Monika Sinclair Builds Momentum for the Fashion Merchandizing Area
From the moment that Monika Sinclair joined the Art and Art History faculty in 2020, she has been steadily building awareness and recognition for the area. Her experience includes extensive work in fashion merchandising as well as brand management, consumer behavior, sustainability in the fashion industry, and broader visual communications of all types.
Before joining WSU, Sinclair taught at New York University, The Fashion Institute of Technology, and Savannah College of Art and Design. She has worked on multiple major clothing labels, including the management of Adidas Fashion Group’s collaboration with brands such as Yohji Yamamoto, Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Porsche Design, Opening Ceremony, Muhammed Ali, and Tom Dixon. As a consultant for Amazon Fashion, Spyder, Tapout, Airwalk, and Hart Schaffner Marx, Monika led strategy and design research initiatives to re-establish brand equity in the marketplace.
Her Advice for Students: Bring Passion and Humility
Relative to her numerous career successes, Sinclair believes that a bit of humility — and a lot of passion — can open doors into this very competitive industry. She pulls from her own personal experiences to help illustrate this point, recounting a story of when, as an MBA student and intern, she believed she deserved a full-time job right out of the gate. “I really had to humble myself, and I'm so glad that I did because I ended up getting that internship and that began my journey at Adidas,” she explains. Her singular passion for footwear was also key in her continued advancement. “I have always loved sneakers, even as a little girl. When my parents would buy me a new pair, before I’d wear them outside, I'd ask, ‘Can I wear them to sleep?’ For me, Adidas was a match made in heaven because I just LOVE sneakers, and so I loved what I was working on." Sharing these stories provides an opportunity to connect with her students in a way that helps them see their possible opportunities. “When I share these stories, I tell my students, ‘Find the thing within fashion that you are obsessed with, and your career will be much more enjoyable,’” she says. Ultimately Monika’s career at Adidas lasted nine years, with her receiving a promotion every two years, eventually becoming the Director of Marketing for North and South America.
Connecting the Dots
Sinclair now brings that same passion to our classrooms every day. “Teaching fashion merchandising is an exciting process, because I can delve deep into the theories and concepts relative to the field while also pulling from my professional experience in the corporate world,” she says. “I love helping to relate that to the [students’ experience] and seeing them connect the dots.”
Connecting those dots also means ensuring that students can clearly see a successful career path in front of them, even if the fashion industry exists outside of their immediate vicinities. “I come from the same place as my students, having also grown up in Metro Detroit. I never saw myself as having a career in the fashion industry. It was too far-fetched for me! I never thought it was even a possibility. Now that I am back in Michigan, I am living proof that a successful career can happen for them. I also know that my students are going to walk into the profession more prepared than I was,” she says.
Advancing the Fashion Merchandising Curriculum
Sinclair is working to seamlessly bridge business strategy and design through an enhanced curriculum that she has be developing since she arrived. “Fashion Merchandising is really about a focus on various marketing initiatives that fashion brands take on,” she emphasizes. “I teach the strategic side of the fashion business and, more specifically, brand building.” Central to Sinclair’s approach is the incorporation of trend research, market research, and mapping customer journeys. She explains, “From ideation to developing, launching, or reinvigorating a dying brand, I encourage our students to focus on consumers and consumer behavior and the various touch-points of the retail journey.” She also encourages students to keep their pulse on fashion and societal trends and document their design process. “I have my students compile trend journals,” she says, “so that they can prove to themselves that they can pinpoint trends while learning how to research and collect information, while putting together documents that are commonly utilized within the actual work place environment.”
Sinclair has also brought a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship, sustainability, and ethics within the fashion industry, including advertising, labor rights, and selling practices. “That is a constant that’s threaded throughout each of the courses that I teach,” she says. “Students and I cover different regions. We zero in on best business practices, and we discuss the cultural dimensions of markets around the world.” As a part of the classroom experience, Sinclair has her students create a strategy for launching a brand to another culture. Her students have to justify why the brand would want to go in that region and expand there. Along these lines, Sinclair created a new course on fashion entrepreneurship that is running for the first time this fall. “Students have to not only go through an ideation phase, they also have to write a business plan, study key leaders in various industries, and understand how to take on leadership roles themselves,” she says.
Teaching leadership and entrepreneurship was most evidence this past year, when Sinclair guided her students in developing entries for two fashion merchandizing contests, both hosted by WindowsWear. One contest was to reinvent the Store of the Future for either Kate Spade or Coach. The other, called Reimagine Our Store in a Healthy World, commemorated the 40th year anniversary for Michael Kors. Sinclair witnessed tremendous growth in her students through the contest experiences. “I knew these were brands that many of my students were not that crazy about,” she says. “I had to push them to get into the mindset of the audience, and slowly but surely they started to breathe the brand.” Furthermore, the students gained confidence and an understanding of their talent relative to industry standards. “Entering these contests showed my students at WSU that they can be just as relevant as any other students studying in any other part of the world,” she says. “Whether it be in New York City — the U.S. capital of fashion — or in Paris, Hong Kong, London. Students from everywhere were in these competitions. I encouraged my students to outshine the other contestants, and they did.”
Ultimately, WSU student Vanna Wilke took home second place for her concept for Coach (see figure). Eight other students were finalists across the two contests. Sinclair concludes, “I felt so proud of all of my students because they saw that they can not only compete well, but that they have the strength, the knowledge, and the capabilities to develop great concepts. I want them to carry this confidence into their professional lives.”
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