Carol Kane, co-founder and executive director of fast fashion giant Boohoo, tells Drapers how she is encouraging young talent through a scholarship competition with York St John University to win a funded master’s degree.
I was fortunate enough to receive an honorary doctorate in business administration from York St John University about 18 months ago – I’m technically Dr Carol Kane now! I got talking to the leader of the course at the time and he asked about what makes me feel passionate.
My answer was education.
In today’s world, my parents might have struggled to pay for me to attend university, and I was the first in my family to go. It can be particularly financially challenging to do a post-graduate course, because there’s pressure for young people to start working and earning.
Creativity and commerce
I have a very young team, and bring up through the ranks a lot of people who start as graduates. I also love it when my fashion marketeers have business acumen. They will likely be handling large amounts of money and need to understand return on investment. Helping the next generation of business entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills they need was a real dream, so we came up with the idea of this competition for a scholarship for Boohoo customers to fund a master’s degree in fashion and luxury marketing.
We were only supposed to have one winner but ended up with three. The three women winners – Purviben Brahmbhatt, Gabriela Socolic, and Vladiana Barbur [pictured above with Kane] – were selected for their entrepreneurial and socially responsible business ideas.
There were a few key threads I was looking for in the scholarship entries. Obviously, I was interested in marketing and ecommerce, and sustainability was another area of focus. All the winners are completely different, but all connect the dots between fashion, sourcing, buying and ecommerce. They either have a completely new idea or a fresh perspective on something.
Importance of education
I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for education. It isn’t just what you learn in the classroom – when I went away to study, I learnt life skills and made lifelong friends. Meeting new people from different cultures and backgrounds is a very valuable experience that stands you in good stead for a career in fashion.
Big businesses have a responsibility to help young people starting out in the sector. I’ve been in fashion for over 30 years – I count this as my industry and feel a responsibility to help. In the last year, we’ve appointed three female directors who started at Boohoo in junior positions. It was been a pleasure to help equip young women with the skills they need.
The route to reaching director level in the fashion industry depends a little on where your speciality lies – but I do believe that an understanding of the numbers puts you in a better position around the table. I’m a natural creative, but I had to learn the figures to be able to sit and talk with chief executives and accountants.
It tends to be that either you’re a creative person or you have a head for figures, and it is rare to find someone who can do both. There’s a real gap there – the industry needs creative roles with a commercial mindset and business acumen.
When we bring interns into Boohoo, we try to give them a really good flavour of all the different departments – that’s a real advantage.
International Women’s Day is about embracing the success of women of the world. Our business offers opportunity and progression for all and by bringing the real stories of the women in our business to the forefront we hope to be able to inspire the next generation of talent coming through. We are proud to say that currently 59% of the Boohoo group manager, head of and director roles are held by women.
I’m excited to see how the three winning students get on – they started in September, so are just beginning to get their teeth into the course.