Reema Faridi, a graduate of ESSEC’s MBA in International Luxury Brand Management, has worked for glamorous labels including Mulberry and Burberry, and is currently launching a new brand in London’s West End.
The experienced fashion executive, who recently moved back to London from Milan, tells us why she loves this creative but tough industry, how she has made it this far, and why she did the ESSEC MBA.
We caught up with Reema when she had a few free minutes in the middle of a busy day. She is currently brand manager for luxury Swiss-British label Negarin in the UK. The company is in the midst looking for premises to launch its first UK standalone store, and launching its new collection. She had been at a trade show over the weekend, and was busy with marketing budgets, photo shoots and talking to journalists.
Reema graduated from Cambridge University in 1998 and headed straight for the world she loved: fashion. Her first role was as a marketing assistant at upmarket London department store Liberty, and early on she also spent a year as an unpaid press assistant at Loewe, which is owned by LVMH.
Having graduated from one of the world’s top universities definitely made her stand out when applying for fashion jobs. “Most Cambridge graduates don’t want to fetch coffee for people,” she said. The cliché, it seems, is true: you have to truly love fashion and the fashion business in order to make it, because you’ll need to make a lot of sacrifices along the way.
Reema has moved around a lot throughout her career, often working as a freelance sales manager or on one- or two-year contracts for labels including FrostFrench, Burberry and Raoul, where she was Europe and Middle East Commercial Director
Immediately before she began the ESSEC MBA she was Export Sales Manager at “It-bag” supplier to the stars, Mulberry. One of her colleagues had graduated from the ESSEC MBA, and so had Reema’s uncle, who was a senior executive at French bank Calyon.
She already knew that ESSEC had a great reputation in Europe as a Grande Ecole with a rigorous business programme, so when she heard that the school had launched a specialist MBA for the luxury goods industry; she thought it would be a great opportunity to consolidate what she’d learned from eight years in the business. Spending a year in Paris, the global centre of the luxury industry, and building connections there was also a tempting prospect.
The 11-month MBA in International Luxury Brand Management is the only specific MBA for this sector. Each year, around 45 students with an average age of 31 years enrol on the programme, which includes mentoring, management seminars and field projects with senior executives atsome of the world’s most famous luxury names.
The programme allows students to specialise in fashion and accessories; fragrances and cosmetics; watches and jewellery, wine and spirits; cars and technology; or hotels and real estate. The long list of partners includes Chanel, Coach, Gucci Group, Louis Vuitton, Estee Lauder and Cartier.
One major benefit of the MBA for Reema was that it boosted her business skills, particularly in finance. “I can now be responsible for running my own P&L (profit and loss) account,” she said. It has enabled her to take on more responsibility for the whole business rather than just sales or marketing, which is particularly helpful at smaller labels such as the one she is working for now, Negarin.
The other major benefit was the network. In the fashion industry, career progression is all about contacts, and the friends she made at ESSEC have kept her in touch with new opportunities in the industry. If she’s launching a label in a market where she doesn’t have many existing contacts with departments stores and stockists, there will always be someone in the ESSEC network who does! Ultimately, fashion firms pay brand managers for their relationships with buyers, so she's now a more valuable hire in her market.
As well as contacts, reputation is the other important factor when it comes to landing those coveted brand manager roles, and for Reema that has meant making a superhuman effort in every role. “You need to show that you’re dedicated. There are a lot of late nights,” she said. “If you’re still around after ten years you have credibility because most people don’t last that long!”
When asked for advice for people who want to make it in the fashion business, Reema quotes Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods: charm is the key to the industry. To be more specific, you can’t make enemies because it’s such a small world!
A love of fashion keeps Reema motivated and she said her current role is her favourite so far. It’s hard work to build a sales team from scratch, find premises, set up a store, ensure that stock is where it should be at the right time and get a buzz going in the press – all in a short space of time. But it’s also an exhilarating challenge that she never grows tired of!