Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Retail Luxury Executive Talks Marketing, Career Advice

Georgetown Retail & Luxury Association (GRLA) hosted a Nov. 27 conversation about the luxury retail business model and marketing with the head of brand marketing and experience at TheRealReal, a sustainable luxury reseller.

At the event, Caroline Gardner (MBA ’12) discussed her experience as the executive for marketing and the evolution of TheRealReal in conversation with Mackenzie Glanville (SFS ’24), vice president of GRLA. Luxury Daily named Gardner as one of the 25 top women in luxury to watch in 2019 following her work for two luxury hotel chains, the Ritz-Carlton and Bulgari Hotels and Resorts. 

GRLA, a student-run organization that aims to develop skills and professional opportunities in this field, partnered with the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business (MSB) to invite Gardner to speak about her experience and provide advice to students interested in marketing and brand management. 

Since its founding in 2011, TheRealReal has aimed to reduce waste in luxury products, which the company states is a common aspect of the fashion industry. The company consigns and retails second-hand products in storefronts and online after verifying their authenticity, and, according to Gardner, more than 30 million people worldwide have accounts with the company.

Georgetown Retail & Luxury Association hosted Caroline Gardner (MBA ’12), the head of brand marketing and experience at TheRealReal, in a Nov. 27 conversation about marketing and the luxury retail industry.

Gardner said the definitions of luxury and luxury items vary among different people and groups as the idea of luxury continues to evolve. 

“When I think about the future of luxury, and I think about where the world is going,” Gardner said at the event. “Luxury continues to evolve because every single one of us continues to evolve in how we define luxury in our unique circumstances and in our unique world will influence the direction of luxury totalistically.” 

Gardner said TheRealReal seeks to combine luxury branding with the development of sustainable practices to draw on the durability of luxury items, like luxury bags, clothing and jewelry.

“TheRealReal believes that luxury should be a little bit different than the way we’ve talked about the history of luxury,” Gardner said. “When we think about the history of luxury, luxury tended to be pretty wasteful.” 

“We believe that the craftsmen and women who build these beautiful products with incredible materials built them to last and for them to have a story on their own. Those items can be passed through hand-to-hand-to-hand to person-to-person-to-person for years because of how beautifully they are constructed,” Gardner added. 

Gardner said she sees that successful marketing in luxury brands tends to happen organically from peer-to-peer relationships, referencing TheRealReal Graveyard trend on TikTok this past October that featured influencers showing screenshots of items they wanted to buy but were sold before they had the chance. She said these relationships depend on positive experiences with the brand for information to spread. 

“I think most of the magic people pay millions of dollars for these companies to come up with campaigns like this, and we had no involvement. It just organically happens,” Gardner said. “I think that’s what happens when you build an incredible experience.”

Gardner said she sees the future of marketing and marketing professionals as related to the presence of technology and social media capabilities. She said she encourages people interested in marketing to further explore technology and social media as professional skills. 

“There are so many luxury companies that have no idea what they’re doing online, and you have tremendous knowledge of how to engage in digital spaces,” Gardner said. “Be very thoughtful about that as an avenue for yourselves. There’s a lack of understanding, especially in senior levels of leadership at luxury brands, and they’re relying on younger generations to come out of school and tell them what to do.” 

Ava McDonald (CAS ’24), president of GRLA, said she was grateful for the opportunity to welcome Gardner to speak with members of GRLA and the Georgetown community interested in marketing. 

“Our mission as an organization is to spread awareness for the kind of opportunities that Georgetown students can have in the retail and luxury space,” McDonald told The Hoya. “Given Gardner’s experience in the luxury hotel industry and at TheRealReal, we were really excited to have the opportunity to host her.”

McDonald said GRLA was also excited to host Gardner because Gardner, being a Georgetown alumnus, demonstrated the networking opportunities in the luxury business space. 

“It was so great to hear from a fellow Hoya about her experience from getting her MBA at Georgetown to working in luxury hotel space and utilizing the power of her network,” McDonald said. “I thought this was an inspiring take-away.” 

Gardner said TheRealReal wants to remove the historical exclusivity of luxury items, referring to the Hermes Birkin’s list of those allowed to purchase the product. Gardner said Hermes chooses which people can have a Birkin, which limits the ability of all people to enjoy luxury products. She said TheRealReal provides opportunities to access luxury products that may not be available to all people. 

“TheRealReal believes the opposite of this luxury,” Gardner said. “You are a person, and you’re an individual, and all of us have the right to wear whatever we want. We believe in inclusivity, and we believe in accessibility and broadening that ability to wear luxury and be yourself and express yourself that I think luxury historically has not embraced.”

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