Spotlight on Women in Retail: Liza Amlani, Retail Strategist and Industry Lead, Retail Strategy Group

Liza Amlani is a retail strategist and industry lead and the founder of Retail Strategy Group, a firm dedicated to helping retailers improve profits and operate more effectively. With decades of experience in the industry, she first started out like most people do—on the shop floor.

“I started on the shop floor, I think I was 14 or 15 years old,” she said. “At that point, it was also like making clothes and designing for school fashion shows, so I always knew that that I wanted to live and breathe fashion.”

For many breaking into the fashion industry, being a buyer is the dream and it was no different for Amlani but after landing a buying internship at Holt Renfrew, she quickly came to learn it’s not as glamourous as it’s made out to be.

“It was awful, I hated every second of it,” she laughed.

But this was no deterrent to her, as after spending time designing bags and luggage, she actually ended up back at Holt Renfrew and in the buying office of all places. She worked as a buyer for a number of years before making the shift to consulting, scooped up by Accenture in 2018 to be part of their retail strategy consulting practice as an expert on the Canadian market.

“They didn't have anyone, especially in Canada, that was not only part of the industry, but understood the ins and outs of product creation, development and of course, assortment planning and buying,” she explained. “They were looking for somebody and they basically wooed me because I never knew consulting was a thing, so that’s how I got into consulting.”

Now, the founder of her own consulting firm, Amlani has observed shifts in the industry as brands and retailers try to keep up with new technologies to become more effective in meeting the needs of the consumer.

“I think the biggest change has happened in the last two, three years, probably and that's the infusion and of technology digitization across processes, and increased use of digital tools, and data to help drive decisions,” she said. “The pandemic, of course, changed everything. You know, as horrendous, of course, as it is, but it really helped retail to come into this new way of working and in the future way of thinking, which I wish had happened sooner.”

The use of data can be a game changer for retailers in tracking trends and habits among their customer base, removing the guess work and allowing them to respond to these trends as they emerge and eventually be able to forecast what will come next.

“Once we do that, that will help us to not only, of course, get full price sales, but to truly understand what is the product that we actually need,” she said. “Where do we need it? Which channel, right, and when do we need it? So right product right time, right place.”

Data and technology are not only useful for trend forecasting and building relationships with the consumer, but to drive efficiency and sustainability in the means of production and delivery of a product.

We're also seeing how technology can help us drive efficiencies across the organization, whether it is you know, digital product creation, whether it's using the same digital design tools across categories,” she said. “In many cases, if you look at categories, and the way that they're split up across different brands, there's a lot of recreating happening that doesn't need to happen and a lot of sampling that doesn't need to happen, which is not only costly, but also it takes so much time.”

All these extra steps create waste and emissions that can easily be reduced and with sustainability as a topic that’s on a lot of our minds today and as we move forward, organizations are only going to face more and more pressure to update their ways of doing business to meet global sustainability targets. Manufacturers, especially in the textile industry where garments are being created, must be held accountable for their carbon emissions and other negative environmental impacts, says Amlani.

“I think that the media is helping to be honest. People like the UN (United Nations), you know, climate change initiatives and what they're doing for the fashion charter at the UN,” said Amlani, who also heads The Merchant Life, a media channel run under the Retail Strategy Group. “We're going to continue to call out fast fashion, we're going to continue to call out factories and mills and production facilities that do not have ethical ways of working and ethical standards for their employees.”

With all the knowledge and access to information we have today, there’s really no excuse not to change, according to Amlani. By working with brands that she cares about, and which align with her values as a consumer and as an individual through her firm, and by advocating for retail as a beautiful and valid career choice, she believes the industry can get to where it needs to be.

“I do think that if you're going to work for a brand, you should absolutely be a brand ambassador, you should believe in what they're doing and I think that's why I've been very selective with the brands and retailers that I've worked with, because I love the product,” she explained. “I think that's what, that's what sets us apart is what can we do with our voice to change the way we're doing things today--because there's a lot of change that needs to happen. As a female as a woman of color, that's something that is super important to me personally, because I want to see leaders like me at the table, and that's what drives me to keep pushing and keep advocating for this industry.”

A proponent of diversifying the retail space, Liza will discuss buying careers and share more on her vision for the future of retail with our MMR students in a future Retail Leaders Talk. Students will have the opportunity to connect what they learned in the classroom with real-life examples and engage further with Liza by asking questions to gain a deeper understanding.

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The MMR program has been made possible thanks to generous donations from Aldo Bensadoun, and is offered in partnership with the Bensadoun School of Retail Management.

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