Columbia College Chicago Fashion Dominates NRF Foundation Honors 2022

Photo of Columbia NRF Foundation award finalists.Columbia NRF Foundation award finalists.
This year, nine Columbia College Chicago students have risen to the top level of two major student competitions—the NRF Foundation Student Challenge and the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship. The winners will be announced April 13.

The Fashion industry is ignited each year by new talent showcased at National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation Honors. This year’s event—which will be held Wednesday, April 13, in New York—brings together visionaries in the industry and includes student competitions where the nation’s top talent is celebrated and honored for their achievements.

This year, nine Columbia College Chicago students have risen to the top level of two major student competitions, and they will be vying for the grand prize in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge and for the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship.

Among those honored on Wednesday will be 2022 Next Generation Scholarship Finalist and Fashion Studies student Robert Davison Long, whose case study detailing go-to market strategies for a new Meijer Brands Sparking Water program was selected and deemed outstanding by NRF staff.

Columbia students comprise two of the three finalist teams for the NRF Foundation Student Challenge, a business competition presented by Kohl’s, with team members representing Columbia’s Fashion Studies Department, Communication Department (advertising), and Cinema and Television Arts. The Columbia teams join a team from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandizing in the final round. Columbia’s team genYOU includes students Rachel Baranowski, Ella Bondy, Rosa Francesca Terenzio, and Riley Thorpe; and Columbia’s team OXBOW includes Karolina Blachowska, Vanesa Iris Paramo, Ethan Partington, and Ansley Young.

Long and these two teams will be joined in New York by 2021 NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship Winner Amaiya Sims, who was awarded the top scholarship honor of $25,000 in 2021 and was previously unable to travel to New York due to COVID.

For the NRF Foundation Student Challenge competition, both Columbia teams acted as members of the Kohl’s product development and brand marketing team to create and pitch their ideas for a private label brand that embodies the meaning of diversity and promotes equity and inclusion.

While the teams faced challenges, their dedication to engaging in cooperative strategies, strong mentorship from associate professors Dana Connell (Fashion Studies) and Peg Murphy (Communication) and commitment to their causes saw them through. “The most rewarding part of engaging in the process was making a brand that really stands for something so important,” says Terenzio, an OXBOW team member and senior majoring in Fashion Merchandising. “We wanted to create a brand that catered towards the LGBTQ+ community, to give the community access to clothes that make them feel themselves in a real brick and mortar store environment, Kohl's. The most challenging part was the constant revisionand improvements in the intense, short timespan that we had.”

Still, the cooperative nature of their team made it all possible. “My team understood each other's strength, weaknesses and schedules. When one of us was having a hard time, even if it was not in our skillset, we would still help each other through ideas and educated opinions,” Terenzio says. “I am truly so appreciative of my team.”

The teams competing in the Student Challenge will win scholarships between $1,500 to $5,000, the amount depending on whether they finish first, second, or third nationally, according to Murphy.

Now all that remains is for the experts to announce their decisions. As NRF Foundation Executive Director Bill Thorne said of the teams last December: “We are proud of their continued efforts to improve their product lines, and we look forward to the exciting opportunity they have to present their concepts to industry leaders.”