Op-Ed: KITH and QC Collaboration, Too Much or Too Little?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Op-Eds detail the views of their writers and are not representative of the stance of the paper. Publication of Op-Eds is not tantamount to an endorsement of their content.

In the Autumn of 2022, Queens College’s most famous alumnus, comedian and entertainer-extraordinaire Jerry Seinfeld, became the face of a promising collaboration between Queens College and KITH. Queens College, our familiar and beloved institution with its distinct academic and financial value – and KITH, the undeniably hip fashion and lifestyle brand founded by Queens native Ronnie Fieg, partnered to offer a high-end fashion line exclusively to the QC and Brooklyn College student body.

Promotional images for these products went viral on the internet, with many questioning how exactly a preeminent comedian, now in his late 60s, intersected with KITH’s target audience of 18 to 35 year-old consumers. Beyond the memeification of pictures of Seinfeld modeling for KITH, the response from QC students to the merchandise ranged from criticism of a prohibitive pricing model to a celebration of apparel options that many deemed to be superior to what was offered in the campus store.

Neither of those two responses are mutually exclusive: many genuinely liked what was being offered, but — justifiably — winced at price points which extended from $70 for a t-shirt to a whopping $995 for a varsity-style jacket. One commenter on a Reddit forum joked, “I’m bullying anyone I see on the Quad wearing a one-thousand dollar jacket.” Another commenter lamented, “That’s the price of a class.”

The criticisms of yesteryear were charitably taken into consideration for the 2023 line by QC and KITH. This year, t-shirts are priced at $45 with sweatshirts selling at $85. When The Knight News met with some administrators for an annual luncheon, key members were proud of having achieved this price drop. 

A few, including Jay Hershenson — vice president for communications and marketing and senior advisor to the president — and President Frank Wu cherished the mass appeal of Jerry Seinfeld. President Wu told The Knight News that QC tries to, “Find partners who appeal to the world.” 

But how does this partnership appeal to Queens College? KITH, with The Kinnect Foundation (its philanthropic arm), donates $25,000 in grant funding and a certain amount of the sales go to the college. The Knight News learned of a high school-to-college pipeline with internship opportunities. When asked how many internships were being offered to QC students, Hershenson said “about five.” Additionally, there is the development of a fashion program partnership between QC and The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in the works, according to Hershenson.

In order to gain access to this drop (limited release of merchandise,) current students are instructed to download the KITH mobile app and register with their QC email addresses. When the products eventually do get released, there is a small window when a current student may purchase their preferred products before they go out to the general public. Last year, alumni were locked out of this transactional process — which was admittedly strange — as they’d likely be the demographic most likely to afford these prices. It appears that some alums were able to access this year’s merchandise (likely through contacting currently enrolled students), though many alums sounded off on Instagram for not having received any notifications of the release and not knowing how to access the products.

Meanwhile, access to the Queens College and KITH merchandise for enrolled students was pretty intuitive, bordering on suspicious. Both the 2022 and 2023 releases coincided with the direct deposit of financial aid refunds into student bank accounts. The timing was impeccable as many students received a small windfall only to debate between spending this money on groceries and textbooks or a deluxe sweatshirt retailing at $175. 

For the second consecutive year, how could QC and KITH ethically offer premium products at prices that may be unaffordable to students right around the time they have received limited funds that they might require for more essential expenses? In this economy?

Professor Mathew Bradbury, an unquestionably knowledgeable and permanently well-dressed professor of Economics here at Queens College, pits this sort of purchase as “a contest between perceived value and cost.”

“Cost of the item depends upon opportunity cost: alternatives offered at present, and [alternatives] offered in the future — since the money could be saved. Cost will also depend on whether the good is purchased out of discretionary income, gifted money, or debt,” Bradbury said.

More often than not, the refund money is residual from financial aid or student loan funding. It is entirely possible that students are dipping into debt whether by way of money that drops during “refund week” or credit expense to make this purchase. Bradbury added, “If students are spending debt to purchase, the cost of the good becomes even more expensive, and the student’s ability to [weigh] that cost in the cost-benefit calculation as to whether to buy becomes complicated by the student’s ability to perceive and give weight to the abstract concept of their future self or future state of being.”

Design is also an important factor in this conversation as well. The administration perked up at The Knight News’ inquiry into fashion and art programs when asked about them in relation to the KITH collaboration. When asked about this on behalf of Em Adano, a first-year MFA student, on why QC did not venture to hire accomplished resident artists to work on branding or design for merchandise, Hershenson relayed the aforementioned information about FIT:

“Design is an extremely impactful force on our social subconsciousness. If an institution cares about a democratic culture and student governance, students should always have a say in how it is designed,” Adano said. “Whether we like it or not, graphic design is the most visible and emblematic evidence of this agreement.”

When asked for a comment as to whether the Queens College administration would entertain hiring in-house artists for future collaborations, Jennifer Jarvis, assistant vice president of student affairs and Maria deLongoria, interim associate provost, both extended themselves for further dialogue and the prospect of a commissioned endeavor with qualified artists within our student body.

One Reddit user said that they could, “Definitely appreciate that KITH decided to not only make this drop exclusive [to the] CUNY students, but [also that] they cut the price in half. It is pretty pricey for school merch, but you are essentially paying for the name. I chose to splurge because I’m not a huge fan of any of QC’s merch and I liked the look of KITH’s.

Having Jerry Seinfeld as a brand ambassador for KITH and QC certainly helps, but it would be great if the people who grew up watching Seinfeld could also access this product before the general public. Having scholarships and internships available to current students is also never unwelcome, but there could be a great deal of more awareness so that people interested in fashion could entertain pivoting to academic areas in which they are passionate. Elevated design is something from which we could all benefit from, — but it could and should come from within, and artists should get paid for these projects.

Having to make the decision between groceries for a week and purchasing a sweatshirt should never be the case for a QC student. As Professor Bradbury said, the clothing purchase can come at a higher cost in the long run.

Ultimately, there is a wild irony in being consistently heralded as one of the best colleges for return-on-investment by the Princeton Review yet simultaneously selling inaccessible clothing at a cost that is exorbitant to much of the purchasing pool. The prices were lowered, and KITH continues to work with Queens College in some capacity. Conversations about this partnership are ongoing, and it is very clear now that this sort of partnership brings a great deal of attention to this college.

You can enroll in the KITH app with your school email address. The KITH app is found on the App Store or on Google Play.

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