SHEI Magazine held its annual Work It networking event in the University of Michigan Museum of Art on Tuesday night. The event featured a panel of three University alumni currently working in the fashion industry. The panel began with basic questions posed by the SHEI magazine publisher, LSA senior Serena Pergola, focusing on how the three featured women came to work in the fashion industry and the challenges that they face.

The panelists acknowledged the fashion industry is highly competitive, but nonetheless dominated by women.

Panelist Erika Harwood currently works as a celebrity style writer for Vanity Fair. She said women need to speak their minds to create change in the industry.

“Even though I feel like there are times where if I speak my mind, people will find it jarring, I know that it’s something I need to do anyway, and if women aren’t doing that, then nothing’s going to happen, and the industry isn’t going to change,” Harwood said.

Panelist Emily Kafka, a manager of client development at Louis Vuitton, acknowledged the most effective leaders in an industry need to be able to rise above the politics and competition associated with large companies.

“The most inspiring women in a female-dominated industry are those that set aside their girliness,” Kafka said. “They don’t get caught up in jealous girl games, and they promote other women for their work, and they show their support for people that might have more talent than they do, and they forget about any sort of competition among women.”

The panel also discussed the changing fashion industry and what this means for the companies and the women’s respective positions. Katie Eiden, also a speaker on the panel, works as a merchandise allocator in the footwear department for Michael Kors, and she has experienced firsthand how difficult it is for high fashion to adapt to rapidly changing trends.

“We’ve seen the street and designer merge with footwear a lot more rapidly than all the other departments,” Eiden said. “I think the way that people are shopping shoes right now will continue to evolve.”

Because all three women work in very different sectors of the fashion industry, much of the panel discussion was focused on how these women came into their specific line of work, and how their education and passion led them to where they are today. Eiden, who majored in economics, emphasized that people shouldn’t feel limited in their career by what they majored in. Instead of using her economics degree to pursue a job on Wall Street, Eiden used her degree to launch a career in fashion.

Kafka said focusing on what she loves led her to a job she wanted.

“You go to university to get an education, not a job,” Kafka said. “I took that to heart, and I’ve sort of been doing that ever since. I’ve been focusing on what I was passionate about, rather than what path would lead me to a job.”

Students attending the event were similarly interested in diverse aspects of the fashion industry. Pergola played a key role in organizing the Work It event, with the help of LSA sophomore Paige Dobies, events coordinator for SHEI.

Liv Velarde, editor in chief of SHEI, hopes to pursue a career in publishing. She was pleased with advice this year’s speakers gave their audience. 

“We had some really good speakers this year,” Verlarde said. “I really like that they were all alumnae from Michigan. Alumnae are always really passionate about helping out students and getting them a foot in the door of a really hard industry to get into.”

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