The Michigan Fashion Media Summit held its annual conference on Thursday via Zoom webinar. MFMS had rescheduled their original in-person event as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The student-run group was set to host more than 650 people at the Ross School of Business featuring 16 speakers on March 20. Thursday afternoon’s webinar hosted Caroline Gogolak, vice president of retail at SoulCycle and co-founder of Carbon38, and Tenley Zinke, vice president of marketing and communications at Fendi Americas. Amy Tara Koch, an author, journalist and U-M alum, moderated the event.
Gogolak said her interest in fashion was spurred from a class she took at Parsons School of Design. After working at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, she co-founded the company Carbon38, a luxury activewear lifestyle brand. Gogolak joined SoulCycle in 2017 after falling in love with the brand.
“I thought that retail, although it was a somewhat small business at that point, had an opportunity to grow,” Gogolak said. “It also enabled me to really continue to just operate and learn more in a retail business and also learn about brick and mortar since most of my business, most of my background had been in e-commerce. SoulCycle has just under 100 locations, so I knew I would quickly learn that side.”
Gogolak oversees merchandising, planning, allocation, product development, supply chain and e-commerce at SoulCycle. She described how she is adapting to the current COVID-19 climate.
“It’s been an incredibly wild ride, especially during these crazy times the world is going through,” Gogolak said. “But I’m very grateful to be a part of their leadership team and to help the company through this.”
Gogolak said adapting the company to the current situation is about communication. She said she has daily calls, and the company has realized they need to expand on their digital strategy in order to keep riders engaged through email and social media.
“We’re giving our riders the ability to be a part of our community while being off the bike,” Gogolak said. “We’re actually excitingly launching our own retail e-commerce on a new platform, which will be really supporting the fantastic visuals and photography that we have been working on, up since the pandemic.”
She defined this digital movement as a “cultural phenomenon” with regard to what SoulCycle is able to deliver on the content end.
Gogolak answered a question from an attendee regarding how she addresses industry competitors in the retail sector. She said the company tries to look at more general fashion trends as opposed to monitoring the products of competitors. From a brand standpoint, she said, SoulCycle has a very different business strategy than its competitors.
“We’re always keeping our finger on the pulse,” Gogolak said. “It’s an in-person experience. It’s, you know, in a room that’s candlelit with 60 people on a bike and so that is a very different experience. But we have recently launched our at-home content through Variis through Equinox, which is an amazing experience.”
Gogolak said with more people working from home, activewear will be considered as everyday wear. She said she believes activewear is resilient and seasonless and, as a result, it has a lot of room to grow.
“I think that people are dressing differently today,” Gogolak said. “I think (retail is) going to be less about working out and more of ‘how do I outfit this with the ready-to-wear that I already have in my wardrobe.’”
Finally, Gogolak said SoulCycle’s vision for the company is very similar to its original 2020 operating plan, but they have changed the way they are operating to reach that goal, especially with regard to their digital plan.
“We’re trying to bring the digital piece out,” Gogolak said. “It was almost like perfect timing when all of this happened and I think at this point, when we come back into business … I’m really excited to see how our studios light up and how people are, you know, going to be craving going to their favorite instructors’ class with their friends, even though we’re going to have to be operating with social distancing in place … I think that that fire will be super special when our doors reopen.”
Zinke began her talk by providing advice for those interested in going into the industry. She described the industry as a meritocracy and said it is possible to work your way up through hard work.
“You really have to be prepared to work extremely hard and demonstrate that you want to make the cut,” Zinke said. “You want to really make a contribution to something that is a group effort, a collective effort. And if you are able to do that, and you do get the recognition of the people who are the creators in the industry, I would say the ones who also worked their way up, then … the sky’s the limit.”
She said, however, the business is not possible without the people behind the big fashion names. At the same time, she referenced the fact that the industry requires self-direction with regard to career development.
“I’m usually one of the people who are helping to make things happen,” Zinke said. “And I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t doing a good job at that, and it’s many years in the making. But I’ve also had to be very proactive in my own career development because it’s not an industry that really has a great clear directional path that you follow to get from point A to point B. You have to be very self-motivated.”
Zinke compared her experiences working at American and European brand headquarters and regional offices. She referenced her work at Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co. as well as her roles at LVMH in Europe. She discussed how she flows between a regional sales role to a broader macro and global perspective of the fashion industry.
“I kind of like to toggle back and forth,” Zinke said. “I think it makes me a better-informed business person. And I can really speak to my colleagues on the other side of the table from a more informed standpoint because I’ve been in both regional roles and global roles.”
MFMS co-president Delaney Walker, an LSA senior, said MFMS was disappointed they had to cancel the in-person event but were determined to fulfill their mission of providing opportunities for students interested in the fashion industry.
“We were devastated when we had to cancel the MFMS,” Walker said, “We were upset that the 600 attendees would not be able to hear our speakers and our 54-person student planning team would not be able to showcase their hard work. But we made a promise to educate students on opportunities in fashion, so there was no doubt in our mind that we would find a way to do it. It was amazing transforming it to a webinar because we got to reach an even larger audience and learn how to pivot our organization in times of adversity.”
Daily Staff Reporter Remy Farkas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.