Karen Murray, President of Sportswear at VF Corporation, once envisioned herself becoming a Criminal Defense lawyer. She studied Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, but before going to law school, decided to come to New York and try her hand at fashion. She took a job as a receptionist at Gant, a men’s shirt company, answering phones, managing day-to-day office operations and cleaning up the showrooms. To her surprise, she was the only woman in the company’s entire office.
Three years later, after realizing women made over half of the menswear purchases, a GMM approached Karen asking her to put together an assortment of shirts she thought worked best—something that proved to be a good question to ask. From then on, he asked her opinion every time they went into market. This, in turn, led to Karen being given an opportunity in sales at Gant. Although getting men at the company to listen to her opinion was difficult, admittedly, she persevered and was given more and more responsibility, eventually leading Karen to the position of Regional Vice President, then National Vice President. After Gant, Karen worked at Bugle Boy where she ran the jeans division, at the time worth $100 Million, and then spent 12 years at Liz Claiborne where she served as Group President. Karen has worked hard throughout her 30 year career to understand all aspects of the business, pushing herself to get involved in as many areas as possible at the companies where she’s worked.
At our Breakfast with the Boss, Karen discussed the importance of consumer insights and analytics. “If you’re interested in that area, we’re probably one of the best companies to work for - we do segmentations, focus groups, ethnographies, we talk to consumers, we do all of that, and then we try to make the best decision before we put the product out there. Not many companies do that, they are still very driven by their gut and what the designers want. Maybe it’s because we’re a corporation. There are lots of opportunities in analytics, from sales to product development, planning, supply chain, design to finance. If you’re interested in the consumer’s thoughts behind their purchases, consumer insights and analytics is a great career choice.” Karen also brought her colleagues, Trudi Roach and Electa Varnish, to the breakfast to speak with Scholars about their positions at Nautica. Trudi is Vice President of Global Product and Electa is Vice President of Sales.
When the breakfast wrapped up, Electa gave Scholars a look around the Nautica showroom and explained the timelines and price points for Nautica’s different areas of business.
Words of Wisdom
Choose a company that will help you grow. “You should all have that experience with a company that invests in you.”
Get involved in all areas. “Growing within a company is really important - but you have to ask, you have to get involved.”
Q: “When you’re selling to other countries, do you present the product differently?”
A: “We try to be consistent with the brand DNA. In Canada they wear more black, in Asia they like more bold colors. There are tons of decisions to make that really affect the business and it’s really hard. With analytics, we’re looking for help to make the right ones.”
Q: “Do you think there’s still a pushback for women in the industry?”
A: “Things are changing dramatically. No one ever made me feel that as a woman, I wasn’t ‘important’ -- except during my first 5 years in the industry. I was the only woman, now there are more women than men. There are more women leaders - in VF Sportswear, we’re about 90 percent women. I think women today are getting the proper recognition for being savvy, quick and smart.”
Q: “What does the day-to-day look like for you in product development?”
A: “It’s very busy. I am fortunate that I have some strong leaders in my areas. They are responsible for their own teams, managing the day-to-day and working cross-functionally. Those are the people I go to on a regular basis. The schedule can get very challenging because we have all the tiers of business that we create product for on top of each other - our full price and our global line, and right behind that our wholesale line is being developed and then our outlet product. So we really go from one tier of business to the next. We like to create a lot of synergy between those tiers of business, but we also have to be very cautious. There needs to be a little bit of differentiation between those channels. Business is changing dramatically. I was just at Woodbury Commons yesterday talking to customers. We ask them what they think of the brand every one or two years. We don’t only ask consumers, we go back and make changes. After that we go out and ask them again. It gets very strategic, it’s one of the most strategic companies that I’ve ever worked for—the data really gives you confirmation for the choices you're making.” - Trudi Roach
Q: “You were talking about Amazon and what they need to do to sell more clothes, what are the key things you’re doing in response to businesses like Amazon?”
A: “We really do want to figure out from the apparel side what they have in mind. We’re trying to understand, as a brand, how you work with Amazon to position your brand in the right way. What will that look like in the next 5 years? Do you really think about Amazon when it comes to fashion, when it comes to apparel? Is that your first go-to? Probably not. But they know that’s kind of the next frontier for them. So what do they do to get those people who are going to department stores, boutiques, into the fold? People are going there because it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s convenient. And with technology - what if they had your body scan and a profile that’s customized for you? They’re thinking that way, so we have to be a step ahead.” - Electa Varnish