What I Learned About Fashion From an MBA That Took Me Around the World

Melissa Lim

When you hear “INSEAD”, “fashion” isn’t necessarily a word that comes to mind.

After writing a blog post about my intention to switch to a job focused on luxury fashion, people asked, “So why didn’t you choose a Master’s programme specialising in that industry?” After all, the post-graduation placement in luxury from schools like IFM, SDA Bocconi, and HEC is incredibly impressive.

If my goal was to work for a specific designer brand, I may have chosen a different path.

However, what I wanted—global studies in multiple countries, classmates from 90 nationalities, applications of fashion and technology (not just fashion itself), and a peek into entrepreneurship—was most in-line with the values at INSEAD.

Even though INSEAD doesn’t have a luxury-focused programme, it's still possible to leverage the alumni network, Career Development Centre (CDC), and coursework to tailor your MBA to what you need. I’ve laid out some of the resources I tapped into at INSEAD in hopes that it will be useful for future students.

At a high level, here’s a timeline of how I personalised my one-year INSEAD MBA with a focus in fashion:

June-August: After conducting informationals with other b-school students, I learned that pre-MBA internships can be a thing. Over the summer, I worked on Farfetch’s Store of the Future team across New York and London.

IEC’s “3Ps” night: pitches, pizza, and pints
IEC’s “3Ps” night: pitches, pizza, and pints

September: School started in Fontainebleau, France. My classmate Maddie and I pitched a fashion tech idea to enhance the try-on experience of online shopping. We put our start-up concept through the INSEAD Entrepreneurship Club, Entrepreneurs in Residence mentors, and an on-campus competition. My takeaway was that I needed to learn from experts at a top-player company and immerse myself in the industry before starting anything of my own.

Galeries Lafayette Paris tour with speakers such as Pieter Lammens, INSEAD ‘09J and Director of Lafayette Plug & Play

October: I helped to organise a Paris trek for the Retail, Consumer, and Luxury Goods (RCLG) Club. 50 of us visited L’OREAL, Galeries Lafayette, and LVMH-sponsored start-ups at Station F. This was my first glimpse “behind the scenes” at major fashion and beauty companies, and speaking to alumni in those fields was especially inspiring.

November: A group of us ran for the RCLG Leadership Team. We collaborated with alumni to host the Global Luxury Forum in Paris to an audience of 200 industry and academic leaders. I also attended HEC’s Luxury Conference to meet other MBA’s with the same focus. I always enjoy meeting people from other schools to share resources and learn about the different programme experiences. We still keep in touch now to learn how each other's jobs are going or to share industry trends.

December: After a grueling finals period, winter break was a relief. I took time to re-ground myself with my family back home in California. Self-reflection and goals check-in is an important exercise for me to make intentional career choices.

Dubai Trek with INSEAD ‘08J and The Luxury Closet CEO Kunal Kapoor

January: Visiting the UAE for the first time was eye-opening. During my two months living in Abu Dhabi, I learned about halal makeup, the importance of gold and accessories, payment on delivery, and cultural aspects of doing business in the Middle East.

February: The RCLG Club organised a Dubai trek to meet with executives from Chalhoub Group and the Greenhouse, The Luxury Closet, noon.com, and EMAAR.

CDC’s Michael Scott at INSEAD’s Retail & Luxury Career Forum in Fontainebleau

March: INSEAD’s CDC hosted the Retail and Luxury Career Forum for various MBA schools, inviting companies like Valentino, Farfetch, Richemont, and Kering on campus. Brands set up interview stations at the conference, where I was able to speak one-on-one with companies like Gucci and Saint-Laurent.

RCLG Hong Kong organised by Kristi, Chase, and Siyuan from our '19J leadership team

April: My move to the Singapore campus included local and Hong Kong treks to visit Covetella, PVH, lululemon, and IKEA. I enjoyed learning about (and purchasing) “Asia fit” leggings and how to optimise the home-decorating experience for tiny Hong Kong-sized apartments. I also partook in an independent study project writing a white paper with Professor David Dubois on the luxury tech industry.

Supporting our SDA Bocconi friends at their MBA Luxury & Retail Forum in Milan

May: Finally, the course I had been waiting for—Value Creation in Luxury and Fashion with Professor Clément Bellet. We discussed case studies such as Raf Simons’ creativity management at Dior. The RCLG Club also flew to Milan for the Bocconi conference. We heard from CEOs of MATCHESFASHION, Golden Goose, L’Autre Chose, and sipped some fancy Italian coffee while doing so.

June: Since there is no official recruiting season for RCLG, interviews come when they feel like it - mostly after a lot of pinging on the candidate’s side. I ended up seriously pursuing four companies. My toughest day consisted of eight back-to-back phone calls. Most traditional luxury firms had a hard time placing me in their organisation; one recruiter remarked, “Honestly, I don’t even know what to do with your profile!”. I found the best fit with incubation hubs or tech companies focused on fashion or beauty.

July: Grad trip in Croatia and graduation in the Château de Fontainebleau ended a whirlwind learning experience. As all 501 of us 19J’s head out into the real world, I know I’ll have friends to visit, consult with, and keep me connected to cities all over the globe.

self portrait

A few months ago, I moved to London to start a new job at Farfetch on the same team I interned on last summer, and am so happy where I’ve landed. INSEAD and its global experiences gave me the space to challenge myself and understand what my personal definition of career fulfillment was. I’ve already tapped into the network as I start projects in Shanghai or need to learn about the latest retail developments in the Middle East.

In summary, I didn’t go to INSEAD to study fashion.

I went to INSEAD with a specific goal in mind and used the resources around me to turn that into reality.

No matter your area of interest, feel empowered to tailor your MBA to work for you. Build a more diverse perspective, find others with the same passion, learn to be adaptable, and learn about yourself.

INSEAD is not only the school that will take you around the world - it is also the school that will keep you connected to it.