Podcast: Fashion Education Professional – Jacqui Jenkins

By Published On: May 18, 2021

Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

Jacqui Jenkins, author of the book Fashion Supply Chain Management shares her career journey, starting when she was playing with paper dolls in a household that always had fashion magazines around the house, to getting a degree in economics, then a position at Ann Taylor where work on how fashion samples are sourced led to her desire to literally write the book on Fashion Supply Chain Management. Jacqui also spoke with us about mentors, sustainability, the fashion circular economy, and helping people understand season-less selling in the fashion industry.

Jacqui Jenkins Bio:

Jacqui is a fashion education professional focused on innovation and strategy. She is a recognized speaker and author on the business of fashion and styling for the savvy fashionista. Jacqui is co-author of Fashion Supply Chain Management, published by Fairchild Books. She is the Founder and Chief Curator of Sophisticated Curation, an online community of over 5.5k social media followers bringing recognition for the often-overlooked 40 million American women over age 40 who are avid fashion consumers. She is also the producer and host of the 20-min Fashion Distraction weekly fashion talk show. Jacqui spent 20 years in corporate finance and entrepreneurship, including as a finance and supply chain management executive with Ann Taylor. She earned her B.A. in economics from Spelman College and her MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.   Jacqueline is a frequent traveler to fashion destinations such as Paris, Dubai, South Africa, Los Angeles, and Miami.


I will start off by saying, I didn’t realize it was a supply chain journey quite honestly. In my head, I think supply chain, maybe entered my train of thought eight years ago. But in all honesty, I grew up as a kid playing with paper dolls. I grew up in a household with a mom who sewed. So, there was always like Vogue magazines around the house. She always had patterns. She had a sewing machine and she didn’t make all my clothes, but she made like the special things. And very early on, I just made a connection between materials and making and how they make people feel and what happens in terms of when you put them on and that kind of morphed. I’ll even go into high school. I grew up in Philly and I was part of something called the Abraham and Strauss fashion team. Abraham Strauss was one of the department stores. It was New York based, I think. And basically, they had one in Philly, but they had this group called a fashion team and there were about 17 high school kids. 

And what we did on Saturdays was literally pass out popcorn, wear cute outfits. And we thought we were modeling.  That though, got me to see how making clothes, then they’re sold in a store and still that happiness that people felt. So, when I came out of High school, I wanted to be a model. So, am grateful for my parents for indulging me. I’m five four at best. And so, there’s no way I was going to do runway modeling at five four back then. My parents indulged me and we all, we got a portfolio, but then they also made sure that I did my college application. So I did my college application and actually we realized that the modeling wasn’t a good thing anyway. I went to Spelman in Atlanta, and I studied economics. It had nothing really to do with fashion. It was more my dad was an accountant and I had grown up with the thought of business in my head. And so, I studied economics and I fell in love with the science of money. I actually thought that I was going to be a Wall Street Journal reporter, my coming out of college hope and goal. 

Through college I worked part-time jobs and one of the jobs I worked at was a shoe company. And it was actually an early precursor to a DSW. It was a husband and wife team, but it was a family owned business and literally as a college student worked on sorting shoes, doing layout of shoes. And I didn’t know what that really was. I just knew it was like, I don’t know, $8 an hour to get me through to college. And so that kind of kept me in the fashion realm and also sourcing. And so, when I came out of undergrad, I got two really great offers. 

One was to be a buyer for Strawbridge and Clothier. They’re no longer around, they were department store and I got an offer to be in the operations program at Bank of Boston, which has now morphed to State Street. I went to my parents and I told them about these two amazing offers. And, because I grew up doing retail, my family was like, why would you get a degree, and to be a buyer, you still worked weekends. It just, didn’t translate. One of the things that’s interesting about life and careers, a lot of stuff doesn’t translate and a lot of stuff won’t translate to other people. So, I took the banking offer. I spent about six years doing commercial real estate and lending.  

And I wasn’t thinking about fashion or anything like that. So, I spent a lot of times in Filene’s Basement, just the shopping but not anything business related. And I decided that I wanted to go back and get my MBA. I went to Wharton. I got my MBA in finance and I wasn’t really thinking fashion. I was actually more so thinking entrepreneurship, and coming out of Wharton, I went strictly into finance. I did mergers and acquisitions, then the entrepreneurial bug hit me and I was a CFO for internet startup, where we raised money and it wasn’t fashion or anything like that. And then 9-11 happened and it was just insane period. At that point, I was in my own venture and I was raising capital for early stage companies and they weren’t finance companies. They were just companies, it was textbook. This was the dotcom boom. And you know, it was good work. I loved that it was financial financials, entrepreneurial. It was great, but I just wasn’t excited. 

Then after 9-11 happened, I really was not excited. And one of the things that happened in the finance market for entrepreneurs around that time, because there was such a loss in terms of jobs, there were just so many dynamic finance people that were out of work, that the business model that I had and raising capital and bringing in people, it just didn’t make sense. 

A Wharton was in my network. We had lunch one day we were talking and he was a partner PricewaterhouseCoopers and his client was Ann Taylor. And, I was just sharing with him. I don’t know what I’m doing, blah, blah, blah. And, he said what I say to a lot of people when they’re at this life sucks stage is, if you could close your eyes and do anything, what would you do? And I said, I’ve always loved fashion. I have never been able to figure out quite honestly, how to make money doing it. So next I get a call from Ann Taylor’s. At the time he was the head of their finance department and my friend connected me to him and I went up to New York and I did an interview and I got the job.  

 It’s interesting in fashion, there is a clear distinction between the finance person and the creative person. The thought was, if you didn’t grow up as a merchant, you would never really make it to the C-suite. And so, I came in and I had done restructured real estate on the banking side. I kind of understood the economics of real estate and at the time that I was hired they actually had 800 stores. Believe it or not. The year that I was there, we built a hundred stores. And so, my job was to actually do the financial reconciliations for the store build-outs and where I’m going with that is, we were building them all around the country. And one of the things about store build-outs, it’s almost like building a hundred houses, and with every build out, there’s a unique thing that happens between the landowner landlord and the construction company, as far as charge backs and this and that. And because we were building so many stores at one time, and one of the reasons why I went to Ann Taylor is because they were very entrepreneurial. The business was growing in a way that you can still do many things.  

We were able to identify a ton of money that could be charged back and that gave me an opportunity to go to my boss and say, I really want to do something creative. Can you help me figure out how to get there? And so, the creative thing that I got to do was the activity-based costing for our design team. And I will say, as a caveat, supply chain is creative. If you look at the elements that it really supports. And so that project was really key because it gave me as a finance person and understanding of the economics of address. But once again, we weren’t really talking about it as supply chain management. It was the acquisition of materials. We were bringing in materials from Italy. And so, understanding the economics of fabrics from Italy, if we have a challenge or if we have a spike in interest, what does that mean in terms of the costs to air goods? 

One of the big projects that I did was this whole analysis on ship versus air. Which is all supply chain. Another piece of work that I did, which was really great, and this ties back to the book that I wrote now, 12 years later, I looked at the cost of doing samples. You have to understand where the business was. Ann Taylor had just become vertically integrated. So, before that they were a business that actually worked with a company in China that was the first case study in my book because Li & Fung was like the back office for design for so many brands for so long. 

Early 2000 Ann Taylor, like other brands decided that they wanted to bring that sourcing in-house. And a part of that, if you think about where we are now with fast fashion and how the calendar has moved, a part of that was just an ingenious decision from brands to be forward-thinking about owning their production process, which is all supply chain.  

Another really good project that I did while I was at Ann Taylor actually started doing the budgets for our sourcing division. And so, what that got me to do was to understand, once again, the economics, but the economics of the supply chain. Life moved on and I had a few other roles. And after 2008 retail had such a dent in the market and there wasn’t a lot there in terms of brands. And I knew I wanted a role that would allow me to leverage my finance, my business, but also, do some strategic. And so that’s how I landed into education and fashion. 

It has been a wonderful journey of combining the things that I love and crazy enough being led to supply chain management.

Yep, sure. So, after I got into fashion education, I was a Dean of a graduate program on fashion. And one of the things that I saw eight years ago, that things like Amazon were moving very quickly and the fashion calendar was even moving quicker. There was a strong, strong discussion around sustainability. And when I looked I said, you know, we need a program that educates people on the fashion supply chain. Because it’s not like merchandising, it’s not like planning, it’s not like production. And so that’s what I did. So, I worked with the team at the school and we actually created a graduate program on fashion in the supply chain. And what I realized when we did that, it was one of those things where you put the idea together, you came up with a plan, this and that. And then we had to do it. And when I say we had to do it, we actually had to write the curriculum and what I realized as we started, and I had some amazing faculty that were contributing insight and this and that, but I could find books on how to bring cars into the us, how to source cotton for healthcare. I’m biased because of my love for fashion, I couldn’t figure out how to source a dress. Like I couldn’t find a book on that. And the reason why I wrote the book is because fashion is such a unique beast. I used to give the example all the time that fashion is the only business where Kim Kardashian can wear a sweatsuit and completely change the trajectory of the business because she posted in one day and she had this sweatsuit on. Like that doesn’t happen in the petroleum business. 

And if you’re thinking about managing a supply chain, you have to understand those very different nuances of the business. And another reason why I wrote the book is just helping individuals to understand season-less selling. And what does that mean from a production standpoint? 

When you talk about fashion and data has become so important and so key, and that was the other thing that I didn’t see was the understanding of the data. But when you think about where we are with data and e-commerce because every click creates data, there’s no reason why a retailer isn’t using that in their supply chain.  

And so the book I have a coauthor on it. He was business practitioner side, and I was more the finance slash operations person. The book is basically concept to consumer because we actually talk about from the very beginning parts of, we want to create a dress. And how do you think about the sourcing of that dress? We talk about the quality control aspects of fashion. There’s a chapter that talks about the impact of trade on production in terms of tariffs and how you think about that. Then we get into the whole nuancing discussion of the use of data in your business. And how do you want to think about it? We close it with a cliffhanger. And the cliffhanger on that book is actually talking about the new business models. And what we talk about, there are things like the use of artificial intelligence in design and what that will mean and the concept of the shared economy. The book was published in 2018. There’s an opportunity to really pick up where we are with new models.  

The audience, it was written as a textbook. However, I encourage designers and business owners in fashion that have an interest in understanding the business of fashion to read it and the way it’s written, because one of the things that my coauthor and I really realized is that words mean nothing unless you actually have a chance to apply it and understand them. So, at the end of each chapter, there is a case study. And the reason why we did case studies is because we wanted the reader to actually see, okay, how do you apply this? I think that’s one of the interesting elements about supply chain is because it’s theoretical to some degree, but it’s very hands-on. It’s the type of problem solving where you really have to do it, to understand it, to appreciate. So that’s the book in a nutshell.

When I was in industry, I was still on the financial side of it and not so much direct with the consumer. One of the things that I worked on was actually moving the four season calendar to a six to an eight calendar. And we’re going with that moving from producing four things a year to six to eight things a year. And that was rewarding because I was able to see the evolution of the consumer. Consumers were getting off of what I call an editorial calendar and were becoming more of a personal preference calendar. The emergence of a consumer that wants to shop when they want, how they want, where they want. And with e-commerce, all of that has become true. And so that has really been a rewarding aspect. 

One of the things that I have now is I started about three years ago, an online community for women called Sophisticated Curations. It was in response to what I think is happening with the female consumer that’s 40 plus. I just think that more and more brands are not as focused there. And so, what I have done is through content commerce and community is to present brands that support that market. But what that has given me an opportunity to do is to understand how that consumer thinks. And it’s allowed me to really work with designers, as they’re thinking through some of their sourcing opportunities for that market. So, it’s been a nice journey to really add in the direct to the consumer component on it. What’s interesting about fashion and supply chain and that element direct to consumer is it’s the way to go right now. And it’s for a lot of reasons, but definitely coming out of COVID, a lot of brands, big and small, have really jumped on to that focus. That will change our supply chain as well. I think what it’ll do is kind of what has happened to me as someone that had always focused on the economics of the business. It’s forcing me now to start to understand the economics and the consumer aspects of it all.

I think it’s twofold. And that’s how I’m excited to be in academia. Because I think it’s preparing future industry leaders to understand the need to be nimble in the business, but also to really appreciate just being lifelong learners. If you would’ve told me when I was playing with paper dolls, that I would be still reading and trying to understand what the markets in China are doing right now, to really have that full understanding of where the market is headed, because it is moving very quickly. 

The other thing that is important in the business is to really listen to your consumer. I think social media, it’s created a level of engagement that has really brought the consumer into the boardroom and not as a number on a report, but as an actual individual that you talk about. We quickly touched on data and I think data’s looked at an aggregate, but you can put together a demographics of me, the shopper. And so, I would say staying up on what’s new in the business is really watching your consumer.  

I think the other element is just technology. We talk about technology in a very broad sweep, but when you really think about what technology enables supply chains and consumers to do. It’s mind blowing. And so, it’s understanding how to work with the programmer to create a user-friendly website that’s going to create engagement for your consumer.

Nimbleness. Ability to work with others. Collaboration is key. A lot of brands are doing it, but internally it’s really key. When I say collaboration designers collaborating with the finance person to create a better product. Because the calendar of fashion has become more and more truncated, the time to market has become more and more truncated. The conversations that you can have become more and more truncated. Industry is looking for people that can have those diverse conversations, that are looking for those nuancing and cues, and really bringing that information back. A thing that I always tell students about fashion, and I still think this holds true, even though there’s all this technology and there’s all this movement scientific things that happen, you still have to have a fashion opinion, right? At the end of the day, you still have to have some perspective around fashion, right? Because I think that’s a part of what makes the fashion supply chain and just the fashion business so different.  

But if I’m going to be an executive in fashion, I need to have an appreciation for the fashion business. And I think that appreciation creates a natural curiosity that get you to ask those different questions versus just looking at the balance sheet. It’s those behind the scenes dynamics that are really key.

I had a mentor, someone I worked for and I met them when I was probably late thirties and he gave me a word of advice that I wish I would’ve known. I did hold onto it though. I only had a couple of years to appreciate it. And he said, don’t get serious about life until you’re 40 and where he was going with that was, yes you want to build your career but be open to the opportunities that come with exploration and learning new things. If you look at my resume, I think I had maybe a 10-year window to do that. I had a few different jobs and a few different industries doing a few different things. It kind of set me up for where I am today. I wish I would have known in undergrad was to not be so focused on where I thought I was going to end up or I needed to end up and maybe spend more time appreciating where I was and what that could be.

Pre COVID, there have been some really interesting movements. I always tell people, the exciting stuff on the runway is not so much the models, it’s actually the textiles that they’re wearing. And I think the textiles sourcing part of the business, it was exciting before. I think with COVID it’s even more exciting. I got a email from a friend who is in the business and I had been sharing with her this interest to understand anti-microbial textiles better. And so, she sent me an article looking at the, and hopefully I’ll get this right, it’s the covering that fruit flies have on their eyes has a protective layer that can be woven into the textile. And I’m not a scientist, but what I was able to connect from that is just how the market, because of where we are is truly demanding, better textiles.  

And that flows into the other piece, is sustainability. I think the focus on how damaging the industry can be to the environment. And really looking at bringing in the scientific element with the consumer side to design better textiles. So, I think that is a big change. I think what that will do quite honestly, will create an opportunity to bring a lot of scientists into the business, which I think will be quite exciting, to have a scientist pair with the designer to create new fabrics and concepts, I think will be wonderful. 

I don’t see us ever going back from a prime model. We like getting things within two, three days. Which if you think about it though, that’s so hard on a supply chain. And now really before COVID, stores were becoming warehouses because they had to be closer to the consumer. I just saw an article the other day where one of the big startups to have are the kind of third-party delivery models to support e-commerce brands because as they go to direct to consumer, and then how do you get there? Like all of that is going to change.  

I think another interesting change will be, I’m doing some research on the luxury market and supply chain. You used to be able to walk on Fifth Avenue and you’d have a luxury experience, but as a luxury, like every other brand or sector is dealing with, we aren’t quote unquote going into stores, but we also are looking at consumers in millennials and younger that they’re not store people per se. And so how do you create a luxury experience through my UPS engagement? And so, a part of that change that I see is what does it mean from a selling perspective? But that selling perspective actually is the supply chain, because my store is no longer a store, it’s actually a box that I receive.

It’s not sexy, but you actually make money. One thing that’s not going to change, things still need to be made. Supply chain will always be here. It’s an area of growth. And I think one of the things that is really interesting about supply chain for someone coming out is if you’re creative and you can show that you want to learn and can make an impact, I could see as an area for you to actually do that. I think that is something also to think about. When I was working to recruit people to think about getting a supply chain, what are they going to say, and it’s like, there’s like very few women. And a part of that is because supply chain had been seen as a trucking logistic type business and supply chain is now a strategic, operational, critical component of the business. And so, I’m hoping with that change, it will open up how you see how the business and create an opportunity for greater diversity. 

Yeah. So, I think it’s a great question. I tend to network a lot. When I was working on the supply chain book, I got very active in groups that were alternative financing sources for various industries. And I’m active with the Spelman network around just, women and engagement and professional development. Before COVID, I would read a lot of the trade journals and see what different meetups or what different speakers that were out there. I read business and fashion. I read every Wall Street Journal, just staying up on the day-to-day of fashion. But then I read the Vogues and read the Ells and, so just my natural engagement around that is really what keeps me up on it. I still try and do some writing on it, more of a research focus of it, but I think getting to the nuts and the bolts, because I’m not in the industry right now. The research around writing has helped me to understand and keep up with that side of the business as well. 

I just am personally really excited about the circular side of the business. I don’t even know if people really get what it is. So, it is basically resale secondary items that are being resold. And the twist on it now is when you marry a Goodwill with an online platform and ability to engage and curate items, you create this $24 billion industry opportunity that allows you to basically re-sort items through communities, through networks. This is a business model that is not going away. It’s also a business model that is very heavily supported by millennials and gen Zs, because it really does address the desire to prevent stuff from going into landfills, the other reason why it’s doing so well right now is because we’ve all been cooped up in our homes. And so, we’re cleaning out our closet. 

At the NRF, which is the National Retail Federation conference. It’s like the big conference for fashion. I had a box lunch with the founder of Thread Up five years ago. It was not what we know it today. And we had this discussion and he said it very loud and clear as we were having our box lunches, that every woman has about three trash bags worth of stuff in her closet that she does not use. And our business model is to put that back into circulation. And that really is the circular economy. And so the interesting thing, I think it means for supply chain, like Rent the Runway, which is another form of circular, but also share, they are the largest dry cleaner, because they’re constantly moving. So now you have a dry cleaner that’s part of your supply chain. And so, I think as we think about the circular economy, it’s really forcing designers to think about the textiles that they use and durability and what that potentially could mean. 

It’s also getting some of the top reselling brands because they have good brand value that holds, so it’s kind of like the concept of buying a used car. Just certain ones that do better than others. And so, as we’re designing and creating brands, we’ll be thinking about, what will this get if I put it out there because I’m not anticipating holding it forever, I’m going to actually put it into the circular economy. And so, all of that has a tremendous impact on what we think about our supply chain, which is already complex.  

Another thing that is going to really support that is by working mobily, we have really empowered people to become digital nomads. And one of the things about being a digital nomad, I can’t have a whole lot of stuff with me. It’s just by definition, the two don’t come together, but if I know that all I need is a wifi and my kids can go to school, I can keep my job. We’re going to see people holding less stuff. And so, this whole thought of circular share using it when I need it, it’s just where we are. But all once again, it still has to get to someone, all of that is logistics.

Yes. Thank you for that question. So, it’s on Fairchild. And it’s on Amazon, and it’s Fashion Supply Chain Management. I’m biased because I wrote it, but it is a really good read from concept to consumer.