Graduate student’s business plan wins national merchandising contest

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Lauren Machado
Lauren Machado, a first-year graduate student in fashion merchandising. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Machado)

KINGSTON, R.I. – Dec. 2, 2020 – Sometimes an assignment or project can strike a chord that resonates deeply. For University of Rhode Island graduate student Lauren Machado, that project was creating a business plan for a national merchandising contest.

Machado, a first-year master’s candidate in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, developed a plan that may one day be the building block for her own business and took top honors in the competition.

Machado’s business plan came in first out of 31 entries that involved 65 students from 11 colleges and universities in the 2020 Merchandising Competition conducted by the Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Practices. The group is an apparel educators network that works to spread awareness of and support for sustainable practices.

“I have a huge feeling of accomplishment,” said Machado, of Boston, who is originally from Niterói in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “It makes me feel I’m on the right track and encourages me to keep up the good work. The company I envisioned represents to me a business model that I truly believe in and I definitely see myself either working for this type of business or opening the business myself.”

Machado’s business plan for Co.Lab – a play on the word “collaborate” – received nearly a perfect score from a panel of judges from the merchandising industry, including comments that praised her ideas for a framework to help young designers and the amount of research and thought she put into the plan.

In her business plan, Machado envisions Co.Lab as a socially responsible retailer that sells street-style apparel and handbags, using sustainable raw materials. The plan calls for a collaboration with four emerging student designers each season to keep the store and its merchandise fresh; a brick-and-mortar store in San Francisco; and an e-commerce site that uses 3D reality so customers can better examine apparel.

Machado learned about the competition from Assistant Professor Saheli Goswami, who had heard that Machado was interested in becoming an entrepreneur and encouraged her to take a one-on-one, special problems class to work on the competition poster.

“Dr. Goswami and I worked together really well,” said Machado. “She is very detail oriented and always pointed out every single issue that needed to be fixed. Our discussions would last for hours and I believe if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have come this far.”

“Lauren’s business plan mirrors her innumerable innovative ideas to run fashion businesses in new sustainable ways,” said Goswami. “When you hear sustainability in fashion businesses, you start thinking of the environment, waste materials, maybe circular fashion. But Lauren started thinking of social sustainability along with environmental resources. She thought of empowering future generations, building partnerships for economic growth, promoting entrepreneurship for responsible production and consumption.

“As a first-semester international graduate student amid COVID-19, it is not easy to come up with a strong business plan,” she added. “But Lauren is a smart and witty student. She is a complex thinker who is very open to learning new things, and I could see her academic growth while working on this project.”

Since she was young, Machado has had a dream of opening her own business. Her grandfather owned a chain of retail stores, Leader, in Brazil, and she and her sister would spend afternoons running around the stores and playing in the clothing racks. Her interest in fashion also started young, playing dress-up, watching “Project Runway” with her sister, and providing fashion advice to her high school friends. In college, her friends encouraged her to start a fashion blog because of her fashion sense and support for sustainability in the industry.

Machado, who earned a bachelor’s degree in publicity and advertising at Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM) in Rio de Janeiro and an associate’s degree in fashion marketing at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, chose URI for graduate school after researching numerous universities.

“It offered the best curriculum and faculty for my master’s degree in fashion merchandising,” she said. “It has a great range of classes for merchandising majors. Also, the fact that it is a research-based university sparkled my eyes.”

Machado, who worked in marketing for a jewelry company in New York after graduating from Parsons, hopes to work for a large company after earning her master’s, and perhaps eventually starting her own business.

“I believe in a different fashion industry from what we see today,” she said. “I have always questioned the strict and old-fashioned policies and rules and the way we produce and consume fashion. I believe fashion is a form of expression, creativity, therapy and is essential to us. More than that, I believe the fashion industry has a crucial role of changing our behavior to be more sustainable, in all senses of the word.”