So You Want To Work In Fashion? April Hennig, Moda Operandi’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Has The Advice To Succeed

by Freya Drohan
moda operandi

Last September, as the industry flung itself head-first into a return to a physical Fashion Month, April Hennig was also busy settling in to her major new position as chief merchandising officer at luxury e-tailer Moda Operandi. Fast forward a mere seven months, and it’s clear to see she’s taken to the role like a duck to water—from street style pics of her impeccable outfits dotting Moda’s popular Instagram account to the onboarding of buzzy new brands. With a resume that spans an internship at Barneys (RIP!) and a VP role at Bergdorfs, with stints at Saks and Jonathan Simkhai along the way, the humble mom-of-two has a career that reads like a dream. However, she has the down-to-earth and practical pointers that can help those following in her footsteps making it happen. Here’s her backstory…

Tell us about your current role at Moda. What are you always working on?
As chief  merchandising officer, I lead the buying and planning teams across all product categories in our seasonal merchandising strategies. Day to day, I oversee assortments for the site, manage key brand partnerships, and scout and onboard new designer talent. I spend a lot of time in the market (we just came back from a two-week trip to Milan and Paris, which was a welcome return to in-person fashion weeks again). I also collaborate very closely with the
marketing team on the ongoing messaging across our channels, and with the editorial team on our creative campaigns. This year we have some very exciting initiatives in the works.

Tell us more!
We have some fantastic new brand launches, a robust calendar of in-person events, significant technology advancements, and at the end of the year, we’ll be expanding into our latest and most anticipated product category: beauty. All of these things keep me very busy!

April Hennig (Jeff Thibodeau)

Was a career in fashion always in the cards? 
I grew up in a small town in rural Vermont—an environment that couldn’t have been further away from fashion. But I studied marketing at Fordham University in New York, and those years of my life really shaped what I wanted to pursue. By far the greatest advantage of going to college in the city is the access to internships and the ability to network. My very first internship was at Chanel, working with the wholesale accessories division. In reality, I spent most of my time organizing the sample closet, but it opened up my mind to all the various ways fashion intersects with business. I then went on to intern at Bergdorf Goodman, and later Barneys, with a few short stints at a PR firm and a small indie magazine called The Journal in between. After I graduated, I accepted a position at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Executive Training Program, which is where I spent the next seven years working through the buying organization and building a solid foundation as a merchant.

You mentioned you started out as an intern at Bergdorfs—you ended up rejoining the company some years later as a VP. What was that like?
Bergdorf Goodman was an inspiring place to work. It is a jewel box of a store, and being that it was my first internship in buying and was so influential to my career path, I hold a special affinity for the company. While my perspective and experience had changed, many of the same people I looked up to during my intern years were still there when I returned. From the extraordinary Linda Fargo, to many of the sellers, even some of the buyers that I had interned
under. Coming back at a divisional level, while I was still very young, certainly had its hurdles. I had to learn all new strategies of effective leadership. I learned to stay incredibly humble, making sure that my ambition never came across as arrogance, and I had to take time to learn from others, forming trusting relationships again, even with the people I knew from my early years. It ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences in my career.

What are some other life lessons or career advice that have served you?
Everyone will probably say this, but the fashion industry is a very small place. Never stop building your relationships and mentorships, and put in the extra effort to keep them going. And don’t be afraid to make a choice that might scare you, because that’s the experience you will likely grow from the most.

You served as President at Jonathan Simkhai for six years too. What were some highlights of this time?
When I left Bergdorfs to work with Jonathan as his president, it was an exciting but frightening move. The brand was still in its formative years, and not very well-known. We only had a handful of employees, and every milestone was a huge labor of love. From winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2016, to our first runway show, to opening some of the best stores in the world, to moving the whole company out to Los Angeles and expanding into new categories, along with each and every employee that got hired as we grew in size, there are countless memories that will always remain as some of the greatest highlights of my life. But overall, I got the uniquely special experience of building a global brand with my best friend.

April Hennig (Courtesy)

What’s your favorite thing about your current role? And what advice would you have for someone who wants to pursue a similar path?
I get to work with some of the best brands in the world, and have an incredibly talented (and fun!) merchant team I get to spend time with every day. Moda has a very interesting portfolio mix of European power brands, who set the tone for each season, along with an ever-updated roster of small and emerging designers who we work closely with and help put on the map for a global audience. The fashion industry has always been highly competitive, but now, people trying to follow a specific career path have to be even more responsive to market forces as the retail landscape
continues to evolve. Hone in on your skillset, find your passion, be willing to put in a lot of hard (and sometimes tedious work) from the beginning and stay focused and motivated. I think it’s important to carefully consider when and why you would make a move in your career journey. Ask yourself, ‘Will it expand you in a positive new direction? Will you learn a new skill set? Does it align with your values? And are you inspired by the role and company?’

How does an average day start for you? Are you a morning person?
I became a morning person as soon as I had children. I wake up around 6AM and make a large latte. Then I check my calendar, my emails, and the news, and try to get a few things done before breakfast (or just enjoy a quiet minute to scroll Instagram or Pinterest home design boards). We live in Connecticut, and I have a hybrid schedule between remote and in-office work days. So some days, I’m able to squeeze in the occasional home workout or do the kids’
school drop off, and on others, I’m rushing off to the train.

What are some things that are consistent in your work days? 
My days are typically a mix of external brand meetings and internal team discussions. The weekly mix usually consists of brand market or partnership meetings, editorial and marketing meetings, financial business reviews, tackling ongoing projects, and meeting with the rest of the senior leadership team. The best part is that I get to be both highly creative and highly strategic. The only thing that feels very consistent is how busy my schedule is!

 

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What types of pieces do you default to wearing for work and events to feel your best?
My wardrobe staples definitely change based on where I’m going. Zoom culture has made an impact on that, so I’m predominantly in a comfort-first look at home. An oversized Khaite or Toteme sweater with Wardrobe NYC leggings would be some of the most practical items I gravitate to, but I also wear a lot of tailoring: I always love a great jacket or tonal suit.

Tell us some new designers to the site that you’re watching closely/excited about?
Milan-based Des Phemmes is new and exclusive to our platform, resonating with It Girls everywhere. Their pieces are bold, hyper-embellished, and eye-catching: think Euphoria vibes for grown-ups! Made in Tuscany from the best quality materials, Arielle Baron is a chic new evening shoe line, with some of the most thoughtful packaging. An exciting recent launch for us was Diotima, a Brooklyn-based brand specializing in crochet, with all of their pieces
hand-crafted by female artisans in Jamaica. From London, 16Arlington has mastered cool girl, party-ready designs. White/Space is a Black-owned, LA-based fine jewelry brand that creates everyday pieces with just the right amount of edge—the founder, Khadijah Fulton, was really thoughtful on how to integrate fine jewelry in a woman’s daily life. The pieces are simply beautiful and the type of jewelry you never want to take off. We are also thrilled to be adding Alaia, Chloé, and The Row Accessories to the portfolio later this year.

 

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What were some highlights of Fashion Month?
Khaite’s smoldering sex appeal with an ‘80s tinge gave us plenty of inspiration for the revival of late nights out. Prada’s mixed media skirts, logo tank tops, shearling bombers, and tailoring are destined to be some of Fall 2022’s most coveted pieces. Del Core, who we exclusively launched this season, is undoubtedly the next premiere European design house. Their Daphnis Nerii’s collection, inspired by the psychedelic wings of a moth, was a stunning visual spectacle for showgoers. Balenciaga delivered a powerful and deeply personal show. Set in a staged arctic tundra, it engaged with the climate crisis and also drew on Demna’s personal experience as a refugee. Silhouettes turned slimmer and sharper, with thigh-high pointy stiletto boots and close-fitting jersey dresses with exaggerated trains triumphantly billowing against the blizzard. And it almost goes without saying that Valentino’s “PP Pink” is without a doubt the color of Fall 2022.

What styles and trends are you most excited for this spring?
There’s a trend we are calling Y2K, 2.0—it’s all about mini skirts, midriff-baring tops, low-slung denim, crop tops, neons, and trippy prints that nod to the noughties and the early aughts. Miu Miu’s viral mini really encapsulates the whole vibe—we sold out of it almost immediately. After two years in stretchy waistbands and athleisure, we’re seeing a welcome return to tailoring and a new appreciation for cut and fit, with a sense of ease. We’re calling it “power casual”—think of a soft entry back to the Monday-Friday wardrobe. When it comes to vacation and summer dressing, designers’ unexpected use of organic woven fabrics, like crochet and raffia, has felt really fresh.

 

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You’re also a founding board member of RAISEfashion. Can you tell us about the organization?
RAISEfashion is a non-profit that was started in 2020 by a group of female fashion executives who I have so much admiration for. It’s a collective of seasoned industry leaders offering pro-bono expertise to emerging Black talent, to help them with creative, tactical, and strategic challenges their businesses may face. RAISE stands for Respect, Advocate, Inspire, Support, Empower. We have over 200 volunteers in our network and have worked with over 250 brands to date, and have incredible partnerships with Joor, Harlem’s Fashion Row, Business of Fashion, and the Anti-Racism Fund. The support we offer ranges from a few one-on-one consulting sessions, to longer term mentorship, to grant funding opportunities.

And you’re a mom-of-two! How does motherhood motivate and inspire you?
Motherhood has taught me so many life lessons that have changed how I see the world. You realize that you have to lead by example. It’s taught me to stand up for what I believe in and take time to consistently reflect on my own values. Your patience and strength are always being tested, so you learn a new level of interpersonal fortitude. I’ve also learned it’s ok to put my family first at times; my career will still be there. And while I can’t be there for every single moment, I make the important ones a huge priority. I’m also motivated to always be present. That means while I’m working, I’m hyper focused on being efficient and available for my team, and when I’m logged off, I’m just as focused on enjoying my family at home. Now that my littlest one is two, and I’m out of the baby phase, I realize just how precious and fleeting it all is.

Who are the women that always inspire you in your personal life and professional life?
My mother and grandmother are two of my greatest inspirations. My mom is one of the most positive and kindhearted people, with rock solid values, and has always been my fiercest supporter and advocate. My grandmother was one of the most intelligent, strong-willed females I had ever been in a room with, and she dedicated her life to social work during a time when it was generationally not the norm. I also have countless female friends and mentors across the
fashion industry that have inspired me in all different ways. I’ve been inspired by them taking career risks, starting their own businesses, being one of the only females at the executive table for many years, or seeing their leadership skills.

What are you most excited for in 2022 and beyond?
Last August, we moved across the country from Los Angeles to Wilton, Connecticut, as I took on this new role with Moda. As simple as it sounds, I’m excited to settle in this year and enjoy the East Coast again—seeing my family up in Maine, and spending time with friends locally here. I’m excited that larger gatherings and trips are back in place, so we can attend weddings, parties, and get back to seeing my husband’s family more regularly in Greece. I’m also excited for the next chapter of Moda Operandi, which I believe has enormous potential to define itself as
a true leader in the digital luxury space.

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