Students bring fresh ideas to reach next-gen consumers in real-world merchandising challenge

Radical Collection title card
AMDT merchandising seniors teamed up to test their knowledge in the annual capstone case study. Above, first-place winners in the Nordstrom-KGL challenge presented their concept, “Radical Collection.”

From channeling the radical 1980s to reselling lightly used goods, students brought bold ideas to solve real-world challenges for Nordstrom, Kurt Geiger London, and Zulily.

Held this spring, the senior capstone competition tested merchandising students’ industry knowledge, research skills, and creativity

Jihyeong Son
Assistant Professor Jihyeong Son

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

Five teams of students developed a product line launch and marketing campaign attracting customers in their 20s to retailers Kurt Geiger London and Nordstrom; five others developed campaigns for Zulily, introducing and retaining young-mom customers as their families grow. Professionals from the three companies joined students virtually April 26 and 28 to judge entries and award prizes.

“Real-world business scenarios are such an important part of helping a student’s education come full circle,” said Lauren Dalton, competition judge and a technological product manager at Zulily. “Dr. Son is helping set them up for success, and it’s been rewarding to gain insight into their fresh ideas and perspectives. We look forward to our continued partnership, providing mentorship and insight into the ever-changing corporate retail and e-commerce landscape.”

Jewelry Collection
Jewelry illustrations from the first-place team’s concept collection.

Connecting with the next generation

In the Nordstrom-Kurt Geiger challenge, first place winners Joslyn Nielsen, Courtney Tate, Peyton Weaver, Jordan Wicklund, and Rachel Nelly created a 1980s jewelry themed campaign, “Radical Collection.”

Inspired by the color and energy of the 1980s, students created an exclusive line of fun, trendy items aimed at women in their 20s. Promoting the collection, the team envisioned enlisting Instagram influencers and an ‘80s themed pop-up party celebrating women entering the workforce. Judges praised their creativity, thorough research, and powerful message linking self-expression and empowerment through the lens of women in the workplace.

In second place, Haley Smith, Rebecca Turner, Amiah Brooks, Sadarya Wright, Olivia Gobel’s concept, “Kurt’s Customizables, offered matching KGL products that Gen-Z’s digital buyers could personalize to their own experience. Born between 1997 and 2021, that generation owns smart phones, studies brands and prices, and feels strongly about function, authenticity, and transparency. Judges appreciated students’ understanding and connection to the brand, their focus on customer data and needs, and their infusion of their own color and playful patterns.

Everlasting presentation
Members of the “Zulily Everlasting” team present their concepts to a live and virtual audience in the capstone course classroom.

Growing lifelong family loyalty

For Zulily, students were challenged to devise campaigns engaging new mothers, ages 25 to 44, and retaining their loyalty through their family’s milestones. First place winners Natalie Bennett, Chloe Brusseau, Sadie Justus, Kenza Umar, and Chloe Zimmerman developed “Zulily Everlasting,” a re-commerce program that allows consumers to sell their lightly used clothing and items back for store credit.

Zulily EverlastingTeam members learned that many moms feel their children grow out of clothing fast, creating garment waste. They aimed their program at moms who are thriving in the workplace and value an active lifestyle, sustainability, and trendy products. Promotion ideas included curated YouTube lifestyle bloggers, Instagram posts aimed at the sustainable fashion community, and a Seattle pop-up event where moms can try the program.

“The analysis was well thought out and impressive,” judges wrote. “(We) liked how they leveraged consumer insights to drive strategy.”

Second place winners Jaylah Clayton, Jacob Esserman, Alli Krell, Maria Maninang, Connor Shira, and Keyondra White created a “Personalized Modal”—a web page element that greets new visitors and displays in front of all other page content on the company website.

Reaching out to young-mom influencers and surveying respondents via Facebook, the team learned that new moms are family-oriented, outgoing, and interested in fashion, beauty, and wellness. Students envisioned a personalized questionnaire offering discounts and free shipping to connect with their target market.

“This group did a great job with the new User Experience, really well done,” judges commented.