This faculty-led study abroad program was designed to broaden students’ understanding of global retailing and Europe’s influence on consumer fashion trends. By stepping foot in an unfamiliar territory and navigating their way through, students began to see and understand the world of consumerism in a new light. Students learned about retailing and witnessed fashion product trends throughout Europe in Edinburgh, London, Paris, Cannes, St. Tropez and Milan.
Students from UW-Madison and UW-Stout majoring in Retail, along with Dr. Nancy Murray, a faculty associate in the Consumer Behavior and Retailing major in SoHE, were about to begin a trip of a lifetime for the faculty led study abroad Trends in Europe course, but first had an opportunity to meet with an industry professional to set the stage. A few weeks before their departure, they met with Sofia Wacksman, VP of Trends of Kohl’s. Ms. Wacksman is based in NYC and was in Wisconsin for a Spring/Summer 2015 Trend overview with the merchants at the Kohl’s headquarters in Menomonee Falls. The students were provided a great overview of what a Trend manager does and the process of looking at trends while interpreting what products should be developed for the retailer’s target customer.
Students were each assigned a product category to become the expert on for future trends. The students researched their categories and analyzed stores state side within their category to become knowledgeable of the classifications and key items in their areas. On the classroom website prior to the departure, students were provided a variety of materials from various trend industry sources on the hottest retailers and trend areas to review to prepare for their 3 week experiential learning course.
Scotland Days 1-5
Upon arrival in Edinburgh Scotland on May 18th, a short journey to the Dalkeith Palace became their new home for the next five days. The Dalkeith Palace, built in 1702 is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch and has been leased by the University of Wisconsin for over 20 years for student and faculty study abroad. Here the students ate, slept and had classroom time learning from Dr. Murray about trend theory while bonding with their new fellow classmates. The 500 acres of woodland, rivers and walking trails, provided a tranquil place to get used to the new surroundings and time zone. The first excursion was to St. Andrew on Sunday where the Old Course is open to the public to enjoy without any golf allowed. Seeing the landscape, beach and the university were well worth the trip. In the following days, mornings were spent in the classroom with afternoons sightseeing including the Edinburgh Castle and climbing Arthur’s Seat. The last evening culminated with the students watching the documentary about the iconic fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, which motivated them to begin their own trend forecasting project.
Starting out the 3-week traveling classroom in an English speaking country was easiest, although the Scottish accent can be a wee bit hard to understand sometimes. Adjusting to new surroundings and working through difficulties such as delayed and cancelled flights and lost luggage just added to the learning and growth opportunities.
Our London home was the new Dutch hotel, Q-bic, which supports the eco-friendly macro trend. The hotel utilizes “pods” into an existing building so that reconstruction is not necessary. Students got a birds-eye view of the city from the London Eye and experienced a fabulous performance of the musical, Wicked at Apollo VictoriaTheater. Regent University welcomed us with a tour and a presentation by trend forecaster, Stephen Meyers. Understanding and applying the trickle-down theory of trend adoption, London’s iconic, unique and high-end department stores were all scouted and scanned by the students including Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Harrods as well as designer boutiques. Concept stores such as Dover Street Market and Conran were also on their hit list.
London is where the Trendmaster, Robyn Waters, joined up with the group. After each store visit, Robyn would pull the students together and help summarize what they saw, translate how a merchant would see and analyze it and what it would mean for them in trend direction and future product development. This process was similar to what Robyn had previously done with designers, product developers and buyers when she was in industry as VP of Design and Product Development at Target; this gave the students real-life application to their projects.
Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Bon Marche served as anchors to trend research in London. We all wondered why department stores in the USA do not have this amount of excitement as these department stores and what could be done to create this ambiance state side. Students also explored high end boutiques on the “right bank” one day and on the “left bank” another day. Concept stores such as Colette and Merci were found to be very tastefully curated providing great future trend direction. Waters and Murray teamed together to work along with the students prompting them with questions and exercises to help them develop their own eye for trend forecasting. A 3 hour visit and presentation at the mecca of trend forecasting, Trend Union, helped to guide the students in seeing the bigger picture of Trend Forecasting.
Our boutique hotel in Paris provided us with a conference room so we could have classroom space. Students were guided in their development of their final project of the course, a trend forecast for their product category for the mass market for Spring 2015, based upon the trend direction they saw in Europe. Later a climb to the top of the Eiffel tower and a river boat cruise on the Seine river topped out a wonderful few days in Pairs.
The city of Cannes was just finishing up the recent Cannes Film Festival. Because of the smaller city, it had fabulous trendy retail stores all close to one another, making it a great area to confirm the trends students were seeing in London and Paris. A day trip to St. Tropez by ferry greeted us with a lively market along with many great boutique stores to visit. Trend forecasters from other USA retailers were in St. Tropez as well at the same time!
We stayed in the heart of Milan, near the famous Duomo. After visiting the department store la Rinascente and the concept store 10 Corso Como, we scanned the Quadrilatero della Moda area, which sits amidst four of Milan’s most expensive and prestigious shopping streets, for trend direction.
From the fashion direction seen at all of the best European retailers, students recognized moods and themes for their product categories along with identifying the direction of what the color story, fabrications, silhouettes, details and key items would be for Spring 2015 in the States. The student’s final project is to create their findings and interpretations into a presentation that will summarize and forecast the trends for the mass-market retailers in the States for Spring 2015.
Students learned far more than just how to identify, translate and forecast trends in retail during these three weeks. They navigated new territories while being pushed to go beyond their comfort zone, learned to be resourceful, practiced problem solving, lead others and worked within teams. All of which will help develop them as successful professionals in the near future!