Clare Cartwright doesn’t have your typical MBA background. She grew up in the UK, studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and aspired to launch a career in journalism.
Her writing career took her into the fashion industry after her undergrad, and soon she was hooked. The HEC Paris MBA grad began as a product writer for luxury fashion retailer NET-A-PORTER, then worked as a content manager for Tommy Hilfiger before joining communications agency Karla Otto as digital account director.
Though she was keen to stay in fashion, Clare decided that she needed a more formal business education than she had already gained through her work experience to accelerate her career: an MBA was the missing piece.
After graduating with an MBA from HEC Paris, she started working as the senior global marketing manager for fashion-tech disruptor Vestiaire Collective—the leading global app for pre-loved fashion.
Here’s how Clare orchestrated her transformation.
Why MBA: HEC Paris
Clare was getting to the point in her career where she was “very happy and comfortable” but wanted more of a challenge. It was that desire, coupled with the chance to acquire a full business education, that led her to an MBA.
“The opportunity to take a step in another direction after having worked for almost a decade was hugely appealing. After working in a traditional framework, I was ready to challenge not only the norms but also myself.” she says.
Clare’s own international heritage—her father is British while her mother is French-American—led her to consider an MBA in Europe, and HEC Paris stood out thanks to its strong international cohort. The school’s MBA class of 2019 saw 92% of students come from outside France, with 55 nationalities represented.
Another attraction for Clare was HEC Paris’ connections to the luxury industry in Europe. “I knew that my previous experience was valuable, and I wanted to return to the industry in a different capacity after graduating—so an MBA from HEC also would allow me to keep connected and achieve this,” she explains.
How HEC Paris prepares MBA students for career development
One of the ways the HEC Paris MBA allows students to tailor and micro-target their career goals is through specializations. Students can choose from Advanced Management, Entrepreneurship, Digital Innovation, Finance, Strategic Marketing, Strategy, or Sustainable and Disruptive Innovation.
Clare chose Digital Innovation and was immersed in digital transformation and disruptive industries, studying topics including cryptocurrency and data analytics.
She also took part in a Digital Innovation Challenge, where teams of students had to propose an original digital strategy to a major French business.
“Our value was really to bring those innovative ideas and a different mindset to the company, which I think worked really well,” she explains. To say that it went well is an understatement—Clare’s team ended up winning the challenge.
An internship in Paris with fashion startup Corto Moltedo was also a valuable learning opportunity. “Having worked with quite big brands before in London, it gave me really good insight into what it was like at the other end of the scale,” Clare says. “Doing an internship during the MBA is a great way to explore working in different types of businesses within your chosen industry.”
Clare was also President of the MBA’s Retail and Luxury Club, an opportunity that gave her the chance to network with major luxury and fashion brands in Paris. This, combined with further practical experience she gained as a project lead for the HEC Consulting Practice, set Clare up to thrive at Vestiaire Collective post-graduation.
MBA Jobs: Joining a digital disruptor
“I’ve gone from working in traditional luxury communications in the UK, to working for a French tech company that is disrupting the wider industry,” Clare explains. “Without the MBA, I don’t think I would have necessarily been able to make this switch.”
The Paris-based company, Vestiaire Collective, is a global fashion resale platform focused on making the fashion industry more sustainable. The company had previously spoken at a Luxury Club conference, and Clare got in touch with an HEC Paris alum who worked for them.
“Although I wanted to remain in the luxury industry, I turned down offers to return to a more traditional route,” she admits. “The more I learned about Vestiaire Collective, the more excited I was about their business model. I really believe it’s the future of the industry.”
Clare’s MBA journey prepared her well for the role at Vestiaire, not just in the practical learning experience but also soft skills.
"I really learned how to be more entrepreneurial and to be a better problem solver,” Clare explains. “Those are the two key skills that I use every day at Vestiaire.”
How to make the most of an MBA
Clare advises other prospective MBA students to have some areas of focus in mind before starting their degree. “I liked giving myself a bit of a structure, because I felt there was no way I could get the best out of my experience if I didn’t,” she explains.
At the same time, remaining flexible is important too. “Half the point of the MBA is to really open your eyes and challenge yourself in ways that you wouldn’t have been able to in your life beforehand.
“Although I had an international upbringing, it was nothing compared to the international outlook and awareness of different cultures that I gained through the MBA—this perspective is something that I’ve absolutely put into practice in my global role at Vestiaire.”
HEC Paris is also a space for everyone, regardless of your background. ‘Untraditional’ MBA candidates are highly sought after.
“Whether it was someone like me who had more of a creative background or someone who already has a solid background in business, I always had the impression that each individual skillset is highly valued.
“At HEC Paris, they really encourage people to break the mold and explore new opportunities, and you can see that in the variety of careers that people go on to have.”
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