Sitting in Huntsman Hall, Chrissy Walker (W '19) and Olivia Klein (C '19), the co–CEOs of Penn Fashion Week: Fashion Reimagined, are poised and passionate. Both Olivia and Chrissy played key roles in organizing “the biggest event of the year for fashion at Penn.” This week included resume workshops and panels with some of the biggest companies in the industry—all of which culminated in the Penn Fashion Week Conference, on Friday, March 22.
With this year’s theme being “Fashion Reimagined,” Chrissy and Olivia selected panelists with fresh takes on changes within the fashion industry, including individuals representing TheRealReal and Rent the Runway. Though innovative, the conference is not one–sided, with established brands such as Lord & Taylor allowing students to compare traditional and non–traditional approaches to retail. All Penn Fashion Week events were entirely free, making these companies accessible and available to Penn students.
Both now seniors, Chrissy and Olivia became involved with Penn Fashion Week early in their respective college careers. Chrissy started as a freshman, and became co–CEO during her junior year at Penn. But Chrissy didn't always envision herself having a career in the fashion industry. She came to Penn focused on the entertainment industry, saying, “I always had a love for fashion, but growing up, that was deemed as not a viable career field...that you can’t get a job in fashion that’d pay your bills." After arriving at Penn, though, she found that notion to be incorrect. Chrissy quickly became active with the Wharton Retail Club, Penn Fashion Week, The WALK magazine, and Penn Fashion Collective, and began to explore numerous career opportunities. She says, “I fell in love with fashion. It’s a really cool intersection of creativity and business.” After graduation, Chrissy will begin her fashion career in earnest, with a position in merchandising at Gap.
Like Chrissy, Olivia came into college focused on another discipline—theater—but quickly found a love for the fashion industry. Olivia joined Penn Fashion Week her sophomore year at Penn, and like Chrissy, rose through the ranks to become co–CEO. She began working in fashion as a sales associate, and found that through hands–on experience with clothing and clients, “you get to really know what’s in style.” She later moved into e–commerce, styling, and photoshoots, and last summer, she interned as a buyer at Barney’s. In speaking of her experience as a buyer, Olivia emphasizes the strategy involved with the position.
“When you think of buying you think of buying the clothes, and that is true. A lot of it though is deciding which merchandise should go to which store. Deciding which should go to New York versus LA versus Chicago. Why isn’t something selling in LA that’s selling in New York. It’s a lot more analytical," she said. Olivia will also be entering the fashion industry post–graduation, working at H&M in a rotation program.
Olivia and Chrissy's fearless approach to their work is motivating. They are, as Chrissy says, "living proof that creatives can have careers in business." At the end of the interview, Chrissy offers some last words of advice.
“Exploring different career fields is super important during your college career. Even if fashion and retail doesn’t immediately sound like something that you think you’d be into, you honestly never know. It's a great way to learn about different ways you could explore your career field, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try it out."