The Retail and Luxury Goods Club (RLGC) is a student run club at Harvard Business School, whose purpose is to educate members on concepts, challenges, and opportunities in the luxury goods industry. Every year, RLGC hosts the Retail and Luxury Goods Conference. The theme for 2018 was Reinventing the Value Chain, From Founding to Investing. Per the name, the panel discussions explored ways in which companies are changing every part of the retail value chain to stay ahead of the game as innovators and first movers.
Representing the very top of the luxury retail business, the keynote speakers were Marc Rey, President and CEO of Shiseido Americas, Jyothi Rao, President of Intermix, and Matt Rubel, former CEO of Varsity Brands and Cole Haan. Other brands that were present included Farfetch, Moet-Hennessy, Commando, M.Gemi, and Saksofffifth.com.
This year, Vienne Brown, founder of VienneMilano, was invited to speak at the Founder’s panel alongside Helen Lo, Founder and CEO of Lo & Sons, Ryan and Adam Goldston, Co-founders and CEOs of Athletic Propulsion Labs, Carl Cunow, Co-founder and CEO of Onia, and lastly Patrick Herning & Kathryn Retzer, Co-founders, CEO and Creative Director of 11 Honoré.
The discussions revolved around the early days of each business and how the founders overcame difficult challenges to grow their brands into what they are now. The panelists shared anecdotes of failures and successes they encountered throughout the years, and what they learned from each experience.
A big topic of discussion during the panel was the impact of technology on business models, such as the way VienneMilano and Lo & Sons choose to conduct their business exclusively online. A range of other topics were explored as Helen Lo reminisced about starting a company from the position of an industry outsider and what it is like to work with her sons. The Goldston brothers expressed the value of surrounding themselves with a good team. Patrick Herning and Kathryn Retzer outlined their journey of discovering the often overlooked market of luxury plus sized clothing and how they took it upon themselves to fulfill that market. Carl Cunow discussed his decision on keeping his operations within his control.
One ubiquitous message heard throughout the conference was to never give up. Every single speaker had heard "no" countless times, but kept on going. The key is to persist and keep working towards your goal.
The HBS Retail & Luxury Goods conference was an amazing opportunity to listen to and learn from some of the most influential executives in the industry. Further, the ability to network after gave attendees a chance to meet professionals and ask questions that had not been answered during the talk.
Harvard University is a prestigious institution that is one of the oldest in the United States. Many of today's leaders have spent time in some form or another at HBS, making it an honor for VienneMilano to be part of this event.