Breakfast with the Boss: Anthony Caputo, Senior Vice President of Design and Merchandising at DDK / Boston Traders

This morning the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholars were lucky enough to be invited back to DDK / Boston Traders, where Anthony Caputo, SVP of Design and Merchandising, approached us from the creative side of the business. After a robust question and answer session, Anthony showed us the design process from conception to shipment, inspiring us with larger ideas and concepts (beach sunsets, surfing, volleyball, sailing) that are later channeled into the product categories, prints and fabrications of the overall brand. Take a look! 

About DDK / Boston Traders
DDK is a leading manufacturer and global distributor of men’s outerwear, sportswear and swimwear. The company distributes under licensed brands and private label, with ownership of the Boston Traders intellectual property and design. Boston Traders, a New England-inspired modern yet traditional line of men’s sportswear, is known for outdoor lifestyle comfort, function, value and of course fashion. Additionally, DDK exclusively distributes private label for Saks Fifth Avenue’s modern collection, a path that the company hopes to expand upon with other private labels. As SVP of Design and Merchandising, Anthony is responsible for DDK’s overall design, serving as creative director for the Boston Traders brand as well as working on private labels and new brands. 

The Boss' Journey: Steps to Success
A designer at heart, Anthony graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in Menswear Design & Marketing. Anthony has a wide background of creative experience, coming to DDK from LF Americas, where he served as Vice President of Men’s Design. He started his career at Tommy Hilfiger, and then went on to serve as Design Director at Joseph Abboud and Calvin Klein. Additionally, Anthony served as Creative Director of his own collection for nearly five years, an experience he jokingly likens to “getting [his] Ph.D. in the fashion industry.” Anthony has now been with DDK / Boston Traders for around seven months, an experience somewhat different that requires the use of all of his experience from the past. “DDK has that entrepreneurial spirit which I love,” Anthony explained. 

Words of Wisdom

  • Diversify. “When starting out, get as much exposure as possible to different areas of the industry, including various brand aesthetics and distribution channels, in order to help define where you want to go in the future.” Whether you’re on the design or business side of the industry, diversification is especially important. 
  • Don’t stagnate. For maximum exposure and growth, “try not to get positioned in one distribution level or aesthetic throughout your career. On a daily basis, I work with product that is sold at many different price points and have an understanding and appreciation for all of them.” 
  • Design with both sides of the brain. “I come from the creative side, but having said that, this industry requires more than that. If you’re on the creative side, really try to understand and integrate with the business / merchandising side of the process, and vice versa.” 
  • Develop Relationships. “Networking goes beyond finding jobs and mentors—If you want to have your own business one day as a few of you have mentioned, it will help to build respectful relationships with retailers as well.” 

Q: Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “What do you take into account when designing for private label brands vs. your own brand?”
A: “Your own brand should have a very specific point-of-view from an aesthetic standpoint regardless of who you sell it to. A lot of it also depends on where the brand is in its life cycle. If you have some brand (selling) history, I think it’s a balance of further developing this core while determining how to evolve with new product that compliments the brand. [As for] private label, you’re going to think very specifically about that private label’s aesthetic and provide product accordingly.”
Q: Oliver Selby (Savannah College of Art & Design)-  “If someday I hope to start my own business, what direction would you recommend steering in terms of gaining job experience now?”

A: “If you’re looking to start a business, something on a smaller scale is probably going to help you best. The smaller the company, the more exposure you’ll get to the ‘business of design.’ That doesn’t mean you’ll be running the operation, but it does mean that you’ll be more hands-on. The amount of overlap between functions is far greater—as it must naturally be when you have five people running a company [vs. hundreds or thousands]. When everyone is speaking to each other, you can better understand the logistics of [each department]. I learned a ton of that when I had my own business, but I had worked for ten years before that. It doesn’t have to be ten, but get some years [of previous experience] in there before venturing on your own.”

Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri)- “What do you believed has helped you become a leader in this company, and in the industry as a whole?”
A: “I think that I learned at my first job, while working for Tommy Hilfiger, that he knew a lot about everything going on within the company, from business to design. Because of this I decided to choose a smaller company for my second career move that really took me into the trenches…I was in Hong Kong, China, India, Europe…that experience was invaluable. I left a growing company to join a smaller one because I felt it would help me gain exposure to more, ultimately helping me to understand the ‘business of design.’ While having the brand name experience is desirable, and something I ended up coming back to, getting that diversification was critical [to my growth and leadership].”
Q: Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “Starting out working for someone else, how do you maintain your individual creativity / design aesthetic if the brand you’re working for has a more narrow customer or style?”
A: “The short answer is that you usually don’t—meaning that you have to, as a designer, say, ‘this is who I’m working for, I’m going to get my head into it and channel my creativity into this lane.’ As designers, we have to figure out how to get ourselves entrenched into the aesthetic of the brand we’re working for. I’m not saying give up your creativity—after all, brands hire you for the creativity they see in you. But being able to design product within the lane that resonates with the consumer and the brand you’re working for…keeping the integrity of the brand…this can be challenging but is necessary. I guess that’s why designers seek [to have] their own brand…but as a designer, there’s something valuable to be learned working for someone else. Try different levels and different brands…see where you feel best!”

Thank you to Anthony and DDK / Boston Traders for your continued generosity and words of advice!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

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Breakfast with the Boss: Tom Kingsbury, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Burlington Stores, Inc.

Wednesday morning quickly turned intriguing as the scholars engaged with the fast-paced world of off-price retail at Burlington. Today we had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Kingsbury, CEO and President of Burlington Stores, Inc. In addition to learning about the company and Tom’s exciting career, we were lucky enough to hear relevant advice from Donna Norton, the Burlington’s Talent Acquisition Manager and Head of College Recruitment. Here’s the inside scoop! 

About Burlington
Burlington is a leading national retail chain that offers current, high quality, designer merchandise at up to 65% off of department store prices. Beginning as “Burlington Coat Factory,” a single outlet store in Burlington, New Jersey in 1972, Burlington has grown tremendously, now operating over 544 stores in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Aside from selling the largest selection of coats in the nation, Burlington offers men’s and women’s suits, sportswear, family footwear, handbags, children’s clothing, baby furniture and accessories (under BabyDepot) and home décor. The fast-paced world of off-price retail with constant turnover fuels the company’s entrepreneurial spirit and consumer loyalty, as “the customer feels very confident that they can buy something new every time, and that it won’t be later marked down.”
In addition to clothing America with affordable fashions, Burlington aligns its mission with that of the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, focusing substantial resources and effort on developing future industry talent. As Tom explained, “The most important thing for the foundation of our company is talent. People know that, when they come into our company, we’re going to work very hard at setting them up for success.” At one of the best training programs in the industry, new recruits complete a three-month onboarding program to gain understanding of the industry and Burlington’s model before launching their careers at the company. Additionally, Burlington runs a 10-week internship program for college students, a tremendous pipeline for new talent and leadership—many interns later go on to thrive at the company full-time. After all, as Donna noted, “Once you get the off-price bug, you can’t go back.”

The Boss' Journey: Steps to Success
Tom graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a business degree in marketing. Although he initially saw himself wanting to work for a marketing company, he interviewed with a number of department stores and found himself intrigued by retail. Since then, he’s never looked back. “It’s hard to believe that next year will be my 40th year in the business,” Tom shared. As a former Kohl’s and May Company (Filene’s / Kauffman’s) executive with over thirty years of experience in marketing, business development, e-commerce and information technology, Tom entered Burlington 7 years ago out of desire for fast-paced, hands-on merchandising and has lead his team to incredible success.
As Tom explained, “I love off-price because it’s very entrepreneurial, and it’s the fastest growing channel in retail. What makes it really special is the fact that you’re always in the moment, constantly chasing product.” Whereas department stores rely on fashion trending intelligence to buy everything in advance of the season, Burlington delivers to its customer by buying only one-third of its product before a given season begins, leaving the remaining two-thirds to be purchased and brought into stores after viewing data about the current season’s sales. While Tom’s many roles as Chairman, CEO, and President of Burlington certainly keep him busy, he also spends quality time in the market hunting new product alongside buyers, merchants and interns, and even travels from store to store, “where the magic really happens.” Between Thanksgiving and Christmas alone, Tom visited over 60 stores, because “with 545 stores, you must have a clear understanding of the stores’ needs before you embark on creating change.”

Words of Wisdom

  • Do your homework. Understand the culture and structure of the company you’re getting into. Every company is different, and it’s especially important to enter an interview with background information and relevant questions, making it clear that you have spent time in a company’s stores. “If someone puts that kind of work into the interview, that’s their work ethic, and we know when they enter our company they are going to work that hard at everything they do.” 
  • Set yourself up for success. Make sure you enter a company where you feel you can thrive and grow. 
  • Don’t move too quickly. Make sure a company is a place you will want to remain for at least 5 years. “As a CEO who hires a lot of people,” Tom explained, “seeing people who jump around a lot from company to company is a red flag. Remaining in one place shows commitment, and that you don’t give up easily.” 
  • Set five-year benchmarks. “I’ve always looked at my career in terms of 5-year increments.” Tom feels that it helps to set goals for yourself in terms of a new position you can reach within the next five years”—for example, moving from GMM to SVP. After five years, you can set your next goal.

Q: Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “Given that you have worked for multiple companies, what are some different aspects to consider when looking for a job and assessing a company?”
A: “One of the things to really look at is the company’s growth. You really want to join a company that’s growing because the opportunity for personal and career growth is much greater in a company that is growing itself—you never want to feel restricted. You have to do some due diligence in terms of the health of the company overall. Additionally, when you visit a company, you can quickly ascertain how involved all layers of the organization are in terms of [recruiting new talent]. I think mentoring is incredibly important—try to enter a company where you know somebody will take you under their wing and help you grow. Part of the reason I go to stores and markets every week is because I get to interact with divisional buyers, merchandisers, [and many others] to get to know them, help them understand our company’s model, and to help develop them.”
Q: Donna Norton (Burlington Talent Acquisition Manager)- “Since you have come on board, how have you seen Burlington’s core customer change and evolve?”
A: “We’re attracting a different customer today than we were six years ago. One of the areas we’ve made progress with is the higher income consumer. We’ve seen our biggest growth in the company recently come from those customers that make over $75,000. We’ve recommitted to bringing in more brands, opening [new offices], cleaning our stores and making them easier to navigate, and developing better customer service. While we’re cultivating a new customer, I still think the [core customer demographic] we already have is very loyal…we never want to give up our core customer. We try to approach every change thoughtfully, patiently…reinventing the customer but at the appropriate pace.”

Q: Rachel Feller (YMA FSF Intern)- “Given that you focus so much on recruiting new talent, what do you look for in a candidate when you hire?”
A: “We look for people who have off-price experience, who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are comfortable without a lot of hierarchical structure. We look for those who get excited about doing something different every single day. Those who understand product to a certain degree, who are good with negotiating and developing vendor relations, but most importantly, we look for people who really want to learn our model. It’s such a fun model! We find that the most successful people are those who ask questions, make sure they are attentive and are eager to learn.”
Q: Anna LaPlaca (UCLA)- “What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?”
“Making sure we’re constantly teaching, training and developing people…it’s not necessarily a challenge, but it’s something that has to be front and forward at all times. I have to make sure [developing talent] is a high priority in everything that I do, and I keep focused on it. Another challenge is making sure that people don’t begin to take for granted our good performance—we’re one of the fastest growing retailers in America, but if we don’t stay focused on [improving], we’re not going to do as well.”
At the end of our breakfast, we were greeted by Timothy Chan, a former YMA FSF Scholar from F.I.T. who has found his home full-time at Burlington. It was wonderful to see one of our very own thriving in the company’s culture. A huge “Thank you” to Tom and Donna for providing an engaging, inspiring morning!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Kim Sprague, Group Senior Vice President of Direct Imports at Ross Stores, Inc.

Throughout the 2015 “Breakfast with the Boss” series we’ve seen everything from swimwear to sportswear, scarves to ties, jeans to jackets. One niche our program has yet to cover? This morning the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholars were taken beyond the realm of attire and into the designs, textures, patterns and prints of the home. We were generously welcomed back to Ross Stores, Inc., where we had the incredible opportunity to hear from Kim Sprague, Group Senior Vice President of Direct Imports of the Home Store at Ross Stores, Inc. In addition to helping to build Ross’ home department, leading a growing product development team and embarking on brand development and licensing, Kim makes sure to stay hands-on with product as a buyer-at-heart, even if that means travelling to factories around the world.  

About Ross Stores, Inc.
Since 1982, Ross Stores, Inc. has delivered fashionable trends to the everyday consumer at a discounted price. Operating under the store name Ross Dress for Less®, the company offers the same name brands carried in department and specialty stores at a lower price level, adhering to its “no frills, big thrills” approach to retail. In addition to men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and shoes, Ross manages its Home division, which consists of Bed & Bath, Kitchen & Dining, and Furniture & Décor categories. The Ross Home division quickly reached success and now comprises a significant percentage of the company’s total volume. 

The Boss' Journey: Steps to Success
“It was never my dream to end up in retail,” Kim explained. “Retail found me, and I’ve never looked back.” A charismatic and articulate leader, Kim originally went to conservatory to study piano with a minor in musical theater, hoping to someday be on Broadway. However, in the best interest of his future career, he soon decided to change courses dramatically, entering Lord & Taylor’s executive training program. As Kim explained to our scholars, “The training program I went through really solidified my base in terms of the retail process, and in some cases how I still approach the business today. I would encourage any of you to find the best educational programs you can prior to your retail career, learn from them and ask as many questions as you can.”
About fifteen years into his career at Lord & Taylor, Kim was recruited to Ross. The company elected him with the vision of building a Home business. Quickly, the concept of a Home Accents department caught on, and turned into an incredible success for Ross. Kim spent a number of years in merchandising and soon moved his way up the ranks—as the home store grew, he became Group Vice President, responsible for all of decorative home, a position he labels “his first love.” Kim loved the fast pace of the business. When the company felt it wasn’t keeping up to the best of its ability with the customers’ desire for new, fresh product, Kim led his team overseas to select and develop product in their own factories for better profitability. He launched a hybrid product development team, in which his own Product Directors and merchants partnered together to develop product, a collaborative model that Kim has found to be “the best way to approach the business.” Today, that product development team has grown exponentially. As GSVP, Kim oversees executives who maintain the import process, packaging and branding, and source / develop new product categories from all over the world.

Words of Wisdom

  • Look to the outside for help. “In my career,” Kim shared, “I’ve learned that when you don’t know how to do [something] yourself, go ask someone else. Some of the best advice that I’ve been given here, aside from my mentors, has been from using a consultant. Getting a pair of outside eyes to come and look at your business, tell you what’s wrong and how to best improve…it is incredibly valuable.” 
  • Keep an open mind. “Every day I’m learning something new,” Kim explained. “When we started to do product development for the company I didn’t think we’d need brands to support our growth, but I soon realized that they are actually quite essential. We hired a marketing company that came in and helped us design new brand marks, three of which are being launched this year.” 
  • Get your hands on product! “Originally, I just wanted to be a buyer. But the great thing about Ross is that even as an executive, I still get to [be around product]. I’ll spend days at factories all over the world with the team. After all, supporting the growth of our product is the main responsibility of the company and of my team…it’s the product that drives this business.” 
  • Communicate. The one rule Kim holds his family to when they go out to dinner? No phones. Getting everyone to talk and listen to each other is “an old, fine art that needs to be recreated.” The ability to go out into the market, “schmooze,” ask great questions and engage another person, whether it’s about business or personal matters, is key. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take a risk, whether in your career overall, in a buy you make, or in a decision you make. “But,” as Kim suggested, “temper that risk by having a partner to help you through it!” 

Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri)- “What do you believe set you apart when moving up the organizational ladder within your company?”
A: “A couple of things, and these are also the things that I look for when I interview for my own team. I will always rank number one… my passion for product. I’m an instinctive merchant, and I think great merchants can instinctually drive a significant amount of business. That instinct must be balanced with an ability to be analytical…there is a fine balance between being an incredible negotiator with a great fashion sense and intuition for what products to pick, and having fiscal responsibility. While being a great merchant and having fingers for product is instinctual, the statistics and mechanics of retail can be taught. Both of those things in combination with a real ability to communicate—up, down, sideways, and outside the organization—are what make a great candidate.”
Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University)- “How do you balance your own brands at Ross with other private label brands such as Greg Norman Collection?”
“The positioning has taken a lot of work. We always have to look at what customer we’re targeting, and then once a brand starts to develop, we ask ourselves what the outside ‘hero’ brand is that we’re modeling our brand after. We look at the brands that our consumers love and look to fill our own niches against these competing brands. To do so requires a lot of checking our own brands, making sure the products and values look right.”
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College)- “Given all of the factories Ross works with overseas, how do you deal with issues of compliance?”
“It’s definitely tough. Our internal legal team has been tremendously supportive to us in terms of dealing with social compliance, and we also have global agents in most regions overseas. But our internal team handles the legal compliance…we complete careful inspections before we will ever do business with a factory, and [regularly engage in] independent audit processes with existing facilities to ensure there are no critical failures. It’s all much more visible and important than it was years ago. First and foremost in inspection is always child labor.”
Q: Celina Enriquez (Academy of Art)- “Is there something you think Ross can still expand upon or explore as a different product category for the future?”
A: “In our vision for 2020, we’re looking at the pockets of business we haven’t explored yet, or the product categories we’re in but haven’t done justice to yet. We are also looking to continue expanding our sourcing abroad.”
Thank you to Kim for taking us into the world of home goods! We greatly appreciate your valuable time and advice.

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Bosses

Peter Sachse, Macy’s Chief Innovation Officer, Tim Baxter, Macy’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Ronny Wurtzburger, Peerless Clothing President, and Yehuda Shmidman, Sequential Brands Group CEO

What do you get when you bring together twenty of the YMA FSF’s top scholars with Macy’s Chief Innovation Officer, Peter Sachse, Macy’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Tim Baxter, Peerless Clothing President, Ronny Wurtzburger, and Sequential Brands Group CEO, Yehuda Shmidman?  A powerhouse Breakfast with the Bosses that bridges the gap between today’s most influential industry executives and tomorrow’s future leaders of fashion.  Receiving invaluable career advice and insights into the industry, FSF scholars were afforded the opportunity to sit down with the execs for a roundtable discussion, a little Q&A, and a beautiful tour of the Macy’s executive offices.

Behind The Little Red Star
One of the oldest department stores around, Macy’s opened in 1858 in New York City by a man named R.H. Macy.  A sailor out of Nantucket, R.H. Macy had failed at several businesses in New England and San Francisco before opening the store, “which goes to show a little bit about perseverance,” Sachse added.  As for the iconic red star that has been a symbol of the brand for over 157 years?  The story goes that, on one very foggy night, R.H. Macy was out sailing rough waters during a storm, trying to find his way back to shore.  Suddenly, he was guided by a brilliant red star that saved the ship and crew from the stormy seas.   From that point forward, Macy knew the star was a very important part of his life, and used it as the symbol for the brand ever since. Today, Macy’s operates more than 850 department stores in 45 states, and continues to be a leading force in the industry.

Tips from the Top

While seated around the table in the Macy’s conference room, Sachse, Wurtzburger, Baxter, and Shmidman shared valuable career advice with FSF scholars just starting out in the business.  From distinguishing themselves amongst their colleagues to making an impact in the industry, take a look here at some of our tips from the top:   

Ronny Wurtzburger, "Ronny 101"

  1. Love what you do - “The world is your oyster right now, you can be anything you want.  If you don’t love what you do, change it, because in this industry, you [have to] love every single day of it.”
  2. Have a strong handshake - “If you have a strong handshake, people look at you different[ly].”
  3. Be the first one in, and the last one to leave - “No matter what job you start, no matter how talented you are, there are only two things you can do better than everyone in the office—you can get there before them, and you can be the last one to leave.  You [have] to get yourself noticed without being conspicuous. 
  4. Don’t be a specialist, learn every aspect of the business - “Don’t settle for just one aspect of this industry.  If you want to be a major player in a company, you’ve got to know all aspects of it. Suck up everything you can see.”
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions - “Everyone respects the person who says ‘I don't understand that, can you explain it to me.’”  

Tim Baxter
Noting both Sachse and Wurtzburger as his mentors during his 24 years at Macy’s, Baxter advised scholars to “define yourselves, and define your role, the way you believe it should be defined.”  He continued, “As you move though your career, you’re always writing your story…what are you going to do in this roll that’s going to define [you], and be a really interesting chapter in your story? How are you going to have an impact on the industry you’re in?”  Another piece of advice: “Soak up all the information, [and] ask as many questions as you can.  Curiosity, and maintaining curiosity through your entire career, will benefit you greatly.” 

Peter Sachse
Sharing one of his favorite expressions, Sachse encouraged scholars to “Bloom where you’re planted…Pick what you’re going to do, [and] do that very, very well.  Understand that if you bloom where you’re planted, everything else will take care of itself.”  

Yehuda Shmidman
On his involvement with the YMA FSF and the upcoming 2016 Gala, Shmidman underscored the incredible opportunity scholars have as part of this program.  “I cannot think of an event that gets such a vast group of influential executives into one room.  Competitors, executives, retailers, partners, licensers.  It is the most unique event in the industry, and what an opportunity for you.” 

Breakfast with the Boss: Sammy Aaron, Vice Chairman of G-III Apparel Group and CEO of Calvin Klein Divisions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fashion? Chances are, you didn’t think of analytics. But after an informational breakfast with Sammy Aaron, Vice Chairman of G-III Apparel Group and CEO of the Calvin Klein Divisions, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholars gained some new insights into the facts and numbers that truly drive the business. We also had the opportunity to hear from Roni Seiderman, President of the Handbag Division of Calvin Klein. Sammy and Roni shared with us the ins and outs of what makes G-III’s business so successful, and also generously gave us a tour of the Calvin Klein showroom spanning multiple floors. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned! 

About G-III
G-III, a leading apparel company, manufactures and distributes outerwear, sportswear, dresses, women’s suits, handbags and luggage. The company distributes under licensed brands, including Calvin Klein, Sean John, Kenneth Cole, Cole Haan, Guess?, Vince Camuto, Jones New York, Nine West, Jessica Simpson, Tommy Hilfiger, Ellen Tracy, Kensie, Levi’s and Docker’s, as well as a number of its own brands. G-III announced its license agreement with Calvin Klein in December 2011. Today, Calvin Klein is an extremely profitable division at G-III, and we had the incredible opportunity to tour the highest performing floor in the industry.

Steps to Success
The key to G-III’s success?  The facts. A fast-paced company that changes its merchandise 12 times a year, G-III’s partnership with Calvin Klein is based on producing what will sell, or in other words, what the consumer truly wants. Roni explained that she chose G-III because of its entrepreneurial nature, always designing, sourcing and pricing products so that they fit the desires and tastes of the consumer. As Sammy noted, “This is not a business of throwing darts or guessing. It’s a business where creativity is undoubtedly important, but it’s about tempered creativity. We do business here to put wearable clothing on America’s backs, and to do that, there are a lot of analytics.” Sammy highlighted the importance of studying the industry, whether you work with merchandising, sales, design or production.
As we took a tour of the showroom, Sammy brought the concept of using analytics and logic to life through real-life example. When the company wasn’t sure if a new unit would sell, it ran a test assortment of the garment in different styles and colors to learn which SKU’s were winners before mass-producing. When peacoats took a backseat to down coats, the company tried merchandising the down-trending item with infinity scarves, taking note of how the pairing improved sales. Lastly, when a $149 garment wasn’t selling, it was marked down to $99 and sold out completely, teaching the team what would work for the following season. Sammy explained, “It’s important to take liability as an asset. You can take a bad experience and make it very good by learning from your mistakes and applying them towards the future.” Strategic testing, logic, numbers, ratios—these are the elements that will take even the most creative business far. 

Words of Wisdom

  • It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Get into the industry, no matter what it takes. Even if it means sweeping floors, do whatever you need to do to get your foot into the door. Offer to do any task, big or small—the more you ask to do and help other people with things, the more valuable you become. Once you get in, you have the ability to start to shine. 
  • Don’t be afraid to change direction. “50% of you will change direction once you get into the industry, and that’s ok.” 
  • Study your business. Roni has partnered with retailers to study the exact square footage of department store space needed for the brand to perform at its best. “Everything is analytics, from the square foot, to the dollar.” 
  • Get retail background. “I encourage all of you to gain some retail background, even if you’re in design. Retail language is different, and to understand it will really serve you well in the future of your career.” 
  • Listen. Although Sammy started out skeptical of a new Calvin Klein bra model, he listened to his co-worker who believed in its potential, and now over one million units are being produced and sold. You never know what you will learn from others.
  • Surround yourself with great people—people who have the same enthusiasm for the industry as yourself. “My mother always used to tell me when I was growing up, ‘Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.’ The same thing continues to stay true as you start your career. There are people that will dive for the ball, and there are people that will watch the clock until it’s time to leave. Surround yourself with the divers—dive for that ball, and you’ll be something.”

Q: Jameel Mohammed (University of Pennsylvania, Wharton)- “How do you go about managing a brand so that it presents a cohesive vision to the customer when you are working with so many different product lines and segments?”
A: “It’s always a matter of collaboration with our licensor. There should always be a common thread running from sportswear to performance wear to handbags—without a common thread, you’re going to lose. When we make non-Calvin-like product, it typically doesn’t sell—you have to stay on brand. Sometimes you must push the boundaries—right now, for instance, floral prints are very hot, so we try to push them in small ways without losing the Calvin Klein style. Ultimately, I have 10 different divisional presidents that report to me, and I have found collaboration to be crucial in maintaining a common thread. G-III has 28 other licenses, but the Calvin Klein model works incredibly well because they are great partners. It’s partners that make business happen.”
Q: Samantha Stern (Cornell University)- “Given how quickly your product line rotates, do you look to outside research [to inform your decisions], or is all of the information gathered in-house?”
A: “It’s important to know what you don’t know. We use a lot of outside sources for information—we grab intelligence wherever and whenever we can, which includes paying for surveys, color information…absolutely everything.”
Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University)- “How do you maintain brand integrity worldwide?”
A: “We have a license for performance worldwide…The same brand integrity that goes into building U.S. distribution goes into building international distribution. Calvin Klein runs a lot of its own businesses internationally, but our partners there make sure there is a common thread not only domestically, but abroad in places like Asia and South America. It’s a big job, but an important one. We watch our product running through production all the way until it gets to a port and comes to us…we never lose sight of it.”

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Sammy's presentation. Take a look!

Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia)- “Sammy spoke a lot about the importance of analytics and really understanding the numbers. The fact that Roni knows the exact square footage of showroom she needs to meet her sales goals is pretty amazing.”
Amanda Bass (Washington University in St. Louis)- “I like what he said about tempered creativity. It’s not just sketching and design, but it has to do with working with a lot of different departments to get product out there.”
Grace Dusek (Texas A&M University)- “I learned a lot about the relationship between wholesalers and their retail partners, and also the relationships within wholesale. G-III has strong relationships not only with the brand that licenses its product to them, but also within design, product development, sales and planning teams.”

Thank you to Sammy for a wonderful morning!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Karen Murray, President of Sportswear at VF Corporation

Upon entering the VF Sportswear showroom to hear from the wonderful Karen Murray, the scholars’ Monday-morning blues quickly vanished as they took in Nautica’s refined, sophisticated palette. At this week’s first “Breakfast with the Boss,” we had the pleasure of speaking with Karen, who in addition to her role as President of Sportswear at VF Corporation overseeing the Nautica and Kipling brands, serves on the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund Board of Governors. We were also fortunate to meet Andrew Fletcher, Director of Strategy and Business Development for VF Sportswear. Both Karen and Andrew shared their stories and gave us an insider’s look at VF’s product, core values and current strategic plan. Here is just a small portion of what we learned! 

About VF Corporation
VF Corporation, a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel and footwear with more than 30 brands.  The company’s five largest brands are The North Face, Vans, Wrangler, Timberland, and Lee.  Other brands include 7 For All Mankind, Bulwark, Eagle Creek, Eastpak, Ella Moss, JanSport, Kipling, Lucy, Majestic, Napapijri, Nautica, Red Kap, Reef, Riders, Splendid, and SmartWool. 

Nautica was purchased by VF Corporation in 2003. Karen shared a little bit with us about Nautica’s current brand journey.  Over the past two years, the Nautica team, in partnership with VF Corporation, conducted a global consumer segmentation study to identify a bulls eye target consumer.  

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Karen graduated from the University of Maryland as a Criminal Justice major, originally thinking she would go on to become a lawyer. Upon realizing law school was not the future she envisioned for herself, she came to New York and decided to try out the “glamorous” field of fashion. As Karen explained, those first few months were “anything but glamorous.” She began at Gant, a men’s shirts company, answering phones, managing the office and cleaning up showrooms. Despite the fact that women purchase the majority of men’s apparel, Karen was surprised to be the only woman in the company’s office. Three years later, realizing that women made over half of the menswear purchases, the president of a big retailer called on her to put together an assortment of shirts. Through this experience, Karen learned that she had a knack for sales and was quickly promoted to various sales positions that lead to the VP of Sales. She stayed at Gant for ten years before moving on to Liz Claiborne, where she truly began to understand “how to make money and how women could work in business but still have a family.” She stayed for ten years, rising to the title of Group President of the Men’s division, before moving on to VF Corporation. As Karen shared with us, “I’ve learned more in my seven years at VF with the Nautica and Kipling Brands than I’ve learned in my thirty years prior in the industry, partly thanks to the principles and practices that VF employs.” Today, Karen serves as President of VF’s Sportswear Coalition. 

Known as one of the first women in the menswear industry, Karen emphasized that, despite the odds, achieving success in a male-dominated industry proved possible. At the beginning of her journey, she found it difficult being promoted to sales, as she was told that a woman “would never understand what men want to wear.” One of the most crucial pieces of advice that Karen offered our scholars, particularly the women in the group, is that “you can still have a family and a career and do whatever it is that you feel passionate about.” She explained, “People say a woman can’t ‘have it all,’ but you really can.” With hard work and determination, Karen proved herself as a leading executive in the menswear industry and inspired our scholars to pursue their passions regardless of obstacles they feel stand in their way. 

There are many different avenues for each and every one of you, and the most important thing is to find something you love,” Karen shared. “There’s not a day that I’ve woken up and didn’t look forward to going to work.”

There are many different avenues for each and every one of you, and the most important thing is to find something you love,” Karen shared. “There’s not a day that I’ve woken up and didn’t look forward to going to work.”

Words of Wisdom

  • Focus on the Consumer and Innovation. You may make choices about product design and merchandising, and you can lose some customers. You have to make decisions about which new elements you want to introduce to invigorate the brand, but also acknowledge what needs to change or evolve. Keep your eyes always on the target consumer and constantly innovate and evolve your brand. 
  • Build relationships. Karen shared that, “to this day, the relationships I built with buyers and department store managers in early stages of my career have helped me grow and build my career to where it is today.  I took every one of those opportunities and built strong partnerships.” 
  • There is no one “right” path. You don’t have to start in sales, design, or merchandising to be President—there are many different paths to the same place. “Be proud of the industry you chose, think about where you want to go and have passion for what you do, and you’ll get there.” 

Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University)- “How did you alter your product (Kipling) and position it internationally (specifically, in Asia)?”
“When things catch on in Asia, they take on a life of their own. It’s a younger customer there, but the younger customer really loved the bright colors, the printed nylon, the furry monkey (people started collecting them!) and girls started wearing the backpacks…once it caught on, it became like a cult—everyone had to have one. The hard part was not getting it to catch on, but how we would bring it to other parts of the world that didn’t even know about it. It’s all the steps you take (advertising, marketing, blogging) to bring [the product] to a new marketplace that are really important in changing consumer awareness. But [Kipling] does have a long way to go as a brand until we can ask people about it and have them know exactly what it is. People are very aware of Nautica, but we still have work to do to get Kipling to that level, even if we are making huge progress.”
Q: Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia)- “From your experience, how easy do you think it is to move between departments within a large company?”
“A lot of companies say it’s easy to move between positions, and we as a company try to practice that. I think the best thing to do when you go into a new company is to be up front and say, ‘I’m not sure this is where I’m going to be long term.’ You can go in and say ‘I’ll give everything I’ve got to merchandising right now, but I have a little bit of an interest in marketing.’ If you’re honest about that, and you show them that you can think towards the future, it will not only help you out in your career but it will signal curiosity. Some companies do what’s called a “round-robin” and let you switch from department to department so that you can learn sourcing, marketing, sales, P&L, and much more. It all depends on the company you choose, and I recommend discussing that upfront.”

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Karen’s presentation. Take a look!
Bryn Gorberg (Marist College)- “You don’t have to start in the industry to end up in it.”
Meghan Wallace (Oklahoma State University)- “Prior to now I didn’t realize just how many brands VF Corp. owns besides Nautica. I enjoyed learning about the scope of the company.”
Emma Gage (Marist College)- “I really liked hearing the progression of her journey from being the only woman working in menswear at the beginning of her career. A lot of people don’t recognize that a woman can be in charge of a company and still ‘have it all.’ If you put in the work and time management, you really can have it all, and Karen showed that today.”


Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Mary Ann Shannon, Senior Vice President of Sales at Levi Strauss & Co.


The important topic of sustainability took center stage at today’s “Breakfast with the Boss,” featuring Mary Ann Shannon, Senior Vice President of Sales at Levi Strauss & Co. We were very fortunate to have an open discussion with Mary Ann—not only did our scholars ask her questions about her journey and the company, but Mary Ann also had some of her own interesting questions for them. Take a look! 

About Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi Strauss & Co. is one of the world's largest brand-name apparel companies and a global leader in jeanswear. The company designs, markets and sells jeans, casual wear and related accessories for men, women and children under the Levi's®, Dockers®, Signature by Levi Strauss & Co.™, and Denizen® brands. Its products are sold in more than 110 countries worldwide through a combination of chain retailers, department stores, online sites, and a global footprint of approximately 2,700 retail stores and shop-in-shops.
With a long history of value integrity, profits through principles and environmental awareness, Levi Strauss & Co. strives not only to make fashionable, durable products, but also focuses on pioneering reforms in the apparel industry. Levi Strauss & Co. is famously known for integrating factories a decade before the law required it to, currently piloting programs such as Improving Worker Well-being and other industry-leading sustainability activities. Notably, innovations like the Water<Less process help reduce the water consumed in the manufacturing process of a pair of jeans. Additionally, the Levi’s® and Dockers® brands include information on product care tags to encourage the consumer to use less water and energy once the garment is in their care. 

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Mary Ann explained to our scholars that she went into the fashion industry thinking she would have one experience, and that experience turned out to be a bit different. After growing up in Kansas City and attending a local college, Mary Ann decided that her part-time job working in specialty store locally was what truly excited her, and decided to pick up work in the business full-time, soon being promoted to store manager and regional manager at a very young age. While she loved everything about the business and began to demonstrate her thirst for knowledge and willingness to take on hard work, Mary Ann came to realize that there was a limitation to how much she could grow and contribute within a small family-owned business. Eventually, she entered Macy’s Midwest Executive Training Program, where she went through formalized training, started as an assistant buyer and gained invaluable experience with both design and operations within the business. It was at this point that Mary Ann realized just how crucial the operational side of the fashion industry is, first being exposed to all of the financial implications that a company faces. She took this knowledge with her as she was promoted within Macy’s to sales manager, and then went on to become a women’s sportswear buyer at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Next, Mary Ann moved to Spiegel, where she remained for almost 12 years as Divisional Merchandise Manager. She then joined The Limited as a Divisional Merchandiser for women’s bottoms, and then developed an apparel audience for QVC as the Director of Merchandising. Finally, Mary Ann was offered an opportunity at Levi Strauss & Co., where she is now responsible for all women’s sales accounts in the country.

"I was fortunate to have some great mentors, and my role in that process was&nbsp;being open to feedback," Mary Ann explained.&nbsp;"I would highly encourage all of you to think about that—there’s truly no better gift a boss can give you than some good feedback. And when you all become bosses someday, learn how to give that feedback in return.”

"I was fortunate to have some great mentors, and my role in that process was being open to feedback," Mary Ann explained. "I would highly encourage all of you to think about that—there’s truly no better gift a boss can give you than some good feedback. And when you all become bosses someday, learn how to give that feedback in return.”

Words of Wisdom: Critical Skills
Mary Ann touched on a number of important skills that would serve our scholars well, regardless of what part of the fashion business they end up leaning towards.

  • Communication. According to Mary Ann, “it’s as much about what you say and how you present yourself as it is to listen. And I mean listening to truly hear what the other person has to say, not simply waiting until someone finishes talking to speak yourself.” 
  • Read your Audience. Whether you’re presenting a design idea, a sales plan or a marketing pitch, really knowing to whom you are selling is crucial. Be aware not only of what you want to say, but also what your audience needs from you. There will inevitably be dissension—be altruistic, but hold your own. 
  • Facts, Facts, Facts.  “The fun part about this business is that it’s comprised of both art and science. There’s a great deal of respect for the design part, but whether you’re on the creative side or the operating side, the facts need to be there.” Always ask “Why?” 
  • Ability to Influence. Coupling together communication, willingness to listen and facts to support your ideas will give you a power base to enter discussions and influence not just those who sit above you, but those who work next to you as well. 

Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University)- “Throughout your career, how did you continue to make the transition in and out of operational work?”
A: “What I think is important is that I didn’t initially see myself as an operator, but it came through in my work—Rather than consciously choosing to make the transition, I would be recognized for my operational contribution. I was aware that I wasn’t as creative as many others, and I’d talk to my boss about how to develop an eye for design and gain more exposure to things that don’t come instinctively. As an operator, having that creative inspiration is crucial because I need to understand when trends come and go and when a product’s lifestyle is going to peak in order to drive profitability. Having both a right- and left-brain is really important, but typically people only really excel in one side and need to develop the other. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to raise your awareness [on subjects you know less about] and self-reflect.”
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College)- “Levi Strauss & Co. is clearly a very ethically run company, and sustainable practices run within the company’s DNA. That being said, the customer really drives the industry. It’s one thing to be able to run an ethical company and influence your employees, but from my understanding, the major change can only truly happen when the customer shows a major shift in desiring and responding to ethics and sustainability. How do you make a connection between the company and the consumer being the driving force?”
A: “Sustainability has been important to this company for many years. We also established Terms of Engagement nearly 25 years ago – a comprehensive workplace code of conduct for our suppliers that set standards covering everything from wages to discrimination to health and safety. We made the choice, and we took a stand when it wasn’t popular, but we’re a company that believes in doing the hard right thing instead of the easier wrong.”

Q: Mary Ann Shannon- “What motivates you when you select a brand? Does sustainability influence your decision when you purchase?”
Meghan Floyd (YMA FSF)- “In New York it can be hard because trends are coming and going, so people focus on fast fashion. Everyone loves a nice, well-made product, but that can sometimes take a backseat.”
Emma Gage (Marist College)- “I never used to really look at garment tags and question where products really come from. Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to take part in a conference raising awareness about philanthropy, and I realized it was time to give back to fashion. Sustainability really stood out to me as important…I now look at where clothes are made, which is a relatively good indicator of how ethical the sourcing is. It’s about finding a balance, dedicating your time, and being willing to ask the questions and doing the hard work, but it’s not always so easy.”
Mary Ann Shannon- “We like to say that we are a company that operates through a profits through principles philosophy. You can work towards a better world and uphold your values, but in the end, there will always be certain implications. But always think, ‘how can I be an advocate for social change?’
Q: Mary Ann Shannon- “What influences you from a marketing standpoint?”
Lauren Smyzcek (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “What’s really important to me is that a product has a story. My friends and I find ourselves shifting from needing 10 pairs of trendy jeans to needing 2-3 pairs of really nice ones that come from a more conscious buyer mentality. If you ask me about my shirt, I want to be able to tell you the story behind it. I don’t always live that way—I think it’s more of an aspirational consumer mentality, but authenticity is something I aspire to.”
Mariel Bolger (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “I would definitely be willing to [click on a video to learn more about a brand on its’ website]. I would want to learn about the company ethically and sustainability-wise, but I also want to know if what I’m wearing promotes and fits who I am as an individual.”
Mary Ann Shannon- “[Buying clothing is] a really personal experience. With your generation, having some sort of connectivity beyond just the aesthetic is really important. How brands behave can and does influence your purchase. Status is becoming less about money, and more about the experience.”
Thank you so much to Mary Ann Shannon for engaging our scholars in a thought-provoking, meaningful discussion this morning, and for sharing her own journey and advice.

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Lisa Panattoni, President of Merchandising at Ross Dress for Less

This morning the scholars got their first taste of off-price retail over breakfast with Lisa Panattoni, President of Merchandising at Ross Stores, Inc. After a few weeks dabbling in the spheres of wholesale and private label, getting an inside view of the fast-paced off-price retail world was both refreshing and exciting. The scholars enjoyed a casual conversation with Lisa—they learned a bit more about Lisa’s day-to-day work experience, and had the valuable opportunity to ask Lisa all kinds of questions, ranging from personal preferences to corporate advice. Here’s a peek at the dialogue between Lisa and our scholars this morning! 

About Ross Stores, Inc.
Ross Stores, Inc. is a leader in delivering fashionable trends to the everyday consumer since 1982. America’s largest off-price retail chain, Ross Dress for Less, offers in-season, name brand and designer apparel, accessories, footwear and home products at discounts of up to sixty percent off of department and specialty store prices. Over the past thirty years, Ross has grown from a small chain to nearly 1,300 stores in 33 states.

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Lisa’s entrance into the fashion world came as a surprise when, while holding a part time job at a ski and tennis store in college, she was offered a job to fill in as the buyer and got her first taste of being a merchant. She described this shift as “not a planned or strategic move, but something that’s been perfect for [her].” Soon realizing her love of retail, Lisa’s wishes to move to a larger company were granted when she entered Weinstock’s department store training program in Sacramento, California. After gaining almost six years of traditional retail experience there, Lisa moved East to join Marshall’s Marmaxx Home Store as a buyer, and then went on to become SVP of Merchandising and Marketing for the TJX HomeGoods division.  It was at Marshall’s that she first developed her passion for off-price retail.
In 2005, Lisa joined Ross Stores, Inc. as SVP and General Merchandise Manager of Ross Home. After being promoted to Executive Vice President and Group Executive Vice President, Lisa earned her current title as President of Merchandising at Ross Dress for Less.  Her everyday job consists of beyond-the-moment tasks including strategic planning for the future, both months away and in the long range. When asked what drew her to off-price buying, Lisa noted that she finds the act of “toggling between many different times and seasons” especially rewarding. “I like it because there’s just a different speed and immediacy to it,” she explained. “There’s an immediate, connect-the-dots understanding of what worked and what didn't, and a focus on how we can learn from and make decisions based on past mistakes.”  Additional aspects of Lisa’s responsibility at Ross include human resources, where she coaches and develops her team, as well as managing specific product strategies, particularly around vendor relationships. As she shared with us, “your ability to build relationships and figure out how to have a partnership with your vendor base is really what makes you successful.” 

“The best job to have is being a buyer,” Lisa explained from experience, because it’s “where you get closest to product and merchandise and really generate a love for it.”

“The best job to have is being a buyer,” Lisa explained from experience, because it’s “where you get closest to product and merchandise and really generate a love for it.”

It was such a fabulous opportunity to be able to ask Lisa for her thoughts on many different topics; both questions about her personal journey and concerns or ideas we have about our own futures. Below is just some of the helpful advice Lisa provided.
Q: Ruby Ghastin (University of California, Berkeley)- What do you find most difficult about your job?
A: “I’d say our biggest challenge is feeding the amount of talent that we need. Recruiting and filling jobs with people that are a cultural fit to our company proves harder than it seems. A lot of people have the skill set or intellect to do the job well, but all the pieces have to fit together…they have to be a cultural fit and a good team player. Those are hard qualities to pull together into one package. We especially love our internship program because if we can bring people in early and watch them grow up in the company, it makes for a pretty successful employee formula.”
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College)- What do you look for when you hire?
A: “I want somebody that’s curious. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s in design or in retail, a level of intellectual curiosity gets you a long way. What’s going on in the world? What’s happening on TV/in fashion? And how does that apply to me? Being able to look at things beyond the obvious is crucial.  You also have to be a good team player and a good collaborator. And it sounds silly, but you’ve got to be nice! Being nice, professional, respectful are qualities that we value. Of course it’s important to locate strategic, analytical, numerically sound individuals. But it’s really about those other less obvious qualities that make someone successful.
Q: Ruby Ghastin (University of California, Berkeley)- Since you’re getting product from so many companies, do you find it hard to plan for what’s coming next?
A: “In off-price retail you have to live in the gray. We always know that some pieces are a given and can plan those, and then we have to use our best guess about what we know from the market to plan our next moves. We think about current business…for instance, it was a really cold winter and there’s not going to be much outerwear out there, so we need to buy more outerwear and get ahead of that. So, while it’s not planned, it’s thoughtful. And of course we make mistakes.”
Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri)- “How do you go about maintaining a work-life balance?”
A: “It’s a very difficult thing to do, and as you grow and your lives evolve, you will have kids, families, and outside interests. Any job, and particularly this job in merchandising, is intense and requires time and commitment. That being said, you want to look for a company that understands and appreciates a level of balance, because a lack of balance can only be sustained for so long. I really try to be able to separate work and what I do personally…to be able to step away is important. You do have to make it a priority to not get too consumed with work, because you’re going to be a lot better with work if you have balance on the other side.”

Q: Grace Dusek (Texas A&M University)- “Do you have any interview tips?”
A: “The first thing is always to do your homework. If you come in prepared with knowledge about company and the people you interview with, it goes a long way. In fact, you’d be surprised how few people do that. I’m not necessarily looking for a specific answer to my question, but I’m looking to see candidates’ thought processes. It’s very easy to have a “packaged” answer…I’m looking for someone with a level of transparency, where I feel like I got to know and learn something about them. Someone who is self-aware, in touch with things that they need to work on, honest and transparent. Be yourself, be authentic…that’s what people are really looking for in the interview.”
Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri)- “Now that you’ve been in the company for a while, how would you know going into a company that it’s the right fit? What do you look for?”
A: “Great question! A mentor once said to me, ‘when thinking about making a big decision, think about the 3 C’s.’ It really resonated with me. Culture, it has to be a place that you like and where you respect the people, where you feel like you belong and there’s a fit. Challenge, you want to continue to evolve, grow and develop, never be bored. And you want to be Compensated. If you can put those 3 together, you’ve landed on the right combination. Ross really delivered on that, and I give that advice to anyone who’s considering changing a job. It’s a risk, but follow your gut and you’ll generally be right, and if not, you’ll regroup.”
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College)- “In your own words, what would you describe success to be, and failure to be?”
A: “I think success is if you’re happy. It’s just as simple as that. That means both personally and professionally, but at the end of the day that’s what you go home with and what you live with. And failure…I would say failure is regret. I wouldn’t want to wake up one day and have done something longer than I would have wanted to and was unhappy, or regret that I should have made a move that I didn’t.”
A huge "thank you" to Lisa for taking the time out of her day to converse with our scholars and for providing so much support and generosity. 

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Lunch with a Leader: Heather Thomson, Founder & CCO of Yummie

Fashion designer, stylist, philanthropist, and leading cast member on Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of New York City, Heather Thomson is Founder and CCO of the Yummie by Heather Thomson fashion brand.  What started off as a “selfish initiative” for a new mom and consumer frustrated with the lack of options in the shapewear department quickly transformed into a global brand that is revolutionizing the shapewear industry.   With the launch of a new loungewear collection just around the corner, Heather Thomson sat down with YMA FSF scholars to talk entrepreneurship, taking risks, philanthropy, and of course, a little Real Housewives. 

Building the Brand: Passion with Purpose 
After the birth of her first child, Heather Thomson, like many new moms, struggled to lose stubborn baby weight.   Looking for a quick boost of confidence, she decided to take a trip to the shapewear department, but what she found there was less than inspiring - tight, uncomfortable pieces that needed be hidden beneath layers of clothing. Frustrated by the lack of options available, Heather returned home to take matters — and scissors  into her own hands.  Falling back on her more than 15 years of experience in design, working as the founding Design Director for the Sean “Diddy” Combs line, and with celebrities like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez on the launch of their labels, Heather walked to her closet, grabbed a jumpsuit, and cut out the middle section, sewing a panel in its place.  Thus, the patented 3-panel shaping tank top, and a whole new way of looking at shapewear, was born.  

Founded in 2008, the Yummie by Heather Thomson brand launched with a mission to help women look and feel their best.  With an innovative design and vision to create shapewear pieces that could be incorporated into every day looks, Heather crafted pieces that offered sculpting support in the midsection, and non-shaping in the bust and hips, so women could wear their shapewear with an outfit, under blazer or blouse.  This was something that had never been done before.  Not surprisingly, Oprah quickly picked up the Yummie sculpting tank as one of her “Favorite Things” which helped catapult the brand overnight.  Since then, the company has expanded its product line into figure-flattering, functional collections  from intimates, to ready-to-wear, to denim  all designed to give women that extra boost of confidence. With twelve different patents in place securing the future of the brand, this year, Yummie is excited for its newest category launch, loungewear. 

On finding the right career path, Heather advised scholars to "take time to slow down and calm down...really listen to yourself. &nbsp;Ask yourselves the questions, the answers are all there." &nbsp;&nbsp;

On finding the right career path, Heather advised scholars to "take time to slow down and calm down...really listen to yourself.  Ask yourselves the questions, the answers are all there."   

"Heatherisms" - Words of Wisdom 
As an entrepreneur and business woman, Heather offered some wonderful advice, or “Heatherisms” as she likes to say, to our scholars who share her entrepreneurial spirit.  

Take Risks, Be Willing to Fail
Becoming an entrepreneur, you are alone in the beginning. You need to have confidence in your idea and vision.  If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to support you on your journey? Bottom line: “Take risks and know that you’re going to fail.  Mistakes are great because you learn from them.” 

Fail Fast
“When you fail, fail fast.  It’s only a mistake if you make it twice, if you make it once, it’s a lesson.”

Love What You Do
“You are going to be best at the things you are passionate about.  It’s only work if you’d rather be somewhere else.”

Know How to Build your Team
"Fill the holes of your own weaknesses with strengths of others. Know what you’re good at, and what you’re bad at, and build your team [around that]."

Never Give Up, Always Give Back
Passion with purpose drives entrepreneurial success.  It’s the hard work, long hours, strategic execution and relentless dedication to your vision that will help you to achieve your goals.  And once you do achieve success, you have an equally, if not more important, responsibility to give back in some capacity through philanthropy.  As Heather says, “Don’t show up to the table unless you’re charitable.”

Heather is deeply involved with the New York Organ Donor Network.  This cause is near and dear to her heart as her son, Jax, received a liver transplant as a baby.  Serving as an active board member of the Kellner Liver Foundation, Heather is committed to helping children receive lifesaving medical treatment.  

Scholars' Q&A
Q: “What was your biggest transition from having a supervisor (Sean “Diddy” Combs) to becoming your own boss?” - Diane Dickey, Indiana University

A: Responsibility.  Now, I have a responsibility to the people I hire, who have lives and families of their own.  When you have a staff of people counting on your for their jobs, that’s a big burden to bear.  But, I grab on to it, and build a strong team around me.  Hierarchies are important in business for organizational reasons, but teams win. 

Q: “How did you get involved with the Real Housewives Franchise?  Why don’t you choose to feature you business as prominently as some of the other women?” - Nicole Cember, Cornell University 

A: When the phone call came to my desk, I was thinking [absolutely not].  Then, of course, the marketing side of my brain kicked in.  I created lists to weigh the pros and cons, and the cons paled in comparison to what I could do with the pros, especially with regard to raising awareness for important matters, like my philanthropic work.  

Opportunity comes in all different shapes and forms. I wanted to use the TV show as a platform to introduce and promote Yummie, but I never wanted to force the brand.  That’s why you’ll  never see me pushing product on you during the show. 

Q: "How do you make sure you’re always listening and responding to your company’s customer needs?" - Shaina Levin, Savannah College

A: It’s about engaging with customers through reviews, social media, and actively listening to the consumers’ wants and needs.  We need to listen to the front-facing consumer, but we also have to be cognizant of the world around us. I have always had a guttural instinct about what we should be designing.  There are things I know intuitively that I put into the brand.  

It’s really about finding balance; We’re all bio-individual, nobody reacts to things the same way.  If you look at the different body shapes and lives people are living, we’re all different!  But that’s what inspires me, creating products that help women feel more confident and love what they see in the mirror. 

Q: “What advice do you have on building a brand?” - Shota Adamia, Brandeis University

A: You have to look at the market and find the holes.  It’s all about innovation.  In fashion, department stores set trends, but the buyers also set trends.  The key is to distinguish your brand and product from the competition.  Don’t show the buyers the same things everyone else is showing them.  If [Yummie] is showing a bra, you know that bra is different.  It can be in construction, fabrication, undercutting the market price — something that stands out from the rest.  

A special thanks to Heather for taking the time to sit with our scholars over Lunch with the Boss.  Stay tuned for our next update!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Meghan Floyd

Breakfast with the Boss: Michael Mombello, SVP of Design and Product Development for Neckwear at PVH

Despite being “tied” up at their various internships around the city, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholars took time out of their mornings to hear from inspirational leader and neckwear specialist Michael Mombello (pun intended). Over breakfast, Michael shared with us the many steps along his journey to his current position as Senior Vice President of Design and Product Development for Neckwear at PVH. We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the men’s neckwear showroom, taking in an array of beautiful ties in more patterns, fabrics and colors than we could have imagined. With ties ranging from the simple and classic lines and deep blues of the Indigo collection (inspired by Michael’s trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm) to the modern paisleys and narrowly shaped silhouettes featured in more recent collections, each of our scholars walked away inspired by something different. Here are some of the highlights! 

About PVH
PVH Corporation, with a heritage of over 130 years, is currently the second largest apparel company in the world.  The company excels in growing global brands, marketing them in the United States and internationally. PVH owns a diversified portfolio of noteworthy brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen and IZOD. Additionally, PVH has the license for brands such as Ted Baker, Todd Snyder, Michael Kors, Nautica, Kenneth Cole Reaction and Geoffrey Beene. Its products are distributed to a range of popular department stores, as well as to hundreds of outlet locations. Taking special care to maintain the integrity and core values of each brand in the growth and expansion process, PVH has emerged as a leader domestically and globally. Between its owned brands, licensed brands and private label brands, PVH accounts for greater than sixty percent of the neckwear market share in the United States.

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Michael graduated form Connecticut College in 1983 with a major in English and a minor in Art History. He always thought he would go into advertising, publishing or marketing, even considering at one point doing admissions work at a boarding school. “I didn’t know I was going to end up in this business at all,” Michael explained. The concept of “not knowing” at the beginning is one we have heard multiple bosses share this summer, and one that Michael made the point of stressing to our scholars. “Just start somewhere,” he suggested. “It doesn’t have to be the perfect job.” This opportunity came for Michael when Macy’s came to his college campus with Bloomingdale’s to look for “thinkers, writers and communicators.” Although not initially planning on interviewing, Michael filled in the slot of a friend who unexpectedly fell ill right before her interview, and from there it was all fate. He earned a spot in Macy’s executive training program where he began as a dress shirt assistant buyer, moved on to become a floor manager, and gained the experience of working for a large retail company. This “sink or swim” opportunity, as Michael described it, really “crystallized why [he was] in the business—it’s all about customer feedback and the relationship with the consumer.” This led naturally to his next role as a store manager and buyer at Polo Ralph Lauren.
After five years’ work with Polo, Michael felt it was time for something new, and landed the position of Men’s Merchandise Director of retail at J. Crew. He especially enjoyed the direct product-to-consumer experience, traveling to style outlets in Hong Kong and expanding J. Crew’s accessories, tailored clothes and footwear. Michael stayed with J. Crew for over five years, but soon “got itchy to give up merchandising and cross over into design.” Listening to his gut, and to his boss who suggested that he try neckwear, Michael moved back to the Ralph Lauren family as Design Director for Chaps, and then became Design Director of Men’s Tailored Clothing at Tommy Hilfiger. He stayed with for thirteen years, finally holding the position of SVP of Design. While he started out with ties and neckwear, Michael moved around between golf, men’s tailored clothing, men’s sportswear and even women’s accessories, embracing the ever-changing dynamic of the company. Today, Michael holds the title of Senior Vice President of Design and Product Development for Neckwear at PVH. Rather than focusing on many product categories within one brand, he now enjoys focusing solely on neckwear and working with many brands and stores.

"Words of Wisdom"

  • Find a place where you can make a difference. Sometimes in the beginning of your career it’s important to get yourself established with larger, more structured brands, but later on make sure you find a job where you feel you are most valuable. 
  • There’s no “I” in team. Learn how to collaborate with others, even in a more rigid company structure where doing so can be difficult. 
  • Work hard now. If you work as hard as you can work in your current position, doors will open to guide you towards the next step on your journey. 
  • Do what feels right. Figure out what feels best to you in this specific moment; listen to your gut. 
  • Be a sponge. Soak up every bit of knowledge you can. Raise your hand when you have a question and never be afraid to ask. 
  • Cast your net wide. You may not know which way your career will turn next, but having a network to reach out to in times of need can make all the difference.
Michael showing scholars the "Indigo" collection, inspired by his trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Michael showing scholars the "Indigo" collection, inspired by his trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Q: Shota Adamia (Brandeis University)- “For all of us who are very new to the business, it’s easy to get caught up in a routine role, and difficult to figure out what kind of team will provide you with the best experience for the future. What do you think are the best kinds of teams/work environments for us to be trying out at the beginning stages of our careers?”
A: “There isn’t one best team. There are endless options in terms of where you can start, and I have many friends in the industry that did complete turnarounds, moving from women’s to men’s, small environment to corporate. I love that I started in merchandising, because I feel like I have developed a left-side right-side brain. In merchandising, you have to know how to appeal to the customer, but you also have to keep in mind that a young Southerner might not want the same product as an older man in the North. You also have to understand the financial implications of your decisions and how they affect sales. While there isn’t one ‘right’ team, sales is a great place to start.”
Q: Megan Blissick (University of Delaware)- “It seems like a lot of your opportunities were self-created. When in a company setting, how do you know when it’s appropriate to ask for a different position, for a raise, or to move elsewhere?”
A: “You’ll know—you’ll just feel it. I always feel like it’s equivalent to shopping for houses with my wife…finally you walk into that one living room and just know that’s the one for you. You all have the luxury of something [my generation] didn’t have—job postings online. You have the ability to search quickly for opportunities that might pique your interest. Currently in the industry there’s a trend of test-driving designers and creative talent. Many times a company will want to see if it’s a good fit at first, but what starts out as freelancing often turns into a full time position, and if you fit well with the team and perform well, even if there isn’t a position that fits you best, they might create one for you. Don’t get discouraged in the first rung of your job—you’ll progress, begin to take on more responsibility and make more money as you go along. I like to think that two years is always a good benchmark. If you know something isn’t right for you you’ll feel it right away, but if you’re hesitant, give yourself some time. Two years is a sufficient amount of time to assess ‘am I on the way up? Or am I sitting here in one place?’”
Q: Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia)- “What are the most important qualities to seek out when choosing a first time job?”
A: “Try to understand as best you can the job description—the actual ‘what is my day-to-day going to look like?’ Companies can’t always give you a sense of that right away, and even if they do, you may not know that half your time will be spent cutting tie swatches or putting boards together, but always try to have a clear understanding of what your main role will be. Also, who is on your team? Are you a person that wants structure, or do you want to be a startup maven? Ultimately, everybody has different needs. Some people have a situation where salary isn’t most important starting out, while others have to work 2-3 jobs—that can determine a lot in the beginning. Regardless, always cast your net wide.”

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Michael’s presentation. Take a look!
Lizzy Schrantz (Oklahoma State University): "I found it interesting when he said, “know where you can make a difference.” It’s not something I had really considered as much before, but it's really important."
Madalyn Manzeck (University of Wisconsin-Madison): “I took away that hard work pays off. You’re not going to get to the top by not working hard. It may be difficult at first doing the grunt work instead of the fun stuff, but as Michael said, if you work hard at one job, you’ll find an opportunity somewhere else. That was really inspiring.”
Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison): “Hearing how important it is to learn about and experience all of the different aspects of the industry, and how beneficial that can be.”

Many thanks to Michael for his generosity, encouragement and inspiring words!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Summer Kickoff Party!

The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund hosted its annual Summer Kickoff Party on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.  In an evening that connected the best and brightest young YMA FSF scholars with some of the most influential leaders in the fashion industry, the SummerKickoff Party proved to be an exceptional networking event filled with excitement, enthusiasm and invaluable opportunity.    

As guests congregated in the Broadway Lounge overlooking Times Square, YMA FSF scholars, many of whom are in NYC for the first time fulfilling summer internships with prestigious fashion companies, were captivated by the spectacular views of the city.   Floor to ceiling glass windows lined the room and offered a unique perspective of the bustling city below, while bright lights from flashing billboards fueled the energy in the room.  

YMA FSF Scholars, Board members and executives conversing over hors d'oeuvres in the Broadway&nbsp;Lounge.

YMA FSF Scholars, Board members and executives conversing over hors d'oeuvres in the Broadway Lounge.

For the more than forty scholars who attended the event, the evening served as a wonderful chance to meet and reconnect with one another, conversing over shared experiences, new internships, career goals and aspirations.  As Grace Dusek noted, “After three weeks of settling into the city and my internship, it was fantastic to feel welcomed by the YMA FSF Board Members at the Summer Kickoff Event!  Snacking on hors d’oeuvres in the heart of Times Square, the evening was glamorous, yet intimate.  I enjoyed meeting new scholars and Board members, and cannot wait to continue fostering these new relationships.”

Beyond connecting with one another, scholars were afforded the opportunity to speak with leading executives from the fashion industry.  These individuals, who serve as mentors to the scholars, graciously dedicate their time towards helping our future leaders of fashion on their roads to success, developing their passions and honing their skills.  The accessibility of industry executives at the event, and overall caliber of individuals in the room, was nothing short of remarkable.  As Oliver Selby noted, “Attending these events and meetings enables me to connect with people in the industry, including our amazing Board members. I am in the process of looking for a job, and YMA FSF has given me the ability to forge long-standing relationships with the right people who are willing to help.  For me, the organization is a wonderful support system, one that wants to watch you grow and succeed as an individual in the field of fashion.  I am so grateful for everything YMA FSF has done.” 

The evening was a wonderful celebration of brilliant minds, creative spirits and unparalleled talent in the industry.  Scholar Shota Adamia agreed, stating, “I think that the passion and resourcefulness of all the mentors and Board members, in unison with the wildly talented and motivated group of scholars, created a space with unmatched, challenging and invigorating aura. It is a huge privilege and honor to be a part of the life-changing experience that the organization provides for its scholars, and I do hope that I can stay equally involved in the future by giving back.”  

We would like to thank all of the scholars, Board members, mentors and executives who joined us at our Summer Kickoff Party, you truly made the evening a night to remember.  We look forward to seeing you at our next networking event! 

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Meghan Floyd

Breakfast with the Boss: Drew Pizzo, President and Owner of Collection XIIX

“What are you exceptional at?” This question lingered in the room as Drew Pizzo, President and Owner of Collection XIIX, addressed our scholars this morning. The company, a distinguished authority in design, licensing, branding and product development, has reached success due to its functional organization and concentration on the “unique ability” of each employee. Not only did the scholars leave inspired by the core values that Drew has instilled within the company, but we also had the privilege of taking a tour of Collection XIIX’s beautiful showroom, each walking away with a beautiful pashmina scarf from the collection. Read on to learn about the unique characteristics of Drew’s company that we experienced firsthand! 

About Collection XIIX
As Drew described, “Collection XIIX is a design company, a licensing company, but primarily a product development company.” Founded in 1978, the company specializes in scarves, cold weather knits and jewelry for designer brands and private label collections, licensing national brands such as BCBG, Vince Camuto, Nine West, Anne Klein and Nanette Lepore. The company sells to a variety of stores ranging from Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor and Nordstroms to Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Target. 

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Drew always knew he was interested in entrepreneurship, although he did not immediately predict that he’d end up in the fashion industry. After graduating from Long Island University he went on to gain corporate experience at IBM, next moving on to work for Accessories Street as a salesman. However, Drew soon decided to capitalize on his entrepreneurial vision, moving along with his wife (at the time a storeowner and a buyer) to sell his own apparel and accessories at street fairs throughout Manhattan. Not surprisingly, the small business quickly grew successful, and when faced with an order from JCPenney in 1991 that was too large to complete alone, Drew decided it was time to go bigger. It was then that the business merged into Collection XIIX, which at the time sold only silk scarves and sought a more stable product. Drew purchased half of the company and later on became the sole owner, progressing the company into the powerhouse we see today.

Unique Company, Unique Ability
“I’m convinced that each of you has a unique ability within you,” Drew asserted. “And most of you have the power to take that unique ability of yours and turn it into an exceptional capability.” Yes, hard work and discipline are undoubtedly a requirement for success, but the concept of “unique ability” that drives the development of skills and talent at Collection XIIX rests on the principal of generating exceptionality. Drew defines exceptionality as creating maximum value for yourself, the people you work with and your customers. In his interview process, rather than getting bogged down in job qualifications or resumes, each individual is asked to take character-assessing inventories of both personality and natural ability. Benchmarking certain positions around specific assessment scores, Drew has found that people generally apply for positions that are within their capability. But he goes even further, asking each applicant to articulate a statement about what they are exceptional at. In defining their unique characteristics, Drew feels that each of his employees will feel most powerful, productive, engaged and passionate about their work overall, and generate utmost value for the company. “If you just hire smart people and don’t give them the freedom or ability to work within what they do best, you dilute their productivity,” Drew explained. “Smart people can do anything well, which is why you often see employees doing a bit of this and a bit of that. But we hired you because we thought you had an exceptional ability in one area, and that ability is what can really contribute to our pool.”
Additionally, Drew spoke extensively about the importance of generating personal goals throughout one’s life and career. But a goal-oriented state of mind is not enough, according to Drew; “We find, and there’s science that shows, that when you write down a goal, you magnetize your subconscious to that place where you want to be.” Unlike a wish, accomplishing a goal by a certain time requires an action plan and steps for perseverance. So each member of Collection XIIX’s staff are required to write down personal and professional goals that are aligned with corporate values. Drew clarified, “Sometimes the expectations put upon us by our parents, administrators, peers and friends feel so heavy that to write down another goal, put another expectation upon yourself, feels unnecessary. So write it in pencil. Six months from now, if you no longer have that as a goal or it’s outdated, erase it and write down a new one.” 

According to Drew, what is the most important 3-letter word in the English language for success in business?&nbsp;ASK. &nbsp;  “  You will be surprised how intimidated you are to ask a question," Drew explained. &nbsp;  “  Learn to ask a question. &nbsp;To this day, having been in the business for over 30 years, I still find it challenging to ask. &nbsp;But even if someone says no, it gives you the opportunity to learn how to ask again."

According to Drew, what is the most important 3-letter word in the English language for success in business? ASK.  You will be surprised how intimidated you are to ask a question," Drew explained.  Learn to ask a question.  To this day, having been in the business for over 30 years, I still find it challenging to ask.  But even if someone says no, it gives you the opportunity to learn how to ask again."

Words of Wisdom: "Four Core Company Values"
Drew spoke of four company values that have fostered a community of deeply motivated individuals and have driven the business to success. 

  1. Show up on time. Hit your deadlines. “It’s just as easy to be early as it is to be late,” Drew explained. “You just have to plan for it.” 
  2. Do what you say. Gaining trustworthiness and accountability will lead you far. 
  3. Finish what you start. “In life we are forced to be multi-taskers, but being cognizant of the job you were paid to do is most important.” 
  4. Say “Please and Thank You.” According to Drew, #4 wins the title of most important. “Politeness, kindness—they are just standards. We are all stressed and we all have deadlines, but there’s no excuse for fostering anything other than a culture of respect.”

Q: Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia): “From where did your management style develop?
A: “It evolved over the years. Trial and error, probably. I realized that 10% of what I learned was because somebody else said ‘do it this way,’ and 90% of what I learned was [through experience]. I asked myself ‘what worked?’ and remembered it. And, of course, number two would be education. You are all in the learning business. Part of success, and developing skills and talents, is about continually learning. Not only learning what your capabilities are, but learning the needs of the consumer and the public.”
Q: Ruby Ghastin (University of California, Berkeley): “What’s the most difficult part of your job?”
A: “It changes over time, but I would say today, the hardest part of my job is keeping a finger on the pulse of where business demand is. Each day, consumers need less and less. We all have too much stuff. Keeping an eye on where the trend is and where business opportunities lie can be difficult.”
Q: Celina Enriquez (Academy of Art): “What are your goals, and how often do you set them?”
A: “When I was your age, I read a book called ‘How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life’ by a Harvard professor, and there was a chapter about goal setting. I wrote “Lifetime goals” which were just dreams. I wanted to have a family, make a certain amount of money, and reach a state of balance in my life. Under those, I listed activities: ‘What would it take to get to there?’ And then I drew set-time goals: ‘What could I accomplish in 3 years?’ I always wrote them down. When I met my wife 10 years later, she thought I was crazy. But I took her through this exercise, and for the next 10 years we would pull them out, review our goals and revise them. And we accomplished them. By the time I was 40, I accomplished my goals. Today, I am in need of a new set of goals. I am throat deep in what we do, and I’m happy, but I am always thinking about what to do next for growth.”
Q: Maria Catalano (Marist College): “How do you stay focused on long term goals when you’re stuck doing smaller tasks (such as an internship or entry level position)?”
A: “Have immediate goals you want to accomplish that will feed into the long term goals.  Also, as a business owner, I will tell you this: it’s really competitive out there. Finding ways to maintain your confidence is probably THE most important thing that you can do for yourself to be successful. One of the ways you can manage this is to draw a line down a piece of paper and put together a list of which things, activities and people build or add to your confidence, and which things take away from it. Eliminate those things that tear away from your confidence, and accentuate those that build it up. Maintaining a good, healthy attitude and respect for yourself, regardless of what task you are doing, comes from being confident.”
To put into words what our scholars took away from Drew’s advice would be too difficult a task. Thank you so much to Drew for a fabulous, inspirational morning!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Glen Ellen Brown, VP of Brand Development at Hearst

Kicking off our second week of “Breakfast with the Boss” today was the experienced, innovative Glen Ellen Brown, Vice President of Brand Development at Hearst Magazines. Not only has today’s inspirational boss made a name for herself at one of the largest, most diversified communications companies in the world, but she has also developed a close relationship with the Fashion Scholarship Fund, currently serving on the Board of Governors. She also serves on the Mentorship Committee, where she works diligently to assign industry mentors to each scholar. Today, Glen Ellen focused on discussing her career path as well as providing an in-depth explanation of licensing and its many opportunities, giving our scholars advice about moving forward with their own careers. To top it off, we had the fortune of experiencing one of the best views of the NYC skyline from the Hearst Corporate Office. Take a look at what our scholars learned from Glen Ellen! 


About Hearst
Hearst Corporation is one of America’s most extensive media and information companies. Since its founding as a single newspaper in 1887, Hearst has grown into a powerhouse—the company currently owns 15 daily and 34 weekly newspapers, hundreds of magazines, 29 television stations and leading cable networks, as well as maintaining diversified holdings in many other information services and media interests. Under the Brand Development group, Glen Ellen is specifically responsible for developing products and experiences that enhance the brands behind Hearst’s magazine titles and “reach the consumer with engaged content at every touchpoint.” Recently, she developed The Metropolitan Home Collection, a line of furniture and bedding designed to promote the sophisticated, modern aesthetic for the more urbanite, leveraging the legacy of Metropolitan Home magazine. Glen Ellen explained to our scholars that licensing a brand involves looking very strategically at elements of that brand and trying to capture its essence through the creation, as well as the marketing, of a product. She described the nature of Hearst as a “multi-tentacle brand,” one that allows the consumer to engage through “search and selection customization,” as being a major contributor to its success as a company.

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
One of the most pivotal takeaways from Glen Ellen’s talk was her non-traditional career path. After graduating from the College of New Rochelle with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she very quickly realized her desire to back her artistic talent with business savvy and develop a skill set that would benefit her long-term. As Glen Ellen shared, “I didn’t want to stifle my creativity, but I knew I needed serious skills.” It was then that she entered Chase’s 8-month financial training program and never looked back. “This experience fed that left-side of my brain that had been feeling a skill set void,“ she explained. “I finally felt that my right-side and left-side were working together.”
Glen Ellen’s introspective ability and self-knowledge has taken her very far. At each step of her career, she has been able to satisfy her creative drive while also feeding the “entrepreneurial monster” within herself, and whenever the equation feels unbalanced, she seeks change. After spending her early years doing sales and marketing for a personal women’s and children’s clothing business, she grew to love marketing and rigorous branding, but felt that it was time to go bigger and find that next skill set. It was in her next position as Vice President of Grey Advertising, Inc. that she “learned how to take [a brand or trend], position it appropriately, and market it so that consumers will act.” To change things up even further, she went on to become Director of Marketing for consumer products at The Walt Disney Corporation. From Glen Ellen’s description of the environment at Disney, we could all practically feel the “incredible, can-do, magical, fast-moving drive to create”, that she experienced each day at work. Learning the valuable skills of teamwork, leadership and motivation along the way, she helped the leadership team challenged with transforming Disney into a consumer brand, introducing the idea of an entertainment branding and branded Disney products to stores nationally. Glen Ellen has also held notable positions such as VP of Consumer Products at MTV as well as SVP and GM of, a customized music and entertainment business. Her “zig-zag” path from small business to large business, shifting cultures and entrepreneurial styles with each move along her journey, has “fed [her] monster” and armed her with invaluable experience.

Scholars' Q&A

Q: Hannah Wheeler (Cornell University): How do you strike a balance between your creative side and your business-savvy side?
A: “When I started in banking, I felt this incredible urge to paint. I was in finance doing spreadsheets and looking at cash flows, and amongst all of this big data, I kept feeling the desire to keep that creative side alive in me. Eventually, that need to paint ended up translating into a need to design things. It’s about finding the balance between creativity and business that’s right for you, but it may not be 50/50. There are so many ways to find creativity within business, as I’ve learned through my many positions. Part of my creative equation [when licensing a new product] is always asking, ‘how do I position this product?’ or ‘how do I advertise it?’ Find little ways to incorporate your creative side in whatever work you are doing.
Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri): Before accepting a job position or entering a new industry, what elements do you assess to make sure it’s the right fit for you?
A: “First, consider for yourself, ‘here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I love about what I’m doing, and here’s what’s less pleasurable.’ Do your research! Talk to people you know and tell them what you’re specifically interested in. Use your network, or create one. And once you get inside, be prepared to ask questions and assess the fit for yourself. I’m a big business development person and a marketer, so the fact that I went from family to teenage demographics was strategically right for me. But ultimately I decided that the specific environment [of MTV] wasn’t a very good fit, and knew it was time to move on again.”
Q: Mariel Bolger (University of Wisconsin): When applying for your many different jobs, did you always go into an interview with a specific job in mind, or instead position your capabilities and leave it to the company?
A: “ In the Agency instance, I was determined to get into Advertising, and open to all opportunities. When presented with a specific opportunity, I was prepared with several reasons why I was a good candidate, as well as how my past experience could contribute. I think today you have to be open to the opportunity to get into the field in whatever way possible, and once you’re presented with opportunities within the industry you’ll find the right fit. It all falls into place.”
Q: Shota Adamia (Brandeis University): “In an industry where practical experience and formal education are both extremely important but hard to leverage at the same time, how do you strike a balance?”
A: “As I went along my zig-zag path, I encountered some people who felt that only a vertical path (formal education, then experience) works. In their minds, you enter a training program, become a buyer, and then advance in a very linear way. From my perspective, that’s not always the best strategy. Of course, there are crucial things that you need to know, but having an infusion of several different vantage points can be extremely valuable. As you’re building your career, that vertical can sometimes be daunting and seemingly hard to break, but that’s where your mentoring really helps. So much is about leveraging what’s at your fingertips—you have an amazing network of ambassadors and mentors, it’s all there for you.” 

Glen Ellen’s “Words of Wisdom”
In addition to sharing some “Baseline Expectations” she felt scholars must be prepared to face during their careers, such as completing internships, networking, time management, organization and commitment, Glen Ellen shared some more personal advice. 

  • Develop your own path. It’s ok not to take a vertical path in your career. Try entrepreneurial, try big brand, try it all.
  • Teamwork is extremely important. “You can’t do it all.” Figure out your vision, and do your best to get others on board. “Make them feel the same magic you feel.”
  • Don’t do “no.” Have a “yes” mentality, and don’t take no for an answer! An environment with negative energy hinders success.
  • Feed your “monster.” If you are working in a business setting, try to find a way to satisfy your craving for creativity, and vice versa. Build a foundation but don’t neglect your passions. 

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Glen Ellen's presentation. Take a look!
Anna LaPlaca (UCLA): “My top takeaway was her advice that we try to get a diversity of experience. It was really interesting to me how she bounced back and forth between creative and business sides of her career and balanced between left and right brain. She diversified, and made herself more competitive that way.”
Brooke Begalka (Oklahoma State University): “Her career path and how she went from small business to big business, creative-sided to more business-minded, was very inspiring. I’m a very creative person, so it was cool to see how she fed her thirst for creativity while also gaining business skills.”
Mariel Bolger (University of Wisconsin): “Glen Ellen provided me with valuable insight about the concept of going into a business, maybe not in the position that’s right for you at first, but being open to learning from it and finding the right fit as the opportunity comes along.”

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

Breakfast with the Boss: Abbey Doneger, President and CEO of The Doneger Group

This morning the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund Scholars had the fantastic opportunity to meet with Abbey Doneger. As President and CEO of The Doneger Group, the leading source of global market trends and merchandising strategies to clients in the fashion and retail industry, Abbey’s advice and expertise were truly unique. We also had the pleasure of meeting Marla Rosen, Director of Marketing, and hearing some of her insights. Here are some of the highlights from our second “Breakfast with the Boss!”

About The Doneger Group
The Doneger Group is a family owned company, founded by Abbey’s father in 1946. It provides fashion design, trend and merchandising guidance to clients in the fashion and retail industry. The company is made up of four major divisions, which review the marketplace throughout all stages of the design, development and merchandising process. TOBE, the company’s inspirational “think tank,” predicts consumer behavior by examining individual stores, the overall market, and other factors (pop culture, media, health & wellness and travel) that influence the consumer. In addition, Doneger Creative Services, the company’s trend and color forecasting division, works with designers and product development teams to anticipate colors, fabrics and silhouettes 12-18 months in advance of the season. The Merchandising Division analyzes the wholesale and retail marketplace to deliver actionable insights on merchandising strategies, resource information and key item identification. Lastly, Price Point Buying matches sellers of off-price merchandise with companies interested in buying the merchandise, rounding out the retail process from start to finish. The Doneger Group works with domestic clients as well as international clients who are interested in retail, fashion, merchandising and trends from a U.S. marketplace perspective.

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Abbey graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1973. Shortly after graduation, he entered the family business under his father’s guidance and has not looked back since. Abbey was appointed President of the company in 1980 and to this day has continued to lead The Doneger Group to success. Abbey maintains a very well rounded presence in all facets of the company, generally spending one-third of his time on HR related matters, one-third of his time on financial, operational and strategic matters, and one-third of his time on client activity and business development. Additionally, and especially important to the company dynamic, Abbey makes himself extremely accessible and gets to know each of his employees on a personal level. Each member of the company has an opportunity to showcase his or her talents to Abbey, making it easy for him to identify individual talent, passion and growth in the business.
Abbey rightfully takes pride in the fact that The Doneger Group has “figured out how to navigate through the complexity of the industry, through the ups and downs of the economy, and through the significant contraction of retail.” Abbey has helped maintain the company’s integrity by carefully making strategic decisions and thinking consciously about long term outcomes. “Consistency is important,” Abbey explained. However, since the company ages back well over half a century, one of Abbey’s major roles is to make sure the company’s products and services are still considered “modern and relevant.” He has taken careful steps to invigorate the company with fresh ideas and global thinking. 

Scholars' Q&A
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College): What has kept the company intact for so long and helped navigate through contraction of the industry?
A: “We try to stick it out through rough patches. Not everything in the industry or in life is smooth sailing, and it’s so simple to take the easy way out, throw up your hands, say “this isn’t for me” and move on. Sometimes that is important to do. But I think it’s only important to [give up] when you’ve already exhausted the opportunity to try to fix things, or at least come up with solutions.…Being able to think clearly, react to crisis situations and deal with challenges that arise within business, the economy, and life overall has really served us well.”
Q: Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia): In terms of merchandising and retail, what is the process of determining what items are trending (or will be trending)?
A: “We have an experienced team who studies fashion. In retail, things are constantly evolving. In the past it was a lot easier [to trend forecast], because fashion historically was designer and runway driven. But today, it’s what’s happening on the streets, in grade schools and on college campuses that really drives consumer activity. Identifying trends isn’t as easy as it once was. We need to be out there in the field, be visible, capture as much information as we can, do our research, and examine many different areas in order to gain the perspective necessary to properly advise our clients…It’s not an exact science.”
Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University): When you’re looking to hire someone/promote someone, what stands out to you?
A: “Interpersonal skills are so important for our business. Some areas of the external industry require less interactivity, but there is always internal interactivity. Having a personality, being able to present yourself professionally and being comfortable are all really important. We all have different personalities and characteristics, but to the extent that you are comfortable, try to get out there and present yourself. It’s people who are outgoing, those who are aggressive and assertive in a professional way, who demonstrate a level of passion, commitment, energy and work ethic that stand out.”
Q: Madeline Hanley (Indiana University): How do you motivate people to work hard?
Abbey: “My father set an example for me when I was first starting out here. At the time he was always the first one in the office each morning and the last one at night, and he used to open up every piece of mail that arrived each day. He motivated me [to do the same] by example. In everyday work, I will never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do. When you’re in a leadership position, it’s important that the people you work with understand that you’re right in the trenches with them and that you work hard. If you work hard, you can expect them to work hard.”
Marla: “I see Abbey every day, and it makes me want to do my best to make him proud. He never says ‘get motivated,’ but he doesn’t have to. When you have somebody leading by example and watching someone that inspires you every day, you become self-motivated to do your best.”

One of Abbey’s favorite quotes is basketball star Michael Jordan’s motto:&nbsp; “   Approach every game believing that there is at least one person in the stadium who has never seen you play before   .” &nbsp;Abbey believes that if you approach your life and your career that way, never taking anything for granted and always putting your best self forward, you will succeed.

One of Abbey’s favorite quotes is basketball star Michael Jordan’s motto: Approach every game believing that there is at least one person in the stadium who has never seen you play before.” Abbey believes that if you approach your life and your career that way, never taking anything for granted and always putting your best self forward, you will succeed.

Abbey's “Words of Wisdom”
Despite being President and CEO of a renowned company, even Abbey doesn’t feel it is trivial to ask others to share their “words of wisdom” with him. In fact, his main advice to our scholars was that they “interact with people who have more experience” than they have. Abbey explained, “I love the opportunity to talk with others who I feel are more knowledgeable, and who have some level or experience or perspective that I don’t have.” Here are some of the other pieces of advice Abbey shared. 

  • Learn from others. In any job, meet many different people and try to develop a few very significant relationships that will carry you far beyond one position. 
  • Know who you are. Abbey recognizes that while he has the personality characteristics necessary to successfully run a family business, he may not have the qualities required to engage in a startup technology company, and that is perfectly okay. 
  • Stick it out. Steady hands, a steady course and consistency are important in decision-making and steering a business ahead. 
  • Go with your instincts. Abbey explained, “Your instincts will serve you well. In fact, I can think back to the decisions I’ve made where I got swayed or lazy and didn’t trust myself, and these were times I made some significant mistakes.” 
  • First impressions matter. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Each time you meet someone new is an opportunity to learn and grow. 
  • Use common sense. Today, with the amount of technology at our disposal, common sense is surprisingly uncommon. 
  • Try big and small. There are incredible opportunities to learn and grow with large companies in terms of networking. But if you’re fortunate enough to work in a small company where you get to try more, that can be a very positive experience as well.
  • Explore while you can. Don’t stress over your first job or first experience—your twenties are the time to make mistakes and try new things. You don’t have to have all the answers just yet or know what your career path will be. 
  • Maintain your integrity. Handle your responsibilities. 
  • SHINE! Showcase your talents and your passions. “It’s not only performing well in a specific area that matters, it’s also about participating, volunteering, giving back, using the opportunity in a job to elevate yourself and making an impression on the people you work with.”

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Abbey’s presentation. Take a look!
Hannah Wheeler (Cornell University): “I liked what he said about how he really values talking to people with more experience than he has. That simple action could take someone really far.”
Daniela Gallo McCausland (Washington University in St. Louis): “I thought that he had such a refreshing point of view on managing such a large business. He explained how he always thinks about how a decision will affect the company in the long term, and that being able to think clearly as well as being able to react to crisis situations has helped that company succeed. I also liked that he said he loves talking to people that are more experienced or knowledgeable than him, because it reflects that even though he is the President of such an important company, he appreciates talent and understands that there is always room to learn from other people.”

Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia): “Finding a mentor. Making sure that wherever you are, you find one person you can look up to and learn from.”

A huge thank you to Abbey for taking the time to teach and inspire us all today!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller 

Breakfast with the Boss: Colleen Kelly, CEO of Alex Apparel

At the opening Summer 2015 “Breakfast with the Boss,” YMA FSF scholars had their first opportunity of many to meet with an inspirational, influential leader in the fashion industry: Colleen Kelly. Colleen is currently the CEO of Alex Apparel, a private equity backed apparel company specializing in evening dresses. In addition to her successful career, Colleen has generously involved herself with the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund for over ten years, and is extremely passionate about developing fresh, young talent in the fashion industry. Colleen serves on the FSF Scholarship Committee, responsible for the Ambassador Program, and also on the newly formed Alumni Committee. In fact, she was our closing speaker of last year’s series of “Breakfast with the Boss” events, leaving the program on a very high note. Here’s an inside look at what Colleen shared with our scholars! 

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
While Colleen graduated from college with a major in theater, she loved being around apparel in her many jobs at stores throughout high school and knew she was heading in the direction of fashion. After graduating, she entered the Executive Training Program at Jordan Marsh, a Boston-based department store. This experience launched her corporate career in retail and provided her with a strong skill set. It was through this program that she was placed into her first job as a department manager, where she learned to both give and receive critical feedback for personal growth. 
Colleen was fortunate to work for smaller companies at the beginning of her career to gain expertise and interact with customers. She grew to enjoy working in sales, as she “loved that you could see the results right away,” but ultimately decided it was time for some large company experience. Colleen moved on to become Vice President of Sales at Donna Karan International, where she approached the product from the merchandising side. According to Colleen, “Big companies are really important in terms of training and gaining experience,” while in small companies, “you get to be more hands on” and are exposed to more facets of the business. For this reason, she recommended to our scholars that in their careers, they take the time to experience both small and large company dynamics.

One of Colleen’s main strengths has proven to be that when she “hits a ceiling,” she makes room for continued self-growth. So when the opportunity arose for her to become President of Calvin Klein Jeans at Warnaco at a time when the brand was experiencing inner turmoil, Colleen jumped right in, hiring new talent, changing the team dynamic and turning around the product line. She recalls, “Tackling one problem after the next with an energetic team that worked hard at a difficult task, we turned that business around and became extremely profitable for the Warnaco group.” Her first major experience with turnarounds at Calvin Klein gave her the expertise she needed when she moved on to become Group President at Tommy Hilfiger. Once again, by returning to the company’s roots, reorganizing her team, redesigning the logo and partnering exclusively with Macy’s (at the time a groundbreaking feat), Colleen returned Tommy Hilfiger to a state of growth and profitability.

Colleen’s Motto: “Candor with Kindness”  Colleen explained how during a turnaround, it can be difficult to strike a balance between being direct and upfront with your point of view while also remaining kind and composed. She explained, “People will learn from you and respect you without you telling them that they are less than.”&nbsp;

Colleen’s Motto: “Candor with Kindness”
Colleen explained how during a turnaround, it can be difficult to strike a balance between being direct and upfront with your point of view while also remaining kind and composed. She explained, “People will learn from you and respect you without you telling them that they are less than.” 

Where She is Now
Colleen finally felt it was time to move on from the big company sphere. Choosing to “bring [her] big company lessons to a small company and help it grow,” she landed a job as President of Kahn Lucas, one of the largest, privately owned manufacturers of girls apparel, where she grew the business and once again implemented a new strategic plan for turnaround. But along the way she never forgot her big dreams of being CEO, or her desire to “be the one who has ultimate say in making the big decisions.” Today, she serves as CEO of Alex Apparel. The company’s designs are sold under the brand names Alex Evenings and Kay Unger, and are distributed at leading department stores such as Nordstroms, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Von Maur and Lord & Taylor. Today, Colleen is working on evolving the product to fit a younger niche, providing a fresh eye to a family company and reinvigorating the brand.  

Scholars' Q&A
Q: Emma Gage (Marist College): Now that you’ve reached your goal of CEO, what has been the most challenging difference between being a CEO and a President?
A: “The big difference is that you can’t just go up to someone’s office and ask them, ‘Can I do this?’ You are in charge. It can be lonely at times, so you must draw from your own experience and draw from your network outside the company to gain insights. Reaching out to mentors from past experiences helps too. It’s a challenge, but that’s the fun part! You can say ‘Ok, I just have to do this,’ and you will keep improving all the time.”
Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri): Having worked with a lot of different types of people in your career, what sets apart the top performers?
A: “It’s all about attitude. You just have to be a yes person, even if you decide it’s a no. You have to think you can do it. I remember telling my parents I was going to be the President of an apparel company at 40 years old, and that happened. I also said I was going to be the CEO by 50…that didn’t happen. I was 5 years late! But it still happened. You need people that are going to be like, ‘yes, let’s do it!’ even if they face a challenge. It’s very mental. You have to wake up and just know you’re going to accomplish something, and be able to get everyone to think that way.”
Q: Samantha Stern (Cornell University): How do you handle the work-life balance, especially given that working for a large company can be extremely stressful?
A: “I’m not a real stickler on the 9-5 thing. I think people are very creative at certain times of day— some people are morning people and others are night people. Sometimes people need to know when to stop. I’m ok with that—I try to be very flexible. When people look like they are burning out, they should move away from a project for a little bit. But that’s not to say it’s busy—in fact it’s often hard to not put in those hours. I’m working 7 days a week right now, 70-80 hours, because the first 90 days [of a turnaround] are critical. But you have to do personal things to give yourself the energy to do this job well. And you kind of need to know when it’s time to pull back.” 

Colleen’s “Words of Wisdom”

  • Sometimes your career zigzags—you take two steps forward and one step back along the way, but you have to make sure you have the right mentors and people surrounding you. If not, it’s time to make a change. 
  • Take ownership of your career path and the decisions you make along the way. 
  • People are the most important part of this job. Yes it’s the fashion industry, but people are going to make you successful. 
  • “Go back to the roots” in a company’s turnaround. 
  • Be open to change. 
  • Don’t jump too quickly from one company or position to another, but also don’t stay in one place for too long or you’ll get stale! It’s all about working hard in your current job and knowing when it’s time to move on to the next one. 
  • It’s not an “I,” it’s a “we.” Teamwork is as, if not more, important than going for the end goal. You can’t do it all yourself. 
  • Be yourself, and don’t change who you are. If you land in a company or position where the only way to get ahead is to change who you are, chances are it’s not the place for you. 

Top Takeaways
Some of our scholars shared with us what they found most meaningful or memorable about Colleen’s presentation. Take a look!
Grace Dusek (Texas A&M University): “Her motto, ‘Candor with Kindness,’ really stuck with me. It’s really comforting to see that you can make your dreams come true but not sacrifice who you are as a person.”
Lindsay Mitchell (University of Missouri): “I was really inspired by her ‘you can do it’ attitude. She knew she wanted to be CEO and did it.”
Maria Catalano (Marist College): “I like that Colleen has big goals for herself, but that she knows she can accomplish what she wants while being kind at the same time.”
Jose Moscoso (Buffalo State College, Alex Apparel Summer Intern): “Just listening to her journey was very motivating. It’s helpful to see the path she took to get [to where she is] and what things you need to know along the way.”
Emma Gage (Marist College): “Knowing you can have a goal that you want to reach, being ok with the fact that it takes time, and understanding that if you believe in yourself and have people who believe in you, you can accomplish anything.”

We couldn’t have asked for a better “boss” to launch our 2015 Breakfast with the Boss series. Thanks to Colleen for all her insights, and to our scholars for their enthusiasm.

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller