The Faces of Powerful Women in Fashion Retail

- - Women in Fashion

Right now, retail is rocky. And those responsible for moving retail forward into its next iteration are going to have to be…

Strong.

Savvy.

Strategic.

Women.

Men are welcome to apply, too, however, given the impressive track records of the women in retail we are about to feature, we’d like to see a woman or two rise to the challenge.

But before we get to these female trailblazers in retail, here’s a quick update on the current status of women in positions of power in the fashion retail industry.

While recent headlines report that Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO and now only woman on Apple’s executive team, makes more than her male counterparts, she is the exception to the rule. And especially in the fashion retail sector. In the US, a 20 percent gap in pay between men and women remains.

In Britain, the pay gap is similar at 18 percent, and a recent study takes inequity between men and women (specifically in fashion positions of power) one step further. Get this—85 percent of purchases are made or influenced by women, yet only 20 percent of retail executive teams in the UK are comprised of women. Worse yet, only 10 percent of executive retail boards are made up of women.

In the US, women drive between 70 and 80 percent of all consumer spending and studies show that companies with equally balanced management teams of men and women yield higher ROI. But according to recent statistics, only 25 percent of executive and senior officials and managers in S&P 500 companies are women, women represent only 9.5 percent of top earners, and a mere 6 percent of CEOs are female.

Perhaps these statistics will guide the next iteration of the fashion retail industry. Who better to market to women than women themselves?

As we continue to fight for an equal number of seats at the executive meeting table, it’s important to remember that what women in fashion retail lack in pay, or perhaps influence by numbers alone, they certainly do not lack in accomplishment. Take a look at just a few of  the incredible contributions women have made in fashion retail.

Dorothy Shaver – President of Lord & Taylor

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In 1921, Dorothy Shaver was hired by Lord & Taylor to head their comparison shopping bureau, and by 1927 when was elected to the store’s board of directors. Shaver was a champion of American designers. In 1932, she developed the American Look program which would promote over 60 American designers during her tenure with Lord & Taylor.

Named president of Lord & Taylor in 1946, Shaver earned $110,000 annually, the highest salary on record for an American woman at that time, while still only a quarter of what her male counterparts were making in similar roles. Lord & Taylor’s sales were at $100 million per year at the time of Shaver’s death in 1959.

Rose Marie Bravo – President of Saks Fifth Avenue, CEO of Burberry

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Born eight years before Dorothy Shaver’s death, it’s as if Rose Marie Bravo picked up where Shaver’s retail legacy left off.

Rose Marie Bravo’s distinguished career in retail spans her start as a buyer at Abraham and Straus’ department store in Long Island in the early 70s to her current position as vice chairman at Burberry, where she was CEO from 1998 to 2005. Bravo worked for Macy’s before serving as President of Saks Fifth Avenue for five years.

As a chief executive at Burberry, Bravo signed top models (Kate Moss) and recruited influential designers (Christopher Bailey). She increased Burberry’s retail offerings, adding perfume to the luxury house’s product lines. Bravo doubled both the company’s sales and profits.

Carol Meyrowitz – CEO of TJX

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Not only a retail powerhouse leading more than 3,300 T.J. Maxx, Homegoods and Marshalls stores (and in six countries), Carol Meyrowitz is also an advocate for retail workers. In 2015, she increased the minimum wage for hourly US retail workers to $9 an hour. Meyrowitz has nearly tripled TJX’s profits since taking over in 2007 from $777 million to the tune of $2.2 billion.

And speaking of a “Maxxinista,” Meyrowitz is one of America’s best paid CEOs – coming in at a salary of $20.7 million – and that was in 2013.

Fast forward to today’s list of leading female executives (a few of which are pictured in the header of this post including Jan Singer, former CEO at Spanx, Jan Clevenger VP General Merchandising Manager at Belk, Jill Stanton, Executive Vice President of Global Product at Old Navy and Susie McCabe, Senior Vice President of Global Retail at Under Armour). Their collective accomplishments give rise to #TheFutureIsFemale movement. Need a female role model in the fashion retail industry? These executives (in addition to those female executives that have come before us) provide inspiration for us all.

And one final note: If you are interested in fashion retail, what do you see as challenges on the path ahead? Will your name be added to the list of change makers in the fashion retail industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.