Taking St. Tropez Worldwide
By Erin Peterson
Creating a global presence for the swimwear company Vilebrequin
Estefania Garcia-Correa, International Trade and Marketing for the Fashion Industries ’15, had dreamed of working in the fashion industry since high school. So in 2016, when she learned that she was being considered for a business development role at Vilebrequin—a luxury French swimwear brand known for its bright colors and whimsical patterns—less than a year after graduating from FIT, she left nothing to chance.
For her interview, she didn’t just prepare polished answers about her background and goals. She handed her interviewers a 90-day plan that showed exactly how she would approach the company’s growth opportunities in Latin America, including an idea to add a store in the exclusive resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay. She gathered statistics on economic growth, details on the complex importation process, and informal insights from Latin American friends from FIT. Any reservations Vilebrequin’s team might have had about hiring someone so young for a key position vanished. “They weren’t expecting a plan,” Garcia-Correa says. “They saw that I was serious.” She got the job. Today, as business development manager for Latin America, Hawaii, and Canada, she’s been a guiding force in developing Vilebrequin’s new franchise stores in six locations, including in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and—yes—that Punta del Este store she’d recommended. In recent months, she’s added several more locations to her portfolio and is poised to help make the company’s global footprint even bigger.When Garcia-Correa and her family moved from her birthplace of Caracas, Venezuela, to Florida just before her 15th birthday, she already had her sights set on New York City. She was fascinated by fashion and international relations, and New York was a hub for both. As a high school student, Garcia-Correa attended an open house at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to learn the basics of draping and sewing, essential skills in a designer’s toolbox. “I realized, oh my God, I have no patience and zero talent for this,” she recalls. “It was definitely not for me.” Though her future would not be in design, she still loved fashion, so she gravitated toward the business side. “I love relationships with people, I like math. I liked the idea of creating a business plan and setting up sales projections,” she says. That pivot led her to FIT, with its combination of fashion- and business-related coursework. While she excelled in the classroom—earning the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence on her way to a degree in International Trade and Marketing—she also made waves outside of it, becoming president of the college’s Latin American Student Organization. After graduation, Garcia-Correa spent a few months as an international sales associate at Perseus Books. From there, she moved to Vilebrequin, where she’s received a steady stream of promotions and new responsibilities. This work requires her to spend plenty of time burrowing deep into spreadsheets and government regulations to build business plans and profit and-loss projections. She also studies a variety of macroeconomic trends, duties, and even corruption statistics as she determines how to expand Vilebrequin’s footprint profitably. Once a new store is ready to open, she teams up with the company’s visual merchandisers to teach managers and sales associates how to bring Vilebrequin’s French Riviera retro vibe to life. Associates learn to fold bright merchandise crisply, giving it plenty of room to breathe on generously sized shelves in the airy and elegant stores. She also has a chance to work her fashion sense, frequently collaborating with the creative, design, and production teams to offer input on upcoming collections. For example, in early 2018, she and a handful of others at Vilebrequin zeroed in on a print in the spring and summer 2019 collections developed from a collaboration with the band Queen. They decided—based on previous sales, current inventory, and customer feedback—to make the swim trunks and T-shirts one of the centerpieces of that season’s collection. “At the time, we didn’t know that Bohemian Rhapsody would be such a success, but based on how our markets reacted to [a previous] Rolling Stones collaboration, plus the color and fit of these styles, we knew it would be a hit,” she says. It has become a bestseller in many countries. For Garcia-Correa, the most powerful moments happen when her original idea becomes a brick-and-mortar reality. The final moments before eager customers arrive in a Latin American store that she dreamed up in her New York office can feel electric. “That’s my favorite,” she says, “when I stand there and see that it’s all done.”