By Leighah Beausoleil
From small mom-and-pop shops to large corporations, Framingham State students are given the opportunity to gain valuable first-hand experience in the field they love through internships in the fashion industry.
This semester, students from the Fashion Design and Retailing Department who hold concentrations in merchandising began their transition into the workforce with their final two-credit course, according to Virginia Noon, a fashion design and retailing professor.
This course requires students to complete over 280 hours of work at their respective internships in addition to the course’s accompanying assignments, Noon said.
“Those assignments really are developed to be reflective in nature, and they help them to assess the progress in their career [as well as] personal analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats,” she added.
Noon said she and the department’s chair, Professor Haewon Ju, oversee the internships throughout the course of the semester.
She said the department works “closely” with Career Development in order for students “to develop soft skills.”
By the time the students are seniors, they will have made several drafts of their resumés and will be ready to complete the “final” ones of their college careers, Noon said.
In addition, the Career Development Office conducts mock interviews with students, she added. This “has been really great because sometimes, the students think they don't need to do that, but they have to get dressed and they have to create a scenario for a mock interview.”
Regarding Career Development, Noon said, “They've been instrumental as we built our program over the years.”
Noon said the professors work with the students to search for internships, adding, “It’s a very dynamic process.
“We don't have 20 intern positions sitting out there waiting to be matched with candidates,” she said. “Our industry is very dynamic and always changing, so we've built, over the years, a relationship with different companies in the area.”
Noon added, “Some I can call up and say, ‘I've got a great candidate I think would be a good fit.’ Sometimes, people call us.”
She said she helps students by making phone calls, but when it comes to doing the interview and getting the job, the students have to put in the work.
Noon said it can be “a hard process because students want to get something right away, but sometimes, they don't happen right away, and that's really where the learning comes.”
She highlighted a feature built into the course called the “special project assignment.” Noon explained this assignment encourages the student to ask the company for an extra project that they can help out with that will benefit the company. This project is typically something that the company may not have the time for.
In order to also improve public speaking skills, students are required to present these special projects to their supervisors in addition to some other employees at the company, Noon said.
She said these internships give students the opportunity to see if they truly enjoy that particular part of the fashion industry. For example, some students may feel strongly about wanting to work in a corporation, but then realize they do not want to sit in a cubicle and look at numbers.
In these corporate roles, students are “doing the process of product development, which is coming up with the product, connecting with vendors overseas, and producing the product.
“Oftentimes, the students will realize that they really appreciate product - handling product, positioning of product - and that's what we call merchandising, or fashion merchandising,” Noon said. “It's putting the product placement in a way that is aligned with the company's selling objectives.”
She said this often leads students into working in retailing, which they may have done in the past in a position such as a salesperson, but as interns, they are encouraged to take on roles with more responsibility in management such as that of a keyholder.
Noon said sometimes, the students in these internships will end up being hired by the company. This has contributed to the growth and strength of the department's alumni network.
“Our alumni connection is very, very strong, and we built that through our industry advisory board,” she added. “We have a group of companies that advise the faculty and help us guide our curriculum development, and many, not all, are alumni.”
Noon said this program was originally established by professors emeriti Judy Flynn and Irene Foster. “I'll just say they developed the program to be what it is today. Because I came in and continued to build it in a similar way that they did, I learned from them, and I think we can thank them for the work that they did. I think it continues to benefit all of our students.”
Ciara Johnson, intern at Anthropologie
Ciara Johnson, a senior fashion design and retailing major with a concentration in merchandising, said she is interning at the Anthropologie located in the Natick Mall as a keyholder/manager.
Formerly, Johnson said she worked at Anthropologie two years ago as a stylist.
She said as keyholder, her responsibilities include opening and closing the store as well as managing the staff along with the other managers at the store, adding they all “switch off.”
Each manager has a part of the store that they focus on. Johnson said her focus is on managing the stylists team, which consists of two employees.
“I'm able to manage them and help style the mannequins, book any appointments for clients, talk to clients, kind of do any social media work with them,” she said. “That's pretty much what I do day to day.”
She added, “I also have meetings with the stylists in the district. So we usually talk, I would say maybe twice a month about what's happening - what our goals are money wise or just customer wise or business wise.”
Johnson said in her previous position as stylist, she had the freedom to style mannequins and work with customers and now as a manager, she is able to provide guidance and mentorship to those who currently hold stylist positions. “I've learned how to lead rather than follow.”
In addition, she said she has a better understanding of how the store is run and the analytics that she needs to pay attention to, including the data on how much customers buy and what the conversion rate is on a day-to-day basis.
Conversion is the percentage of customers who enter the store and make a purchase.
Johnson said working at Anthropologie, she also has to understand the brand and the style that the company wants the customers to buy, which is different from her own personal style. However, despite following a style that is more “scripted,” when she finishes with a customer, she still feels accomplished.
She said when she interned at TESstylist over the summer, there was more freedom and creativity with how they styled customers as the store used multiple brands rather than a single one.
“I feel like the industry is tough and they want a certain way of what it looks like, but I think it's important to kind of follow what they want … but also staying true to your own style,” she said, adding, “I’m still figuring it out.”
Johnson said her favorite part of styling is connecting with each model and listening to their stories and truly hearing how they want to be dressed.
“I think a lot of the time, a lot of businesses have a certain way they want their brand to look, but that's not how our world is anymore,” she said, adding at Anthropologie, she often does not work the range of people that she did at TESstylist.
She said the company has only recently begun adding clothing in petite and plus-size sizing.
“I think the people inside the industry have made me love it more than actually working with clothes every day,” Johnson said. “I just love the people really inside. I've worked with some of the coolest, most fun, and most creative people.”
Adrianna Hassan, intern at Trend
Adrianna Hassan, a fashion design and retailing major with a concentration in merchandising, said she is interning at her father’s business, Trend, which is located on Newbury Street in Boston.
Hassan said Trend is a comfort shoe store, and her father recently opened a second store five blocks further down the street. Though she has worked there for years as a salesperson, she said she has been taking on more responsibility with the business’ marketing and more of the paperwork side.
Through her time working there, Hassan said she has been able to develop her people skills in order to improve her sales and build relationships with customers.
She added working at Trend has helped put the fashion industry into “a real-world perspective.” Applying what she has learned in school to the business allows her to gain a better understanding of how the industry works.
Hassan said if she had to offer advice to people interested in pursuing the fashion industry, she would recommend they “work hard and stick with it.”
She added, “If you really like to do it, it's very time consuming, and it's a lot of networking and meetings and everything, so just put 100% into the career.”
Hassan said watching her father open a second store this past summer has demonstrated to her how much more complicated the industry is than she initially thought.
She added though it may sound strange for him to open a second store on the same street, both sides are geared toward different clientele. For example, she said one store is closer to Berklee College of Music, which means more of their clients will be college students.
Hassan said it was her father who inspired her to pursue this career.
“I was born into it,” Hassan said, reflecting on how she practically grew up at her family’s businesses.
She added being at the store was her way of bonding with her father as he often works 80 hours a week.
Hassan said she hopes to open her own store one day.
Camille Stotz, intern at TJX
Camille Stotz, a senior fashion design and retailing major with a concentration in merchandising, said she is currently interning at TJX as an allocation analyst.
Stotz said in this role, her focus is on sales, what the company has on order, and she gets to decide what products go on the website, especially for men’s and women’s athletic footwear.
She said doing this work has provided her with more insight on what is popular, such as golf. “Our golf shoes are doing outstandingly, and just like as a culture and society in general, I feel like golf is really becoming popular, especially among younger people.”
Stotz said her day-to-day typically starts with her deciding what should be put on the website. She then sends those over to the person who physically adds them to the site.
Additionally, Stotz said she will attend meetings throughout the day with her team members, adding she also works on problem-solving any issues with orders at the distribution center.
Having never worked in a corporate setting before, she said she has been able to improve and develop her office skills by “really just seeing how everyone else acts and what a corporate setting really looks like.”
Stotz said in this role, she has been able to see a “different side” of the fashion industry. Because many of her classes focus on product development and buying, doing a job that focuses on planning has taught her “a lot.”
She said planning allows the company to “put what we bought into action.
“I've talked to Dr. Noon about this and I've told her maybe we should start focusing more on analyzing data and the whole planning process in those classes,” Stotz said. “So I hope in the future, they do try to implement that more instead of just really buying and product development and all that.”
She said to those interested in pursuing the field, she recommends they “really understand what it means to go into the fashion industry.”
Stotz emphasized that while she is a fashion major, what she learns in those courses and through her internship experience can be applied to positions outside of the fashion industry. For example, she said there was a guest speaker who was a fashion major and now works at CVS doing planning for the company's snacks.
She said in the future, she hopes to pursue more jobs focused on the buying side of fashion. “I love looking at products. I love deciding, like, ‘Hey, maybe we should purchase this. Let's try it out. Let's see how the customer responds to it.’ It's something I've always kind of had an interest in.”
However, Stotz said from her internship experience, she now knows “you don't really know what you're getting into until you get into it.”
Claudia Tosi, intern at DC Consignments
Claudia Tosi, a senior fashion design and retailing major with a concentration in merchandising, said she is interning at DC Consignments in Natick.
Tosi said DC Consignments is a luxury and contemporary consignment store, adding the most popular items are luxury handbags, shoes, and jewelry. Due to the business’ large number of consignors, there are constantly new products being added to the store, including to the clothing collection.
Consignment is an arrangement in which a company will leave its goods in the possession of an authorized third-party seller.
Tosi said her responsibilities include running the social media, cashiering, merchandising, working with consignors, pricing items, as well as updating the website - which had not been updated for some time - so the store can have more online shopping options.
Through this position, she said she has become more knowledgeable of different brands that she was not aware of before and she has improved her communication skills.
“It was definitely kind of hard at first,” she added. “I was scared to be like, ‘Oh, we can't take this piece,’ if they want to consign it. It's just you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but I guess that's communication - telling them, ‘No,’ in a nice way.”
Additionally, Tosi said she has gained more skills in merchandising, editing, creating graphics, and learning how to run a social media account for a business.
This last skill was one of her biggest challenges to overcome. She said deciding what to post was a “trial-and-error” process and she often worried about whether her posts would get likes and if she was increasing the business’ digital foot traffic.
Tosi said she has always been interested in sustainable fashion, and this internship has given her more insight on how popular buying second hand is.
“I feel like it's definitely something that's going to be bigger in the future because I feel like more and more people are becoming more interested in shopping sustainably, which I think is awesome because I've learned how bad the fashion industry is for the planet,” she added.
“Consignment shops are a great way to go and find those higher-end luxury pieces at an affordable price, but also staying sustainable,” she said. “I hope it becomes more popular.”
Tosi said she is excited for an upcoming project that she will be working on.
“I'm going to be doing a big photo shoot and just collaborate with a bunch of models,” she said. “I'm going to be making professional-looking advertisements, modeling all the models, styling … editing it, and then I want to create a magazine of all of that for DC, so that's something that I definitely am extremely excited about.”
Kehinde Obawunmi, upcoming intern at Nordstrom
Kehinde Obawunmi, a senior fashion design and retailing major with a concentration in merchandising, said her internship will begin in June at Nordstrom in retail management.
Obawunmi said she is most looking forward to the opportunity to improve her skills, especially her professional skills, and apply all the knowledge she has gained at FSU to this position.
Currently, she said she is working as a service representative at Nordstrom Rack.
Obawunmi said she has loved fashion ever since she was a little girl, when she would play dress-up and watch fashion shows.
She said fashion is a way for her to express herself, adding if people wear the right clothes, they can feel more comfortable in their bodies and maintain a higher level of confidence.
“Once you know the kind of aesthetic you like, your confidence boosts because if you’re wearing clothes that are not your aesthetic, your body knows that,” Obawunmi said. “I see fashion - it's also connected to spirituality, too.”
She emphasized that people should not care what is trendy, but should wear what makes them feel good, which is exactly what she does. “You're serving your body - your skin.”
Obawunmi said she hopes to pursue a career in the fashion industry that allows her to travel and also express her creativity.
She said initially, she did not pursue fashion because she was feeling uncertain about doing it as a career. However, her family encouraged her to pursue her dream, knowing she had such a big passion for the industry.
To those also interested in the fashion industry, she said, “If there's something that you want to do, go for it. It's as simple as that.”