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Hampton grad part of standout fashion team

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 8:10 p.m.
Fashion Institute of Technology students, (from left) Jaime Duncan of Massapequa, N.Y.; Alexis Katsafanas of Hampton; Eleanor Ayre of Toronto; and Wen “Jenny” Zhao of Sydney, Australia, lived on french fries and rarely slept during the 48 hours they got to plot the launch of a Paris store and win the 2013 World Retail Congress Futures Challenge.
Hampton High School graduate Alexis Katsafanas, 22, wore a golden Dolce & Gabbana sheath to the World Retail Congress in Paris after she won the 2013 World Retail Congress Futures Challenge with fellow students from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Alexis Katsafanas of Hampton hopes to eventually merchandise fashions for the Nordstrom department store chain.

“My dream job is to be a buyer for Nordstrom,” said Katsafanas, 22.

Her resume already includes winning the 2013 Retail Futures Challenge in Paris, an international competition recently staged during at the annual World Retail Congress.

Katsafanas, a 2010 graduate of Hampton High School, won the contest with three fellow students at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Representing the United States, the FIT beat student teams from London, Milan, Hong Kong and Tokyo by mapping the launch of a Paris branch of an existing, bricks-and-mortar store in their respective hometowns.

Each team got 48 hours to complete the assignment.

“It was a lot of work,” Katsafanas said after her Oct. 5-to-Oct. 10 stay in the City of Lights.

“We slept a total of 20 hours in six days,” Katsafanas said. “We lived on french fries and red wine.”

Katsafanas, a senior majoring in fashion merchandising management at FIT, won the 2013 Retail Futures Challenge with FIT students Jaime Duncan of Massapequa, N.Y.; Eleanor Ayre of Toronto, Canada; and Wen “Jenny” Zhao of Sydney, Australia. Each woman applied for the FIT team.

“We've never won the grand prize before. We've come close, but we've not won it,” said Robin Sackin, chairperson of FIT's fashion merchandising management department. “We're very excited about it.”

Sackin selected the FIT team.

“These four students did not know each other . . . They just gelled and Alexis was a star,” Sackin said. “She's an amazing, amazing young lady — bright, articulate, a real leader.”

Katsafanas and her teammates interviewed people on the streets of Paris — with help from an interpreter — before they chose a local Sandro store as the site for a Paris branch of Story, the novel Manhattan boutique known for changing its theme and merchandise every four to eight weeks.

“Once we found a place where we wanted to put our storefront, we had to actually measure it, in square meters,” Katsafanas said. “We had to research things like employee labor laws and Parisian tax rules. We had to figure out how many people we would hire . . . It was basically creating a new business in a foreign country.“

The FIT team proposed selling a range of items from T-shirts to gadgets made by Paris area artisans, mixed with Paris-themed merchandise, at its Paris branch of Story.

Each student team got eight minutes to present a business plan for judging.

Current and former chief executive officers of several companies and 1,300 retail executives at the World Retail Congress selected the FIT team as winners of 2013 Retail Futures Challenge.

Katsafanas, daughter of Peter Jr. and Jodi Katsafanas of Hampton, expects to spend the last two weeks of December working in the menswear department at Nordstrom in Ross Park Mall. Katsafanas got that part-time job after scooping ice cream at Bruster's on Route 8 in Hampton.

The Bruster's job “taught me everything I know about customer service and kind of paved the way for me to go to Nordstrom,” Katsafanas said.

“When I applied to Nordstrom, I had no retail experience, but I really knew how to make people happy and I could make a mean sundae.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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