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Understanding fashion

Chasidic college student from Teaneck wins marketing scholarship for a second time

Kayla Garb (Hadassah Penn)
Kayla Garb (Hadassah Penn)

When Kayla Garb of Teaneck — a college student and a Lubavitch chasid — won a competitive $5,000 scholarship from the nonprofit YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund last year, the achievement was remarkable not only on its own merit but also because few chasidic women pursue a college degree, much less in fashion merchandising.

Now there is even more reason to be impressed with Ms. Garb: She won another $5,000 FSF scholarship this year. The funds may be used toward her tuition at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, where she is a junior marketing major in the Sys Syms School of Business honors program.

Applicants in the marketing and merchandising discipline in the most recent FSF Case Study Competition were required to create a hypothetic campaign to globalize any retailer of their choosing.

“Your launch plan should be rooted in an understanding of which customer segments you are hoping to attract,” the guidelines say. “Your marketing tactics and an updated assortment architecture strategy should be creative, fit your target new market, and display strong consideration for expected profitability of this new venture.”

Ms. Garb picked Ulta, a nationwide chain selling cosmetics and beauty services, because of its wide range of price points. And she decided to expand it to Mexico, “because Mexico is our neighbor, logistically that makes sense, and also Mexico has a growing economy with a growing middle and upper class,” she explained.

Her research taught her that much of the retail exchange in Mexico is done through “changarros,” small shops or kiosks. So she took that into account in formulating the 10-page proposal she submitted to the FSF judges. “I wanted to appeal to the Mexican consumer and make it relatable and familiar,” she said.

Because she’s never actually been to Mexico, she chose Al Golzari, an adjust professor of marketing at Sy Syms, as her mentor. He is a product development and sourcing executive who understands the retail realities in Mexico.

Despite all her hard work, she did not expect to win a prize.

“I was surprised to win a scholarship again,” she said. “Throughout the past year, the YMA organization had networking events that I attended, and I heard that this year was more competitive than usual, with about 700 applicants.”

For her FSF Case Study Competition proposal last year, Ms. Garb had to demonstrate how digital technology can be combined with a traditional retail model in order to improve the performance of a specific retailer.

She created a model for J.Crew that would enable stores to keep less merchandise on display and avoid long lines at check-out. Shoppers would view item samples on display and then they would use an app to request that specific items in their size to be brought to the fitting room. They would be able complete their purchase in the fitting room as well.

Ms. Garb emphasized that both times she entered the competition, she was among nearly 200 contestants to win a $5,000 FSF scholarship, to be used toward tuition, summer housing for an internship, or a study-abroad program. She was not among the top-scoring four finalists, who each won $30,000 to $35,000 scholarships, nor among the next top four who won $10,000 scholarships.

Nevertheless, the 21-year-old Lubavitch woman certainly stood out from the 1,500 attendees at the January 2019 Awards Gala for FSF winners — held at the New York Hilton Midtown, only a mile and a half from Stern College’s 34th Street and Lexington Avenue campus — at which Ryan Seacrest and Martha Stewart were keynote speakers.

One of the few scholarship winners or audience members to request a kosher meal, she was given gourmet fare from Abigael’s on Broadway.

Ms. Garb said she felt honored to meet other future fashion-industry professionals from as far away as Alaska, and from other parts of North America where there is not much of a Jewish presence.

“I’m probably the only religious Jew they will ever meet, so I tried to represent Judaism and my school well,” she said. “I explained all about kosher food, and people were also interested in this tiny college on 34th Street and why I go there.” (Stern College students account for slightly less than half of YU’s total undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,700).

Ms. Garb was born in Brooklyn, but she’s lived in Teaneck since she was 4. The oldest of three children of Shneur and Rachi Garb, she is a graduate of Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth.

“My parents were always very encouraging of whatever I wanted to do and very adamant that I get a good education,” she said. “But for a girl to go to college, and especially to be going into a nontraditional field like marketing, is definitely out of the box within the Lubavitch community.”

However, she observed with a laugh, “My last name is Garb, so it’s kind of in my blood. My grandmother is a salesperson in Esti’s, a high-fashion store in Flatbush.”

An art minor at Stern, Ms. Garb enjoys drawing portraits and recently started teaching herself to play the ukulele and to embroider. Next, she wants to take sewing lessons. She also is an adviser to the Orthodox youth group NCSY.

This summer, she hopes to have an internship in the fashion industry. Thanks to the FSF award, she already has been recruited for four interviews. Ulta would be an obvious choice, but its main headquarters is in Illinois and she prefers to stay in the New York area.

The YMA has awarded FSF scholarships since 1937. (The organization — an educational fashion nonprofit — does not explain the original meaning of the acronym that now is its official name.) Its stated goal is “to advance the fashion industry by encouraging gifted and enterprising young people to pursue careers in design, merchandising, retailing and business, ensuring the industry will continue to attract dedicated, capable and creative individuals.”

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