Some 500 students, prospective students, faculty, staff and visitors packed The Gallagher Center on March 27 to hear expert insights on the fashion industry from Emmy-Award winning fashion celebrity Carson Kressley H’13, Darlene Daggett, former president of QVC, and alumni industry leaders Ed Goldberg ’65, Tony DiElsi ’79 and Kate Kibler ’97.
Hailing from opposite ends of the fashion industry, Kressley and Daggett began the conversation by comparing the roles of designers and merchandisers, while also noting the need for strong collaboration between the two.
Kressley’s advice to designers was to focus on the needs and wants of the customer. “Fashion is really about what we put on in the morning, and if we can make that more fun for the consumer then we’ve hit a home run,” he said.
Daggett, who started as a merchandiser at QVC and rose to the top position during her 18 years at the television and online retailer, offered these tips for successful merchandising: understand the customer, mine the data, shop the market, know the competition and deliver a business plan to your design team.
Though they both have enjoyed highly successful careers, Kressley and Daggett told the students there is no one clear path to success in today’s fashion industry. Daggett, who with her team grew QVC from a $250 million company to a $5 billion business, said, “I would love to tell you that I had this incredible vision of what e-commerce could be, but luck favors those who work hard, and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Kressley, who started working in retail with Ralph Lauren before being selected to star in Bravo’s breakout hit series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” said, “It’s all about flexibility, you have to constantly change and be nimble.”
He applauded PhilaU’s educational culture focusing on real-world and collaborative experiences: “It’s an entrepreneurial approach,” he said. “I look for opportunities, I learn to adapt.”
Their insights were well-received by current and prospective fashion students. “It’s a great motivation to see their success in the industry,” said Jonathan Cantu, a sophomore fashion design student. “It inspires me to pursue my dreams and enter this industry when I see so many successful PhilaU alumni.”
Tony DiElsi ’79, group senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Ross Stores, predicted that the fashion industry would be incorporating new interactive, online shopping experiences in the future, although it’s not clear exactly what those new technologies and experiences will be. “There are going to be so many different avenues to navigate,” he said. “But if you have passion, that’s the one thing that will get you through everything else.”
Kate Kibler ’97, senior director of merchandising and visual and specialty retail at Under Armour, said one of the best decisions she has made was to attend PhilaU, “where I was surrounded by a team of faculty in an incredibly supportive and creative culture.”
When asked by a student about the best way to stand out on a job interview, Kibler said, “Do your research. Impress with your knowledge and know the market.”
Ed Goldberg ’65, senior vice president of government and consumer affairs at Macy’s, said his PhilaU education prepared him well for the fashion industry and told students there are “many, many positions out there someone coming out of Philadelphia University can get.” He advised students to find something in the industry they really love to do, and then, he said, “Put your heart and soul into it.”