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Students’ ideas solve real-world challenges for Hot Topic, Cotton Incorporated

Group photo of students in front of projection screen.
Taking first place in the Hot Topic challenge, students Zoe Kirkpatrick, Sarah Nelson, Savannah Stroobandt, Jacob Lopez, Kylie Homes, and Taylor Meek, show their PopCon anime mini-convention concept in class.

Helping solve real challenges facing retailers and textile producers, students at Washington State University drew on all of their educational experience, research skills, and creativity in a spring 2019 capstone competition held in partnership with Hot Topic and Cotton Incorporated.

Twelve teams of students in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles (AMDT) created merchandising strategies aimed at new customers in Generation Z for retailer Hot Topic, as well as new technology-driven products for Cotton Incorporated, as part of their Strategic Planning and Decision Making 450 course.

While the four winning teams won cash prizes, every student built skills aimed at giving them the edge in the career marketplace.

“Working side by side with industry professionals greatly improves our students’ readiness for careers,” said Jihyeong Son, course instructor and AMDT assistant professor.

Appealing to Generation Z

For retail chain Hot Topic, six teams of students developed plans for merchandise that appeals to teen customers age 13-19, along with social media channels and influencers that reach this demographic.

“Keeping authentic to the Hot Topic brand’s DNA was also important in building their presentations,” added judge Theresa Mercado, Vice President of Product Development at Hot Topic, Inc.

Taking first place, students Kylie Homes, Jacob Lopez, Taylor Meek, Savannah Stroobandt, Zoe Kirkpatrick and Sara Nelson wowed judges with their concept, “PopCon,” a mini-convention aimed at fans of Japanese animation, or anime.

Surveying high school students, anime fans, and Hot Topic shoppers, students learned about shows and influencers that are relevant for their target audience. Their plan identified exclusive merchandise and experiences, similar to those found at anime conventions, for special in-store events.

“Anime is a growing market for our demographic and providing that fandom feeling in our stores was an interesting idea,” Mercado said.

Developing “Social Influencers and Mental Health,” are Jahaida Benitez, Trityca Anderson, Madeleine Metzker, Rachel Feldmeier, Shirley Wu and Addie Medica.

Mental health and influencers

Winning second place, students Madeleine Metzker, Jahaida Benitez, Rachel Feldmeier, Addie Medica, Trityca Anderson and Shirley Wu created a campaign called “Mental Health and Social Influencers.”

“Teens care about mental health,” said Anderson. Her team’s market research showed the potential for a campaign that helps teen consumers talk about mental health. The team envisioned exclusive merchandise, concerts, and meet-and-greets with influencers Noah Cyrus and Millie Bobby Brown at Hot Topic flagship stores.

“Noah is an advocate for mental health and anxiety, while Millie really promotes positivity and puts negativity to the side,” said Benitez. “We want teens to understand they’re not alone.”

“It’s clear that each team spent a lot of thoughtful time and energy exploring the paths we could take to engage, retain and excite Generation Z,” said Mercado “The winners stood out with fully thought-out plans that are achievable and relevant to our business. We were impressed by each group’s work, as well as how they spun their projects into very diverse avenues.”

Group photo in front of Sock Bar title screen.
Taking first in the Cotton Incorporated challenge for their “Sock Bar” concert are Alexis Ciri, Cassidy Hanger, Colette Smith, Corrine Lambert, Allison Hauke, and Hanna Ostergren.

A luxury sock shop

To help boost cotton’s use in athletic and casual socks, students were challenged by Cotton Incorporated, to build a competitive strategy for a new sock line using new technology, aimed at a target brand and set of consumers.

Taking first place, students Alexis Ciri, Cassidy Hanger, Allison Hauke, Corrine Lambert, Hanna Ostergren, and Colette Smith devised “Sock Bar,” a pop-up shop offering men’s luxury dress socks with a bar theme.

Teammates surveyed men and women to learn about their sock needs, and researched the role and importance of women as buyers of men’s socks, incorporating this insight into their plan.

Judge Mark Messura, senior vice president for global supply chain marketing at Cotton Incorporated, praised their well-researched, convincing concept. Students showed initiative in reaching directly to retailer Nordstrom, Messura said, and their use of activated charcoal as a performance technology showed the group was willing to go beyond the basics to find new approaches.

Group photo in front of presentation screen.
Taking second place for their compression sock merchandising plan are Annie Frattali, Emma Bankson, Elle Haver, Hannah Talarico and Lexi Carrasco.

Socks for improved health

The second place team of Emma Bankson, Lexi Carrasco, Annie Frattali, Elle Haver, and Hannah Talarico developed “Optimal Compression,” a form-fitting sock line aimed at nurses and health care professionals.

“These people are saving lives every day, and they’re on their feet from 12 to 24 hours,” Frattali said. “It’s important that they get proper compression to prevent varicose veins and other health issues.”

Judges praised their plan for its sound product lines, strong analysis of competition, and their logical, well-substantiated research on the target market.

“We were creative in coming up with ideas that are outside the box,” said Carrasco. “This is definitely going to help us in the real world, in terms of working as part of a group.”

“By demonstrating their ability to use data and knowledge to solve industry-relevant problems, these students have shown that they’re ready for the challenges they’ll face in the workforce,” said Son, the course instructor. “I’m so proud of their hard work and dedication.”

Learn more about merchandising education at AMDT here.

Media Contacts

Jihyeong Son, Assistant Professor, Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, (509) 335-1651