COURTESY GRLA John Galantic, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., speaks in Gaston Hall. GRLA places a strong focus on bringing notable speakers to campus.
COURTESY GRLA
John Galantic, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., speaks in Gaston Hall. GRLA places a strong focus on bringing notable speakers to campus.

Since its conception in January 2012, the Georgetown Retail and Luxury Association has aimed to bring the world of luxury business to the Hilltop. The group has brought numerous impressive speakers to campus, and it all started when President Edouard Freda (MSB ’15) and Vice President Tiara Kawser (MSB ’15) headed to New York to interview several very important and influential executives.

“It started our freshman year,” Kawser said. “We were both in an international business class together, and we had to do a research project, and we decided to go to New York City to interview some executives for a retail and luxury company. It was at that point that we realized from these conversations with executives that there were these other universities where they had a retail and luxury association, like at Columbia.”

When the students returned to campus, they realized that Georgetown was missing a group to represent one of the most important global industries today. Other leading universities had established organizations that directly linked students to this world of retail and luxury business, meaning that they were getting far more exposure to this world, and its career opportunities than students at Georgetown.

“We came back and found that schools like Harvard and [New York University] had these clubs, but it was something that Georgetown was lacking. So in our fall of freshman year we began to open conversations with the [McDonough School of Business] and get the process started,” Kawser said.

Thus, GRLA was born. The organization is currently fueled by a board of five members and a growing general membership. From the start, GRLA aimed to reach out to all students — not just those in the MSB.

“Initially, we started in the MSB, and we were the McDonough Luxury Association. So it was working very well with the MSB students. But we wanted it to not be an MSB exclusive organization, so we changed it to the Georgetown Retail and Luxury Association,” Freda said.

The group is the first of its kind to work for undergraduate students, although it has just opened up a graduate branch in the MSB. Freda insists that GRLA is still sticking to its original purpose.

“The mission was divided into two parts. First, we want to educate students about what the retail business is. A lot of people have different ideas about this. Some think it is an artisan business, but really they are big corporations with lots of different departments: finance, relations, accounting. The second part, once we have created enough awareness, is that we want to open up job opportunities to get into the recruitment process,” he said.

The retail and luxury businesses have become very lucrative and, like many industries, have had to adapt over time.

“[Things have] changed a lot in both retail and luxury industries. The luxury firms were initially small, very artisan, but with time they stole the knowledge of big corporations like PNG, and they started to use this knowledge to become global. So they went from being a sort of artist business to a big corporation. Then the big expansion was in 2000, largely because of the growth of the Asian market and the online market,” Freda said.

Like nearly every industry, the luxury world did not get through the economic crisis of 2008 unscathed. However, it did extraordinarily well compared to other industries, dropping in value only slightly. Freda credits this to the fact that it is a wealthier business that targets wealthier customers.

Freda, who himself comes from a family that has worked for these industries, has also noticed a change over the past few years.

“For the retail industry, it was always larger. Then since 2005, they have had a lot of innovation in terms of freestanding and department stores. What was most significant was the growth of online shopping. This benefitted the retail industry a lot as it created a lot more exposure,” he said.

The GRLA leaders believe that it is important to understand the changes in these businesses because they have opened new opportunities that are perfect for young students.

“With the growing importance of online, the young students have an advantage because we understand it more than the older generation. So what retail luxuries have done is turn toward students and universities for hiring to try and get our specific knowledge. This has created many more opportunities than before,” Freda said. “It is a huge double partnership.”

GRLA has mainly made a name for itself on campus by bringing a range of impressive speakers to campus, including John Galantic, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., and most recently Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.

“We have definitely seen a growth in the attendance of these events,” Kawser said. “We have also tried to get a wide variety, and we’re looking to keep on expanding the type of speaker we get. Having John Galantic was a turning point for our organization because we were able to host him in Gaston Hall, and we had such a huge turnout. Really, we look to bring speakers who can shed light on the retail and luxury industries, but also to share their inspirational experiences and stories. We hope that students are able to leave feeling that they could work in those industries.”

Many of the speakers are connected to Georgetown, either as alumni or by having relatives at the university. Freda and Kawser have found that the speakers are generally very enthusiastic about coming to campus and connecting with the young minds that they talk to here.

For those looking to pursue careers in this area, Freda believes that students do not have to worry about developing particular artistic skills.

“What gives you a competitive edge is being aware and knowledgeable about the online world,” Freda said.

“These are not some distant glamorous industries,” Kawser said. “These are multinational corporations that have all the different departments. There’s an opportunity here for anyone.”

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