The 2019 MFMS Recap
It’s April 12th. Approximately 8:30 am. Welcome to the Second Annual Michigan Fashion Media Summit. We solidified our color palettes and splashed a bucket of black and white paint into the air, while infesting the Stephen M. Ross School of Business with cutting edge, corporate chic attire. We permeated the lobby with striking, hand-crafted MFMS signage. We transformed the business school into a entrepreneurial, tech-savvy fashion powerhouse, and have successfully brought fashion to the University of Michigan’s campus for a second consecutive year.
700 attendees entered this magic space- they have experienced the future of fashion. The attendees ranged from speakers, to industry professionals, to students within and beyond Michigan’s study body. During registration, each attendee received a personalized credential stating their name, job title and personalized schedule for the day of. Afterwards, they received an exclusive gift bag sponsored by the renowned luxury clothing company, PVH. If you look inside, you will find a customized MFMS notebook, pen, and cardholder, Kiehl’s product, and boxed water!
An empty Robertson auditorium is immediately filled with fashion’s finest- individuals who have made their mark on the industry, and individuals who are hoping to make their mark in the future. The lights dim, and the opening video starts to play; the video introduces our summit and sets the precedent for the rest of this revolutionary day.
Our incredibly talented Co-presidents, Alexa Moss and Caitlin Forbes, took the stage. “This is a remarkable moment in time. Revolutionary changes are happening...we are pushing boundaries and breaking molds” Alexa began. Our co-presidents highlighted the magic of the MFMS- four letters that represent an all-encompassing organization, brand, and summit experience that challenge the traditional conventions of fashion. The two concluded with a statement that captures the objective of our unprecedented organization, “Use today to your advantage...be confident that the MFMS platform will help you launch your future in fashion”.
Ali Gropper, Co-Founder & President, shared how the MFMS came to be a radical organization and recognizable brand. “The MFMS was born out of my pure passion to bring fashion to our campus...and today we’re here, stronger for and fiercer for round two” Ali explains. Ali’s statements sets the tone for the remainder of the day and built palpable excitement inside of the room. So we put our hands together, and welcomed the top talent in the field who are shaping the future of fashion.
Ali then introduced our host for the day, Sophia Macks, Founder and Creative Director of Beyond The Mag. Beyond The Mag- a multifunctional creative platform and digital destination with a primary focus on fashion, product, and art- has established itself as one of the most visually pleasing platforms to date. While taking the stage by storm, Macks enthusiastically stated, “I have never seen an extracurricular establishment to this magnitude. I am so proud and amazed at what you are creating”. Additionally, she gave the crowd a piece of valuable advice, one that applies to but also transcends the fashion industry. “You have to allow your platform to tell you what it’s going to become. Always leave room for change and always leave room for evolution”. Macks explains. And finally, Macks introduces our incredible morning keynote speaker, Jennifer Powell, as “a force to be reckoned with”!
Jennifer Powell’s accomplishments cannot possibly be summarized in a couple of sentences. She is an influencer, talent manager, and digital brand strategist all wrapped into one. Powell radically transformed the world of talent management by integrating “alternative” types of talent, fashion and lifestyle bloggers, into the digital sphere. Spearheaded by no other than Powell herself, Jennifer Powell Inc represents some of the most prominent influencers of the modern era. Known for curating talent such as Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast, and Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, members of the audience knew this panel would exceed their expectations.
Powell first explained the origin of this multifaceted term “influencer”: “An influencer is somebody that makes you feel something. Good, bad, but not indifferent...to me it’s about being inspired...it’s not about numbers, it’s about intentions, potential, and being able to grow”. Following this, Powell described the collective nature of her work with clients, noting that her emphasis always lied on being collaborative and focusing on the team mentality while also ending on her ability to nonetheless make things happen, stating “I don’t have the creative vision, but I can contract it”. Her job is to give her clients direction, while simultaneously allowing them to carve their own path. The collaboration between Powell and her clients mimics the community within each facet of the MFMS team. Powell also aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding influencers and young women in fashion. She wants these emerging influencers to be perceived as powerful business women, not frivolous girls working in a non-sophisticated field. “Just because they are fashion girls doesn’t mean they aren’t business girls also”. This sentiment particularly resonated with members of our organization, as our primary objective is to prove the unchecked influence and importance of fashion. Lastly, Powell touches upon what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated business world. “A women in business, you want to be able to be respected like a man, but there’s a way to do it without fighting”. Powell’s statement inspired all the young women in the room to challenge the status quo and dominate the business and fashion arena.
Launching into our first panel of the day, The Empire State of Mind, Marly Graubard, international fashion and luxury director at Marie Claire, moderated a conversation with Dana Perlman, treasurer and senior VP of business development and investor relations at PVH Corp, John Antonini, regional VP and director of stores for Saks Fifth Ave, and Matt Guthartz, President of Steve Madden and President of Women’s Wholesale Footwear. This panel addressed the future of traditional retail corporations and how the digital age is predicted to impact the fashion industry. Leading with thought provoking questions, Graubard sparked conversations that spoke to the value of retail stores and how they must embrace the digital age. The answer? Evolving retail stores and leveraging technology to draw in more customers is the main strategy retailers are focusing on.
Walking into Saks Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Manhattan NY, is a priceless experience that customers near and far travel to be a part of. The members of this first panel highlighted the importance of visiting retails stores and how by doing so, customers are automatically offered a more authentic experience between themselves and the brand. Guthartz capitalized off of this notion, highlighting how “Although there’s a shift from stores to .com, at the end of the day people still want to shop”. Within the peak of the discussion all panelists agreed that “retail isn’t dead”, explaining how people will never cease to want to touch and feel product, especially apparel. Retail stores allow brands to better assess a customer’s needs: As put by John Antonini, “People crave the unexpected”. Impulse shoppers love the treasure hunt experience of being in a retail store, while more type A shoppers love the security of trying on clothing to find the perfect fit.
With that being said, Dana Perlman spoke to the success of Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign. By leveraging their social media accounts they were able to blast this campaign, taking over Instagram feeds for months. In that same light, Matt Guthartz expressed how Steve Madden leverages instagram through the use of influencers. By doing so, “Steve constantly has his finger on the pulse on what’s going on”, keeping him in touch with customer desires. These are prime examples of how social media can increase a company’s brand awareness, but does not have to affect the retail corporations.
Wrapping up the panel, speakers left audience members with a word of advice: work in retail. If a young fashion enthusiast wants to break into the fashion industry, having retail experience is essential. The opportunity to interact with customers and experience, first hand, the internal workings of a retail corporation is the proper foundation for any fashion industry professional.
Following the first panel, we dispersed into our breakout sessions- two separate panels that provided a more intimate discussion on niche interests that MFMS speakers and audience members could engage in. Each MFMS attendee had a say in the breakout session selected for them. Identified with a BLUE or MAIZE sticker on their credential, MFMS attendees were directed to their respective session by referring to these stickers.
Blue Breakout: Insiders Guide To Getting Past Fashion’s Front Door
Our Blue breakout session was centered around educating fashion industry enthusiasts on how to break down the steel doors of the industry. Moderated by John Mezzo, VP of Human Resources for Retail at Michael Kors, this session included Ashley Sandall of CFDA, Rachel Pietrangelo of One Rockwell, and Karen Rosenbach of KBL Global Search, all speaking to their journey within the industry and how they have become some of the most influential professionals within their respective fields. Rachel Pietrangelo explained how she “Had to get creative about how [she] took a business focus degree and parlayed that to a degree [she] was passionate about”. A common theme within this session was about leveraging your degree at a university that does not offer a fashion track like Parsons, FIT, or LIM does. This session offered a more personal look into the journeys of our speakers careers and what they have learned throughout all tribulations and accomplishments.
Upon embarking on your first internship or entry level job in fashion, it’s not enough to just “get in the door”. These panelists emphasized the importance of going the extra mile and asking for more tasks than initially offered. John Mezzo highlighted this point, stating that “Nobody cares about development more than you. You need to express your interest and ask for things because they won’t always be presented to you...Never be satisfied with your own personal performance. Somebody will come along and be faster and better and nail that role”. The competitive nature of the industry forces students to always think three steps ahead. This panel highlighted that reality while creating a space for MFMS attendees to interact with our highly respected speakers on a personal level.
Our speakers also highlighted the importance of making genuine connections throughout your career. Ashley Sandall mentioned how “You never know who you are going to meet. So keep those connections and keep that contact”. Follow up emails and occasional check-ins are important for retaining the network of professionals you have acquired. Along with this suggestion, Karen Rosenbach emphasized the importance of remaining true to oneself and not succumbing to the fear of risk. She states, “The people who have stood out are people who are not afraid to take risks. People who are not afraid to have an opinion”. Being unique is celebrated within the fashion industry, so take advantage of that while building your network and represent yourself in the most authentic way possible.
Maize Breakout: The Female Effect: Navigating Content and Commerce
Moderated by Meredith Paley, VP of PR at Talbots, our second breakout session included Lynn Tesoro of HL Group, Elizabeth Harrison of Harrison and Shriftman, and Jodi Balkan of Bold PR agency, all speaking on experiences within their respective occupations. Each speaker has achieved a tremendous amount of success in their respective companies, all starting their own firms. MFMS attendees left inspired and moved by such a powerful room of business women.
”Find something you really love and that’s when you will be successful”. Elizabeth Harrison summarized a primary theme within the Maize Breakout. Making decisions that are inline with the interests you hold is very important. Jodi Balkan reiterates this, saying “There is no one right path. You will end up where you are supposed to end up.” Following your intuition and making authentic decisions will grant you the success you hope to achieve. This session touched on each speakers journey within their field and how they achieved success by remaining true to themselves. All starting their own PR firms, it was inspiring for our attendees to hear from such powerful, female entrepreneurs. This breakout session created a moment within the day that left attendees more mindful of what women are capable of. It created a space within Robertson Auditorium to commend these women on their successes and to hear their stories on how they achieved it.
Having started their own PR firms, each speaker offered insight on marketing and branding. They discussed how within PR and fashion agencies, influencer engagement and authenticity is very critical. When agreeing to represent an influencer, they always assess the relationships they have with their followers, ensuring they are positive and on brand. Lynn Tesoro expressed how at HL Group, “Everything we do in regards to finding influencers has a lot to do with who lives in that place, but also analytics. It’s important to know what they can bring to the table. With micro influencers, it’s important to the brand that they can speak to the community”. Engaging with influencers and leveraging the reach they have globally is a great strategy for increasing brand awareness.
As we wrapped up this breakout session, audience members felt inspired and were enlightened on the inner workings of agencies and PR firms. Jodi Balkan highlighted the benefits of working in an agency stating, “I think the agency experience is beyond anything you could ever have. It will invigorate and challenge you”. They recommend that fashion enthusiasts and students spend time in an agency or PR environment. The skill sets that you will be introduced to in these fields will forever be useful in the fashion industry. Expanding upon
Following our breakout sessions, we broke for lunch. To refuel, our attendees and VIPS indulged in Zingerman’s. Thank you to Equinox for hosting lunch and giving each individual a taste of our eclectic Ann Arbor culture!
The Art of Storytelling: Personal Branding in the Digital Age
Our second panel consisted of two powerful women, Aliza Licht, founder and president of Leave Your Mark LLC and author of Leave Your Mark, along with Sophia Chabbott, Digital Director at WWD. Aliza Licht, better known as DKNY PR Girl, unconsciously paved the way for influencers around the world. What started out as a mimic to the popular show “Gossip Girl”, an anonymous twitter profile turned into a recognizable voice. Licht described her digital persona as the “pizza to the caviar”- a more approachable, humanistic version of the highly sought after Donna Karan couture brand. When asked about the essence of her online identity, Licht responded, “What I was doing online was mentoring people around the world... DKNY PR girl would give an insider view into her world. I Created their best fashion friend. This is two way engagement. I was educating people on the magic that is Donna Karan and DKNY”.
However, when Licht felt that DKNY PR Girl had run its course, she asked herself, “What am I doing today, what am I doing tomorrow?,” because, for Licht, she “never feels like the job is done.”
After her fingers had retired from anonymous tweeting, they turned to typing, and she became the author of the renowned book, “Leave Your Mark.” Through this, Licht turned her words of advice that were previously on twitter, into a top-selling book. The premise behind “Leave Your Mark” is simple: Don’t just get your foot in the door. Make a lasting impression on that door.
When an audience asked about the strategies behind influencers, like DKNY PR Girl and other recognizable names, Chabbott responded by stating, “Start with the beginning not the end.” It is important for influencers to remember why they started and not get carried away with the fame and fortune.
Chabbott left us with an inspirational piece of mind as she closed the panel and said, “That drive, I can’t create that, I can’t make that happen. You have to prove it yourself.” Chabbot’s message closely resonated with the heart of the MFMS team: we are all responsible for our own individual successes.
During the networking session, all attendees were invited to the Winter Garden to explore partnerships, Fashion Forward Showcase finalists and most importantly, speak directly with some of fashion’s biggest and brightest. Each networking table was lined with a multitude of scholars as both they and the representatives were able to see what the other had to offer. Professionals were flooded with attendees as they made their way to hold conversations with each and every one of them. This session held a unique opportunity, roughly 20 high-fashion speakers, all in the same room, speaking with students and receiving resumes from the Leaders and the Best.
Self Made Fashion Forward Showcase
Our Networking Session was followed by recognition of six up and coming icons that were hand-selected by Steve Madden. From shoelaces to shoe designers, all the way to a brand revolved around “happy,” the Self Made Fashion Forward Showcase encourages creators from around the nation to follow their dreams. These six people in particular are top examples of leading the generation not only as fashion icons, but also as innovators. At the Michigan Fashion Media Summit, we take pride in carving the path for generations to come, and this is exactly what these young men and women are doing. Let’s take a look at the 2019 finalists….
Alexa DeFord, a University of Michigan Junior and shoe designer began her career at Steve Madden, creating shoes under the VP of Design. She later won the 2019 DKNY shoe design competition.
Emily O'Brien, the face behind The Emily Look, created a platform to connect all people passionate about fashion. Now, The Emily Look has turned into a spot for collaborations and editorial work with brands such as Rent the Runway, Teen Vogue, and more.
Jordan Burr created Star Laces as a way for both cisgender and transgender people to take pride in their pronouns. Wearing these on their laces allows for an small, yet strong contribution to a very important social change.
Lily Hochfelder of LilyHockCreations consists of stationary, notepads, invites, and most importantly, her HappyBags. Each piece of merchandise reflects what her brand started from: Happiness. Not to mention, 20% of proceeds go to charity.
Maya Mutalik, founder of Hope Sews, uses fashion as a political platform as a way to help women and girls in developing countries with economic opportunities. Utilizing Ghanaian fabrics and prints to create her clothing and earn profit, Mutalik is able to provide seamstresses and aid with loans for their own businesses.
Terms and Conditions Apparel founder, Peter Michaelides, is a senior at the University of Michigan. He created T&C to create clothing that goes against the norms and urges his clients to do the same.
This year, our Valedictorian of the Self Made Fashion Forward Showcase was Maya Mutalik. She was awarded with a generous gift granted by Steve Madden, including:
Round trip flights and accommodation for Maya and one guest to New York City for two nights
VIP transportation for day-of Steve Madden visit, as well as to and from the airport
Guided tour of Steve Madden corporate offices, factory, and showroom
Lunch with Steve Madden Michigan alumni
Shopping trip at Steve Madden NYC store
Congratulations to Maya Mutalik and the rest of the Self Made Fashion Forward Showcase finalists!
The Era of Collaboration: From Building Brands to Curating Culture
In our final panel of the day “The Era of Collaboration: From Building Brands to Curating Culture” emphasized the importance of building relationships and perseverance. Moderated by Nate Forbes, a discourse between David Creech VP of Design and Creative Director for the Jordan Brand and Paul “PR” Rivera President and Co-Founder of the ROBOT Company and Co-Creator of HBO’s “The Shop,” inspired the students and the other MFMS attendees in Robertson.
Nate Forbes started the conversation with Creech and Rivera by saying like athletes their careers demonstrate a “relentless appetite to succeed.” This theme of relentlessness was consistent throughout the panel. David Creech shared that he had received 30 to 35 rejection letters before securing his position at Nike. He did not those take those rejection letters as the final word on his opportunity to work for this company that he so desired to be a part of. He kept applying and sending in samples of his work, until someone was finally willing to take a chance on him.
Rivera shared about his unusual path to discovering his passion. Rivera discussed that he never had that one “ah-hah moment,” but instead just learned never to quit. His story was not a straight line from one job to the next. Instead, he started as professional basketball player in Puerto Rico, who developed friendships easily. His strong sense of style and ability to spot trends put him in a position to get a key job at Beats by Dre just as the brand was about to take off.
Along with developing a network of personal relationships each panelist in describing their careers highlights the various experiences they had in their youth that have helped open doors for them today. Paul Rivera left the audience with the lasting advice and said “The greatest advice is experience: experience trumps all.” Whether it is a work experience or an networking opportunity it is important to utilize the experience. Although we all struggle to find our niche in the world, we cannot be afraid of testing different passions and talking to different people.
At the end of the panel Paul Rivera said, “You have to be in charge of the casting of your life.” This quote resonated in the room of Robertson as students looked left and right looking for the people they wanted to be involved with in their experiences.
Lyle Barnes, the regional Vice President of West Coast Louis Vuitton, closed the summit by sharing the evolution of the Louis Vuitton brand. Barnes confirmed that Louis Vuitton was indeed a real person, and holds a revolutionary story. As a child, Louis Vuitton packed trunks for a living. When he was old enough, he left home and created the first flat bottom trunks with the iconic “LV” logo which became the world renowned brand we all know. Barnes emphasized that at the heart of their brand, they are leather makers. They still make trunks.
As such a historic company, Barnes shared the secret to Vuitton’s ability to change with the times and remain relevant. Barnes discussed collaborations with Supreme and Virgil Abloh and showed pictures of the collections that have allowed them to adapt and appeal to a young and relevant audience. What was significant about the collaborations was the streetwear brands enhanced the traditional Louis Vuitton designs. The brand itself remained consistent with its signature pieces and used the collaboration to simply add to their collection, not change it.
Similar to the way that LV uses their collaborations, the store design of Louis Vuitton is constantly changing, while remaining in the same original spaces. Barnes said “Sometimes stores can get stagnant, our challenge is to take existing spaces we do have and transform them.” This reference to their stores translates to the key of a brand like Louis Vuitton’s ability to remain relevant. The brand understands that people want something new, so in order to remain true to its brand identity, LV transforms things of the past.
In the end, Barnes addressed the rise of digital in the fashion industry and Louis Vuitton’s strategies behind using it. He said “Digital is there to help us, it is not there to replace us.” Many brands fear the rise of digital, but Barnes makes it clear that Louis Vuitton’s outlook on change is positive. His speech made it clear that Louis Vuitton is a brand that is equipped for change and will be around for centuries to come bringing new ideas and art to their works, but will remain true to its brand identity.
As the last minutes of the MFMS drew near, Co-Founder of the Michigan Fashion Media Summit Ryan Walker reflected on the 2018 MFMS, while also applauding the success of this year. The feeling of accomplishment flooded the isles of Robertson as the team members and guests analyzed their long day. Walker said it best that our summit is for a “Community of like minded individuals to get together and be inspired.” The statement captivated the audience and students eyes wandered looking to see others who share their passion.
Following Walker’s remarks, the microphone was passed to Sarah Mehlman,Chief Operating Officer for the MFMS. Sarah congratulated the team on their successful summit and called the entire student planning team to the stage to be recognized for their consistent hard work. We started our mission to inspire the next generation of fashion industry leaders and that is exactly what we did.
With the entire team on stage, Co-president’s Alexa and Caitlin surprised Sarah with a one thousand dollar donation to The Mehlman Family Research Fund in honor of Sarah’s mother. Ultimately, this final moment spoke to what is most important to the Michigan Fashion Media Summit, community. This notion of community transcends Walker’s point of a a group of like-minded, inspired individuals. The MFMS has far surpassed the credentials of a business organization. The MFMS is family.