Elizabeth Engele, junior at UIUC, and Charlotte Wood, sophomore at UIUC, are both equally active on campus. Whether they’re holding leadership positions in their sorority, Chi Omega, actively participating in Business Council, serving on the Illini Dance Marathon Executive Board, or serving as the design and apparel chair for the Illini Hockey marketing team, these girls certainly have their plates full, but not full enough.
Engele and Wood recently started their very own RSO called the National Retail Federation. Both majoring in supply chain management and marketing, it’s no wonder these girls have always had an interest in retail. They’ve created NRF in hopes of giving other students interested in the retail industry a place to learn and also give them opportunities to make connections. These girls tell HC all about the work that went into creating this new RSO.
HC: What was your inspiration in starting this RSO?
Charlotte Wood: Lizzy and I are both super into fashion and have always wanted to go into retail as a career path. Before NRF, there was no outlet for students like us to come together and build a network to break into this industry. We are really hoping that starting this RSO will catch the attention of retail companies and that they will start recruiting out of UIUC! The possibilities for this RSO are really endless, and we are excited for our members to help us carry out our vision!
HC: What prior experiences in the retail industry have you had that led you to start the National Retail Federation?
Elizabeth Engele: I have never worked directly in retail but have always had an interest in consumer psychology and the evolution of trends, brand and products which sparked my interest in the retail industry.
CW: Lizzy and I both attended the Shop.org Summit downtown Chicago this past fall semester where we got to hear from executives of retail companies such as Anthropologie, Abercrombie & Fitch, Estee Lauder, Nordstrom, etc. The people and companies that I met there really confirmed that I wanted to be in retail. I knew that I wanted to be in fashion from a young age; it had always been a dream. But, I knew that if it was going to happen then I was going to need to make opportunities for myself because they weren’t being presented to me. When my dad said that fashion school wasn’t a good option, I chose business and am going to use it as an avenue into the corporate side of retail!
HC: After this first meeting/networking opportunity with Wal-Mart, what other things do you have planned for National Retail Federation?
EE: The organization will officially begin in the Fall 2014 semester where we will have many opportunities to learn from one another at internal meetings and with leaders in the industry at external meetings. We already have Sears on board to speak at our first external meeting where they will be discussing their role in digital retail since they are trying to turn around their brand. Every month we will have internal and fundraising events. Some ideas that are being planned are “Dress a Member for a Day” auction and a 3-D printing session. Members will have the opportunity to attend off-campus trips like the Shop.org conference, which will be occurring in Seattle this year.
HC: What has been the biggest challenge in starting your own RSO?
CW: The biggest challenge for us has been getting our word out to retail lovers like us! Prior to this RSO, there really wasn’t any place for students who had dreams of going into retail. Lizzy put together an amazing executive board of people involved in a variety of different organizations, and through utilizing each other’s networks; we will hopefully form an awesome group of people for our organization! That’s the beauty of starting an RSO, there is no precedent for any decision. So, we had to work through things and decide what choices aligned best with OUR vision. It was definitely a learning and growth process.