This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by LIM students with winners of the Accessories Council's 2020 Design Excellence Awards (DEA). Students are enrolled in Fashion Merchandising Professor Andrea Kennedy's Honors Introduction to the Fashion Business class.
My classmate and I had the pleasure to interview to fashion industry professionals: Jennifer Tong, VP of Design at Agron and Beth Goldstein, Executive Director and Industry Analyst at NPD. Throughout the interview, we dove into everything from the creation process of the backpack to the professional’s own stories, and why NPD chose the Prime V Backpack to receive the award.
From sketching fashion designs back in calculus class to doing internships at companies like St. John Knits, Jennifer’s early passion for art and design lead her to Otis College of Art and Design and work up the ranks to become VP of Design at Agron. We learned from Jennifer that running a licensing company has unique business challenges;“fast-paced” and deals with “constant management of relationships.” However, Agron was able to succeed in the licensing business due to their close relationship with Adidas, dating back to the 1990s. Agron’s ability to realize the opportunity for accessories license groups to work with corporate brands like Adidas brought them success at a time when few were licensing with sport brands.According to Jennifer, the unique thing about Agron’s partnership with Adidas is that they have long-term negotiated deal, rather than going through the traditional three-year cycle of renegotiating. Their contracts last as long as 10 years. Nonetheless, the partnership wasn’t something that happened overnight and although there’s no specific way for a brand to obtain a license, the process of doing so is more than just reaching out to a company and asking for it.
By having an Adidas license, Agron has the rights to produce the finished products for Adidas’s accessories, including the award-winning Prime V Backpack. It features multiple pockets that give the user maximum storage options for jam-packed days and padded straps for comfortability when carrying. Jennifer mentioned that throughout the process of designing the backpack, they considered factors like trends, trim designs, and prints to improve on. Ultimately, this was an effort to create the best possible back-to-school backpack for middle school/high school students and to always improve the design and functionality of the Prime backpack collection.
After graduating from Cornell, Beth Goldstein became an associate buyer at Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue before earning her M.B.A at NYU’s Stern School of Business. She then started her tenure at NPD, and ultimately became the Executive Director and Industry Analyst for Fashion Footwear and Accessories. NPD is a company that tracks retail sales and consumer behavior across the fashion industry, and many others, through a variety of sources and surveys and offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help their clients grow their businesses. As Industry Analyst, Beth contributes to NPD clients’ strategic planning, product development, and marketing processes.
The biggest question that we had was, "Why the Prime V Backpack? Out of all the backpacks designed and produced, what made this one the NPD Award winner?" According to Beth, the backpack category was the one to experience the most growth in the accessories market during the year-ending June 2020 versus the prior year, and this particular backpack topped the list in terms of dollar volume sold. She also mentioned that unlike most of the other awards, the NPD Growth Driver Award was based on sales numbers, rather than the number of votes the product received from the industry.
Considering what’s currently going on and the fast pace of the fashion industry, we ended by asking Jennifer and Beth for their advice to those of us currently trying to enter the industry. Beth brought up the importance of data and analytics in many roles today, and always being curious and asking questions. Jennifer concluded with the importance of not only doing internships but also diversifying them to gain as much experience as possible and learn what you’re truly passionate about.