By Avery Schanbacher
Internships can be a powerful way to interact with new career opportunities. Thanks to the availability of career counseling and organizations for leadership development in specific fields, University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences students have the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of roles that can help prepare them for their careers.
This summer, senior psychology and sociology major Kadija Conteh participated in an internship at the Converse World Headquarters in Boston, combining her passions for fashion and design in a marketing role. At UK, Kadija is a stylist for KRNL Lifestyle and Fashion magazine, and hopes to pursue a career in fashion and merchandising roles. We spoke with Kadija about her experiences working in the fashion industry, how she came across her position at Converse, and how that internship impacted her career aspirations.
Q: What drives your passion for sociology and psychology?
A: It gives me a great background on people and the way people think and I think it’s just a great basis for any career as long as you have the right experiences. For example, I’m passionate about fashion and style and the fashion industry in general, I always have been, but I think that on my own time I’m constantly consuming fashion media and consuming the fashion industry in general, so I feel like I learn a lot through my hobbies and my passions. So, I thought pairing it with something I could be better at like interacting with people, interpersonal relationships, how we think, why we like certain things, why we don’t like certain things, is a really great basis. I feel like, especially going into a merchandising role where you’re doing the business side of fashion, it’s really important to understand your consumer and I think that it just gives you a unique perspective.
Q: Were you interested in fashion for a long time before your internship at Converse? How did you discover that opportunity?
A: Basically, I started at UK as a neurosciences major. I thought I wanted to be pre-med but then I realized I wanted something more creative. So, I pivoted to psychology, because I feel like it was still a hard skill, but allowed me to learn a lot more about what I was interested in and give me more room for creativity. Then I joined a program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and through there my career coach helped me figure out things I was passionate about that could be careers, because I wasn’t sure how to turn my passion into a financially sustainable career. She showed me there was a way to do that. So I found the internships through MLT, and then I applied, went through the interview process, and got the internship. They really did like that I came from a psychology background and I wasn’t just a merchandising major because it gave me a different perspective. My perspective made me understand the consumer on a different level, a deeper level, which is really important when you’re creating a product.
Q: How was your experience at Converse?
A: It was amazing. Obviously the term “intern” has a lot of things stereotypically connected to it, you know, you like grab coffees and things like that, but that’s definitely not what my experience was at all. It was like I was a member of the team, and I worked for two and a half months on the team. It gave me really great insight on what it would be like to actually work there. The culture there was really great, everyone was really collaborative. People genuinely love each other and love the work that they’re doing. It’s just a really great culture at Converse in general, so I really loved that.
I loved being in Boston. Being on the water in the summer was pretty great. I made a lot of great connections as well as professional development that I also got to be involved in. We went to Nike for a week, because Converse is actually owned by Nike, so they flew us across the country to the Nike World Headquarters for the week and we did an internship combined situation, which was kind of like a business idea competition. That was really interesting to connect with people within the entirety of Nike Inc. and see the differences between the cultures and the business in general. I got to meet both CEOs of Converse and Nike, so it was just a really great experience. I feel like I learned a lot.
Q: What kind of work did you do at Converse?
A: I was on the global merchandising team, specifically the women’s team. Global merchandising at Converse is broken up into men’s, women’s, kids, and energy, which is like collabs, partnerships, things like that. I worked on women’s, which is the biggest revenue driver for the business on the footwear team. Basically, we work very heavily with design and development to create product and design packs. Development kind of talks about costing and what’s feasible. We work with design to come up with the creative direction behind the collection. For example, if we were going to do something on punk, then we would create a “punk pack.” We would research what’s on the runway, what celebrities are wearing on the carpet, what’s trending on TikTok, what’s on Pinterest, and what we think is going to be happening. We’re working 2-3 years in advance, so it’s important to be on the pulse of trends. It’s a mix of analytical skills and creativity.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing in similar roles in the future? How has your experience at Converse impacted your vision for your career?
A: Yeah, definitely. I will be returning to Converse as a full-time product merchant following my graduation in the spring. That’s kind of how they seed us into the corporation, through the internship program.