interview with jennifer davis

July 25, 2011  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

we’re proud to partner with women for women international (wfwi) and we love to hear stories of how our hand in hand partnership—and the work of wfwi—is impacting people around us.

we were recently in a meeting with the bloomingdale’s team when jennifer davis, a divisional merchandise manager for bloomingdales.com, mentioned that she’d just returned from a wfwi trip to rwanda.

having read an article in glamour magazine last year, featuring kate spade new york creative director deborah lloyd and wfwi founder zainab salbi, jen felt inspired to get involved.

we sat down together to talk about her recent trip and what it means for kate spade new york and bloomingdale’s down the road.

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let’s start at the beginning—how did you get involved with women for women international?

it all stemmed from that glamour article which, now, is funny because i feel like it changed my life.

[i first read it] around the holidays and i liked that it involved something philanthropic but also had that retail tie-in.

the business was kate spade new york, so the next time i was at market, i just casually asked, “do you guys know about this?” at that point you weren’t really selling the product [to a wholesale partner], but someone said, on a personal level, if you’re interested in women for women, we can put you in touch with someone there.

so you started meeting with a representative from wfwi.

i did… and she said, if you’re serious about this and really want to get involved, you should go on a trip. and i kind of laughed it off, thinking, there’s no way i’m going to africa… that seems crazy.

and yet, there you were…

completely. some friends said, just do it! and i decided to go for it and now i’m so glad i did. i feel so good about it.

tell us about the trip.

we left around june 18th and had 10 people in our group and three people from wfwi. we were gone for a week. honestly, i didn’t know what to expect—i’d never been to africa—and this completely exceeded expectations on every level.

it was such a well-done trip… well-curated between tourist activities—going on a safari, going to see the gorillas—and then spending time with wfwi, either at their facilities or at a cooperative that they work with.

we went into this agricultural project with some of the women and we hoed a maize field with them. then one day we went to a co-op [where the kate spade new york product is made]… it’s cool seeing what the future plans are, meeting the women who make it, seeing how this job is changing their lives.

when you went to the co-op—did you recognize the kate spade new york product right away?

yes! totally. i’ve been obsessed with this product, i think it’s so cute, and i had seen it in the store here before i left. so we walked in and immediately i said, oh there’s the kate spade bag from this past year!

the woman [we were with] walked us around and said, this is what we’re thinking of for spring—and she’s very protective of it. i said, oh, can i buy that for bloomingdales.com? and she said, no, no, no. kate spade gets it first. it was very funny.

you mentioned having the chance to enroll women in the program.

meeting [these women] before they’d had a chance to go through the program… there just wasn’t that hope and excitement in their eyes that there was in the women who were graduating from the program. that transformation—over just a year—is really remarkable.

having now experienced it firsthand, what were your impressions of the wfwi program in rwanda?

they believe in this cooperative spirit,… if you all stick together as sisters, no one can fail—you sort of pull each other up.

you meet these women coming in as individuals, but they leave with a real group mentality. it seems to really help them feel that they’re not alone, that there’s someone looking out for them and it gives them a little bit of confidence.

what was the biggest shock about being in africa?

i didn’t realize what a good trajectory rwanda is on as a country. i was picturing vast poverty—sort of roughing it a lot more—and i think it’s very inspiring to see that everyone we spoke to, men and women, young and old, all feel very positive about the direction in which the country’s going.

i think there’s a lot of signs of hopefulness from people in the country. not to say that there aren’t signs of poverty because there certainly are, but it didn’t feel as dejected and hopeless and futile as i had been expecting it to feel.

how does this experience fit into your work at bloomingdale’s?

well, i came back extremely excited and motivated. bloomingdale’s just purchased [kate spade new york] product for september. it’s out of bosnia—the pom pom knits—which are so cute.

hopefully to follow up on the september order, we’re thinking there will be product out of afghanistan that we’re going to buy, too, and we hope to expand upon it even further in coming seasons.

I think what’s great about this product is, not only does it inspire great work, it is also a product that people will want to purchase and wear proudly and fashionably. it can stand alone regardless of the charity aspect. it’s a product that fits into the line and a quality product and i’m just very impressed by that.

how do you think the bloomingdale’s customer will receive the collection?

oh, i think it will be great. it’s the same kind of amazing product [as the rest of the kate spade new york collection], but it has this feel-good factor that i think our customer is looking for. i think our customer is hungry for something unique, hungry for something with a story, something compelling behind it. and i think this does all that. i think it’s going to be fantastic—and very successful.


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