Students compete to attract next-gen consumers in Columbia capstone challenge

Gianna and Rebekah, Columbia presentation
Teammates Gianna Giles and Rebekah Bestebreur take questions from the audience and Columbia professionals on their runner-based campaign concept.

Washington State University students competed to solve real-world challenges this spring with Columbia Sportswear.

For their 2024 senior-year capstone challenge, students in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles presented strategies to attract the next generation of consumers to the brand and improve their buying experience. Their concepts were judged live by a panel of representatives from Columbia, one of the largest outdoor and active lifestyle apparel and footwear companies in the world.

The annual capstone challenge draws on knowledge of the apparel industry that AMDT students develop along their college journey. Participants’ interaction with peers and companies improves readiness for careers, said Associate Professor Jihyeong Son, who leads the challenge as part of her 450-level strategic planning and decision-making class.

The winning team focused on women ages 30 to 45 to expand a partnership for outdoor skiing and snowboarding packages.

Family and Friends team Columbia Capstone challenge
Sharing their concept of a “Family and Friends Alpine Adventure,” team members Shelby Smith, Hannah Flory, Kyla Kowalchuk, and Mahiya Moreno earned first place.

“Women control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending,” said senior Mahiya Moreno, who presented with first place-winning teammates Shelby Smith, Hannah Flory, and Kyla Kowalchuk. “They value experiences over possessions, especially with their children.”

Members surveyed consumers on LinkedIn and Facebook, drawing nearly 350 responses that drove home the importance of all-inclusiveness and easy access.

“Renting equipment is a pain,” one survey participant said. “If you put it all together in one pass, I’d love it.”

“My kids would love this,” another commented.

“Many of us grew up skiing or snowboarding, and we strategized a way to make these sports more accessible to beginners, specifically for families with young children,” said Smith. “We reminisced on how enriching and fulfilling winter sports were for us growing up, and we hoped to create all-inclusive package options to allow other young families to experience the same.”

On her own first-ever ski trip, Kowalchuk remembered feeling unprepared. Lessons with friends would have made the moment more positive.

Curated team prize photo
Group 4, “Curated by Creators Collection”: Grant Gilles, Luis Giles, Kate Burk, Antonia Ventimiglia, Isabel Hendrickson.

“One of Columbia’s values is doing right by the consumer,” she said. “We wanted to address this by providing a great product and an exciting experience.”

“I had a wonderful time working with my group members,” commented Smith. “We are deeply humbled and grateful for Columbia’s decision to appoint our team first place. Our group effort, team-focused relationship, positive attitudes, and lots of pitch practice led us to success.”

Creators and runners

In second place, Kate Burk, Isabel Hendrickson, Grant Gilles, Luis Giles, and Antonia Ventimiglia developed a curated collection that would launch in collaboration with authentic outdoor content creators. Team members surveyed 19- to 24-year-olds in Washington and California and related a positive association between seeing goods and apparel on social media and through influencers and the decision to make a purchase.

Empowering runners team
Group 2, “Empowering the Runners of Tomorrow”: Presley Eckbad, Paris Peterson, Rebekah Bestebreur, Gianna Giles.

“Our goal is attracting this new demographic, making them more familiar with the Columbia brand, and adding value as well,” Gilles said. 

Sharing the peer award with the first-place team, the group of Rebekah Bestebreur, Gianna Giles, Paris Peterson, Presley Eckblad combined selected products, a revamped website, curated song playlists, and guided runs in a digital marketing campaign aimed at women ages 18-27.

Gaining popularity during the covid pandemic, running is now a favorite activity for Gen Z women who use TikTok and Instagram and listen to streaming platforms.

“We know Gen Z women are active, healthy, and using social media to influence their post-purchasing behavior,” Bestebreur said. “Gen Z is very brand loyal. If we can reach them, they’ll be loyal for life.”

Coffee team capstone challenge
Group 1,”Coffee with Columbia”: Michelle Burland, Lauren Binkley, Caden Blessing, and Amanda Moed.

Streamlining and coffee

The team of Micah Moore, Eliza Merriman, Sydney Campbell, Natalie Bartels, and Madeline Sullivan outlined a streamlined shopping website and a boutique-style store that features fewer but more trendy and popular items.

Their market research found that the younger demographic seeks improved fit, versatility, and styling.

“They want a trendy, upbeat, seamless shopping experience,” Campbell said.

Lauren Binkley, Caden Blessing, Michelle Burland, and Amanda Moed developed a shopping, photo, and beverage experience aimed at women ages 25 to 35. Inspired by the company’s home state of Oregon, the campaign pairs the apparel maker with a regional coffee seller while encouraging women to visit brick-and-mortar locations.

Capstone group 3
Group 3, “Targeting a New Demographic”: From left, Madeline Sullivan, Sydney Campbell, Natalie Bartels, Micah Moore, Eliza Merriman.

More than 40 percent of survey respondents say they drink coffee five to seven times a week.

Promoted on Instagram, the team’s portable coffee shop would tour locations around the country. Coffee drinkers could encounter skiing, hiking, and camping apparel. Accessories would be available for sale, with offerings varying by space.