fashion school is a lot of physical work and a lot of hours,” he said, “but you have to love it.”

All the hard work paid off when a friend said to him, “I want to be the first to congratulate you on your award!” Not knowing and not believing he could have won, he went to check and found out that he was, in fact, the winner of the FIT Critic Award.

“I was in shock. The shock was so, so big that I couldn’t even call my family right away,” he said. His winning design was featured on “The Future of Fashion” — FIT’s annual end-of-year runway show.

After college, Lee is looking forward to taking the summer “off” to finish his award-winning line and create a lookbook, and has dreams of moving to Europe to work in high-end fashion. However, no matter what he does, he said that the unwavering support system that surrounds him will always be a reason for him to continue to excel in his career path. “Especially in the fashion industry, having support from the people around you is really important. My parents have sacrificed a lot for me, for my dreams and aspirations, and I really can’t thank them enough. My family, friends, colleagues, and professors —without them, I honestly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today, so I definitely want to thank them for their support and guidance,” he said.