Penn’s Baker Retailing Center is helping launch students’ careers in fashion and merchandising.
Founded in 2002 by 1956 Wharton graduate Jay Baker and his wife Patty Baker, the center works closely with student clubs like the Wharton Retail Club and Penn Fashion Collective to plan Career Treks and speaker events.
“The goal of the Center is to connect three different groups of stakeholders: the industry people, the students and the faculty,” Barbara Kahn, director of the program, said.
Wharton freshman Jordan Williams is one of the students who works at the Baker Retailing Center.
Williams, who runs his own fashion line, says the center has given him a thorough introduction to the fashion industry.
He started his fashion career by making t-shirt designs for friends during high school, before turning his work into a full-on company.
Young Moguls, Williams’ brand, has adopted the slogan “Wear your story.”
“Our desire is for Young Moguls customers to be reminded of their story and their past experiences, but at the same time motivated for their future goals and aspirations,” Williams said.
He and his business partner are continuing the brand at their separate colleges this year — Penn and Georgetown University. The two have meetings over FaceTime at least three times each week.
“Hopefully, we can expand our customer base even more because we’re at two big colleges,” Williams said.
The Baker Center often partners with the Fashion Institute of Technology to expose students to all aspects of the business. The Baker Invitational, which will take place this year in late April in partnership with FIT, allows Penn students to travel to the school’s New York City labs to learn about manufacturing.
“One time we made a fragrance, and another time they showed us how they make materials out of sustainable garden resources,” Kahn said.
Wharton senior Kaley Suero is also heading towards a career in retail and has worked for the center.
Suero was the 2016 president of the Undergraduate Retail Club, and has plans to work on the innovation team at Nordstrom’s Seattle headquarters after graduation. She had a deputy position with Baker beginning freshman year.
“Involvement with Baker is taking advantage of the events they put on and the speakers that they have,” Suero said.
Suero will attend the center’s Lunchtime Speaker Series on Apr. 17, marking her third appearance at the event.
“You’re sitting next to Jay Baker, or Terry Lundgren or the new CEO of Barneys,” Suero said. “It’s very impressive and exciting.”
Suero sees the Career Treks as the center’s most significant benefit.
“I’m very interested in the retail and tech space, so I really enjoyed one where we visited Oak Labs, as well as Rent the Runway,” Suero said. Oak Labs is known for an interactive fitting room mirror, the Oak Mirror, that can scan through store inventory and give clothing recommendations.
Suero’s post-graduation job came to fruition indirectly through the center. She was nominated by the center for a scholarship that included an interview with a Nordstrom employee.
“Baker works very closely with the National Retail Federation (NRF), and they have a variety of scholarships for students,” Suero said. “I’ve been able to win quite a bit of money through them and with their help.”
What interests Suero most about retail is the fact that it is such an old industry.
“Buying and selling things has always taken place, and always will take place,” Suero said. “At the same time, how it takes place is going to continuously be changing.”
Suero added that retail has only really been impacted by the first generation of the internet and has a lot of room for further technological innovation.
The Baker Center’s resources are available to students in all of Penn’s undergraduate and graduate schools.
“Anything we do here is available to Penn students throughout the entire University,” the program’s coordinator, Keith Hardy-Merritt, said.