Department of Design and Merchandising brings alumni to campus to share career experiences with students

Dean Lise Youngblade, Sam Silver, Heather Raney, CSU Retiree Gerald Culp, Professor Emerita Antigone Kotsiopulos, Caitlin Henry, Abbey Traylor, and Department Head Karen Hyllegard
Pictured from left to right: Dean Lise Youngblade, Sam Silver, Heather Raney, CSU Retiree Gerald Culp, Professor Emerita Antigone Kotsiopulos, Caitlin Henry, Abbey Traylor, and Department Head Karen Hyllegard

After a year’s delay due to COVID-19 restrictions, four alumni of the Apparel and Merchandising Program returned to Colorado State University for an event to discuss the role COVID-19 has played in their work lives and businesses, their career successes, and lessons learned from CSU. The inaugural Emerging Leaders in Apparel and Merchandising Alumni Talk and Reception was sponsored by the Kotsiopulos Education Enhancement Fund, named in honor of Antigone Kotsiopulos, former department head and associate dean, who attended the event.

Emerging Leaders in apparel and merchandising

Caitlin Henry, who graduated with a merchandising focus from the department in 2011 traveled to the event from Chicago. Henry currently works as the project manager for Sutherland Furniture after getting her start as a furniture buyer for Urban Outfitters, Inc. Her work experience has made her an expert in trend forecasting, product development, omnichannel buying, assortment planning, and consumer behavior.

Sam Silver, an alumnus from apparel design and production from 2012, made his way up to Fort Collins from his Denver offices at VF Corporation where he is the technical development manager for The North Face. He has previously worked for well-known luxury and ready-to-wear designer labels in New York City and now leads off-mountain collaborations for The North Face with similar luxury-focused companies.

Abbey Traylor, a former merchandising student, graduated in 2014. She traveled from Boston where she works as an account executive for Sorel. Traylor started her career with an internship at the UGG Showroom in New York City. Ugg then hired her as a merchandising representative. She went on to work as the on-air talent on QVC where she sold $4 million dollars’ worth of product in two months.

Heather Raney is the Product Manager for Obermeyer and lives in Aspen. Raney studied apparel design and production and graduated in 2016. Throughout Heather’s professional career, she has gained deep insights into the outdoor apparel world focusing on retail, buying, development, and merchandising.

4 alumni and deparment head karen hyllegard discuss the apparel industry

A night of learning for students

The alumni discussed the industry post-COVID in a panel discussion led by Karen Hyllegard, professor and department head, for almost two hours. The Design Exchange in the Nancy Richardson Design Center was nearly at capacity with close to 90 program attendees composed of current and former students, department faculty and staff, and community members.

The alumni shared many valuable insights with students hoping to move forward with careers in the apparel industry.

Every alumni panelist touched on major lessons in sustainability. The outdoor apparel industry in particular has been leading the industry in prioritizing sustainability as part of company business practices and initiatives. The sustainability discussion inspired much enthusiasm, as this is an area of emphasis for many students and faculty.

When asked what they would do differently in their college experience, both Traylor and Silver expressed wishing they had taken advantage of more learning opportunities while at the university. Their full appreciation for a well-rounded education and the educational opportunities at a university did not fully sink in until years after graduation.

Raney shared practical advice about wishing she had done more internships. Specifically, she talked about the difficulties around interning in the summer and then having to come back to a classroom setting. She felt the transition from school to career could have been seamless had she completed her coursework, and then allowed her internship to flow directly into a permanent position.

Henry shared some wise advice for her 22-year old self, reminding the students in the room that it’s OK to not have everything figured out. Students should take the time to discover what they want and don’t want out of their careers and always feel okay with changing their minds.

4 panelists and the moderator sit in front of a large group of students and community members

The department hopes to use the funds generously provided by the Kotsiopulos Education Enhancement Fund to continue bringing alumni back to campus for more discussion panels and networking opportunities for current students.

About the Kotsiopulos Education Enhancement Fund

Antigone Kotsiopulos and Jerry Culp
Professor Emerita Antigone Kotsiopulos with husband and fellow CSU retiree Gerald Culp

Kotsiopulos is a professor emerita from the Department of Design and Merchandising and a former department head and associate dean for academic programs in the College of Applied Human Sciences (now Health and Human Sciences). Her time at CSU spanned 28 years before her retirement in 2006. Since retiring, Kotsiopulos has been an active contributor to the CSU community and to the Department of Design and Merchandising through the Kotsiopulos Education Enhancement Fund.

The fund was started in 2000 and supports outreach and experiential learning for the students in apparel and merchandising. The fund often focuses on merchandising students and educational opportunities, as that was Kotsiopulos’s teaching and research emphasis during her time at CSU.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.