By Joel Sensenig
Zell Lurie Institute Helps MBA Student Develop High-End Label
From the time she was two years old wearing a plastic smock in front of a paint-splattered canvas, Claire Pardington, MBA ’22, had an eye for art and fashion.
Today, the graduate student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business is preparing to launch the Pardington Collective, a collaborative art, fashion, and lifestyle brand. Claire serves as the company’s owner and founder. The plastic smock has been replaced by Pardington Collective’s staple piece, a 100% virgin wool satin faille three-button blazer, complete with a silk lining featuring an abstract print from New York artist Kayo Shido.
The Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI) for Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan Ross became part of Claire’s career path almost immediately upon her arrival in Ann Arbor to pursue an MBA in 2020. In those two years, ZLI has helped the metro Detroit native develop her entrepreneurial vision into a company she’s preparing to launch in Fall 2022.
To date, Claire has received $24,000 to benefit Pardington Collective through three ZLI programs: Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream (Phases 1-3); a self-hosted internship; and Zell Entrepreneurs. These programs took her raw idea for a fashion label and filtered it through a business plan lens, provided funding to support its early stages, and gave the budding entrepreneur a number of resources and mentoring opportunities to prepare her for launch upon graduation.
Prior to arriving at Michigan Ross, Claire earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before spending years in the fashion industry, designing at Calvin Klein Collection and Victoria’s Secret. She also received hands-on leadership experience at her parents’ business, Holiday Market in Canton, Michigan, where she took it upon herself to redesign departments throughout the store and implement new training processes.
Claire’s journey brought her back to her home state of Michigan in 2015, after tragedy struck her family. Her brother, Max, suddenly died in 2014 at the age of 20. Unbeknownst to Max and the family, he had a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle which can make it difficult for the organ to pump blood and, in the worst cases, result in death.
Although Claire had succeeded in achieving her goal of working in the fashion industry in New York, the pull of being with family at this heartbreaking time was too strong to deny. “I was so caught up in grief, I didn’t know what was next for me,” Claire said. “I figured, ‘Maybe I’ll just take over my parents’ business. Although she worked for years at Holiday Market during this time of grieving, it became apparent to both Claire and her parents, John and Lisa, that the store wasn’t where her passions lay. The dream of establishing her own fashion line had never left her.
“I am after the feeling and confidence an outfit can instill in someone,” Claire said. “I have styled and dressed many people in my life, such as family, friends, friends of my parents — even strangers. Out of every person I have styled, my favorite moment is when they come out in the outfit I picked out, it fits and flatters their body and they have this incredible smile and a total shift in energy because they feel like a million dollars. One outfit has given them the confidence they crave to walk into a room and own it — whether it’s an event, an interview, or a date. I want my pieces to do that.
“This dream is so big,” Claire continued. “I’m not trying to start a boutique on the corner of a local community somewhere. This is a global dream. I want to be the next Chanel or Burberry.”
Anne Perigo, associate director of ZLI, suggested the Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream program to Claire to help lay the foundation for the development of Pardington Collective. “I had no concept of how to filter my ideas through a business plan,” Claire said. Phases 1 through 3 of Dare to Dream helped her construct a business plan, evaluate its feasibility, and write a business plan.
Then, in the summer of 2021, ZLI’s self-hosted internship program proved to be a major turning point for Claire. She received $7,000 from the internship program, during which she met with Perigo, Jim Price, Faculty and Entrepreneur in Residence at ZLI, and Michelle Wander, ZLI Program Manager, on a weekly basis. Claire said the trio’s importance to Pardington Collective cannot be overstated.
“Truly, these three people are going to be the reason I have this label. I am so grateful to them. The time and energy they put in – they gave as much as I was putting in. They gave me the tools and the mentality I needed to know where to focus the initial capital, and how to make the big decisions when you have limited resources. They helped me be ‘scrappy” with the money.’”
During that summer internship, Claire spent a month in New York, where she went on a fashion industry connection blitz, meeting with as many manufacturers, fabric vendors, and others in the fashion industry in New York as she could. “I just lined up interview after interview after interview,” she said. “At the end of that month, I had partners lined up so I could start pursuing this business.”
Wander said Claire embodies much of what makes Michigan Ross a leader in business education.
“Claire is an extraordinary individual. She has the unique characteristic of radiating confidence and warmth at the same time,” she said. “She is relentless in the pursuit of her entrepreneurial dreams, but has never sacrificed her integrity or character along the way. If I could describe Claire in one word, it is resilient. Her resilience is one of the many reasons why she is positioned for greatness after Michigan Ross. Claire also understands that the things that are worth building take time. She spent years nurturing her skills and defining her point of view as a professional designer before coming to Ross. She is equal parts artist and entrepreneur, and that is what sets her apart. Claire could lead a master class in defying the odds to get what you want.”
Perigo agreed, saying “Claire is a shining example of an entrepreneurial Ross MBA student. Claire came to Michigan Ross with an amazing resume in fashion. Through her courses and ZLI’s programs, she has tapped into the resources she needs to bring her childhood dream of launching an art and fashion collective. She has the talent, and even more importantly, she has the experience, an established reputation in fashion design, and the industry connections to execute on her dream.”
Claire’s Ross Experience was also significantly shaped by her involvement in several other programs. During the 2021-22 Winter Semester, Claire was a semifinalist in the Michigan Business Challenge and applied for the Desai Accelerator, which provides selected startups with a $25,000 investment and up to $500,000 in resources such as legal support, cloud credits, and skilled student interns. Claire was also one of just nine students selected for the 2022 Zell Entrepreneurs cohort. She received $10,000 from this elite, year-long program at ZLI designed to help student entrepreneurs get their ventures launch-ready through support, mentorship, resources, and funding.
It’s apparent in talking to Claire or looking through the Pardington Collective website that she’s very grateful for the help she’s received along the way. “I could cry,” she said, pausing momentarily because she wasn’t just saying that. “I cannot thank them enough. I have wanted this so bad since I was a kid. ZLI is the reason it’s going to happen. Without ZLI, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. I have the emotional and some financial support from my parents so I can focus on the business. It’s ZLI’s funding, it’s their guidance, it’s their mentorship. If this business ever had a chance, it’s because of them. They are changing lives with this institute and the programs they offer. It’s absolutely life-changing.
Price said that it’s not a matter of if but when Claire will reach her goals.
“Claire has unusual leadership qualities that make others want to work with her and follow her,” he said. “She’s fiercely, undyingly, endlessly positive and persistent — she doesn’t think her plan will work, she knows it will work. Over my 20 years teaching entrepreneurship at Ross and advising student entrepreneurs from around the University at Zell Lurie, most students I meet are “startup curious” — which is wonderful — but aren’t driven. Most, if they’re actually trying out a startup, are kind of “playing company” but aren’t seriously building a business. Claire is fierce — we need to either help her or get out of her way!”
Claire said she will never forget what Ross and ZLI Programming have meant to the pursuit of her lifelong dreams.
“I have a list of ways that I want to be giving back to ZLI and Ross if my business takes off,” she said. “I want to pay it forward because of the impact it’s had on my life. I get to wake up and do what I really want to do every day. I am beyond grateful.”