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  • Writer's pictureREBECCA OSOWSKI

National Retail Federation provides one-of-a-kind opportunities


Eryn Sheeley completed her internship with Dick’s Sporting Goods in the Professional Soccer Department in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania over the summer, a role she secured at the NRF conference in January. Photo courtesy of Eryn Sheeley

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is the world’s largest retail trade organization and according to its website, they “passionately stand up for the people, policies and ideas that help retail thrive.” The NRF conducts research on consumers and trends and hosts a variety of events throughout the year to better educate retailers and their members.


In addition to this, the NRF has a student association (NRFSA), a program that fashion professor Catharine Weiss enrolled Lasell in almost ten years ago. At the time, Lasell was one of the first colleges to be a part of the NRFSA.


Each year, the NRF hosts Retail’s Big Show, a conference in New York City that brings together retailers, executives, and brands from across the world to learn about upcoming technology, meet other industry leaders, immerse themselves in specific retail-oriented sessions, and exhibit the latest innovations.


The NRFSA provides scholarships to each of their member schools to send them to the conference. According to Weiss, three Lasell students attend on scholarship, however 20 students usually attend. The students who do not receive a scholarship pay around $600 to attend, Weiss said.

“By the time students are done with this four-day, three-and-a-half-day extravaganza, they know so much more about the direction they want to go in, what they want to do for a career all of a sudden it just opens up a million light bulbs and opportunities,” Weiss said. “They come back so inspired and motivated and happy that they chose the career path that they did. It's insane. It's just absolutely fabulous.”


According to Weiss, the first time Lasell attended the conference, there were only about 25 colleges that attended. Now, hundreds attend, including Harvard University, Marist College, Fashion Institute of Technology, and more, something according to Weiss proves Lasell is “just as good as all of those other fashion programs, if not better.”


In addition to learning more about trends and upcoming technology, Weiss says students can interact with industry professionals, having the opportunity to learn directly from them and sometimes come away with interviews, internships, or jobs.


Senior fashion merchandising major Eryn Sheeley attended the conference earlier this year and said she wanted to use the opportunity to put herself out there. One of the events Sheeley took advantage of was a coffee chat with executives. During the event, executives traveled from table to table and spoke to the 5,000 students.


“I was never really able, I think to sit in front of an executive and kind of ask the questions that I needed to know about going into this field or going into this industry,” Sheeley said. “It was a really eye-opening experience for me.”


In addition to the coffee chat, the event offered a career fair where 20 corporate office executives came to meet students. Sheeley said her first stop was Dick’s Sporting Goods because of their and her own focus on athleisure as a student athlete. Shortly after meeting with the recruiter, Sheeley said she received a call for an interview. She completed the interview the next day and immediately following her interview, Dick’s Sporting Goods offered Sheeley an internship, an opportunity that allowed her to move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 11 weeks over the summer.


Sheeley said they conducted 30 interviews, and she was one of five to get hired. “It was probably one of the best things that could have happened for me because, not that I wasn’t self-confident in myself, like going in there, but I think it kind of opened my eyes a little bit like ‘you can do this, you know what you’re doing, and they clearly picked you for a reason,” Sheeley said.

Additionally, following her internship in the Professional Soccer Department where she worked on professional apparel for soccer teams, Dick’s Sporting Goods offered Sheeley a full-time role upon her graduation next May.


While the biggest event NRF puts on is this conference in New York City, they also offer smaller virtual events throughout the year and scholarships for tuition. Senior fashion media and marketing major Julia McNicol has not attended the conference however applied to the NRF’s Next Generation scholarship, placed in the Top 25, and is able to attend the conference and a gala with industry professionals on the last night of the conference this January.


McNicol said she wrote an essay, recorded a video, conducted interviews with retail professionals, and worked on a case study with Macy’s as part of the application process.


“I got to really dive into my own research and figure out what are other companies doing in the business that are like making them excel in certain ways and how can that be implemented,” McNicol said. “I went on a couple visits to different Macy’s stores to just see what they currently have in store. I looked at their app, ways that could be improved, and just overall how to make their omnichannel retail better.”


McNicol hopes like Sheeley, she gets a job at the conference if she does not have one, but emphasized taking advantage of the opportunity, not only as a fashion major.


“I think it’s, I guess important to know that anyone can join because our school has affiliation with it…It’s just kind of a connection what we have, and you can sign up for free, they have different event throughout the year…,” McNicol said. “They just offer a lot of great opportunities for students across the board.”


Sheeley echoed McNicol and said she would recommend the NRF to any student interested. “It’s not just for fashion majors…Like it's not just about fashion design or fashion merch or fashion media. It's not just about that, it's about everyone else, it's about sustainability and communication and there's so many factors that go into so many like realms of the world that we don't even know with jobs. So, it's not just about fashion,” Sheeley said. “So, take advantage of the time that you have and the opportunities that you have, especially like the NRF.”


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