Voices of the Future

This year’s winners of the VMSD Top Women in Retail Design award have staked their claim among the world’s leading design-centric retailers
By
|
Posted November 12, 2018
Descriptors like natural leader, selfess and empowering, are among the words used to describe the 2018 winners of VMSD’s second annual Top Women in Retail Design awards. The award was created in 2017 to recognize outstanding leading women in the retail design and visual merchandising communities. Nominated by our readers and selected by our editorial team, each recipient was chosen based on their career commitments to innovation, creative excellence and lifelong learning; active involvement in a mentorship role, and a body of accomplishments in the fields of retail design and visual merchandising. Read on to see who took home this year’s coveted honors.


Gabrielle Rosi
Senior Design Coordinator
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas

Gabby’s role as Senior Design Coordinator at Whole Foods Market requires her to consider each individual store (no two are alike) and location, then design a solution that connects with the retailer’s mission. She must also strive for each location to become a relevant gathering place for the community. No small order, yet she’s opened more than 50 Whole Foods Market stores in the Western U.S. and Canada in her time with the brand. Her oversight includes architect selection, scheduling, budgeting and project management from conceptual development through construction documents, construction and new store openings. She also works on remodels of existing stores.

Gabby has mentored many of her own team members over the years, who have gone on to become leaders in their own right at Whole Foods, or at other retailers. A frequent speaker and panelist at industry events, including VMSD’s International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), she often speaks on empowering women in the design industry.

What do you like the most about your job?

I love making a difference through the environments my team and I develop. Working for a purpose-driven company, our shared-fate goal is to evoke a sense of trust, community and values that our customers can relate and aspire to. As each store is unique, we have countless possibilities to connect with our customers. When the doors open, and team members are excited and customers can’t wait to get in the door, I know we have achieved what we’ve set out to do.


Courtesy of Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas

How important is the role of women as mentors in the workplace?

It’s crucial and more important than ever, especially for women in the workplace. It creates a partnership that allows both sides to see their potential as confident and strong leaders. We owe it to them to be a role model and empower individuals with information to fuel their success. It is a positive endless cycle of support and motivation. It also reminds us to always lead by example. I am deeply appreciative to the men and women who have lifted me up, created a safe place for honest and constructive feedback, and inspired me to be the person I am today.



Kathleen Kincer
Director of Global Development
McDonald’s, Chicago

Kathleen is responsible for implementing the “One Brand, One Design” global portfolio strategy for McDonald’s in the U.S. She leads a team of five project and concept designers and oversees all interior-related pilot programs. Before joining the global design team, she led the U.S. portfolio design efforts and brought McDonald’s from an uncontrolled interior design landscape to one of brand consistency. In addition to leading systemic change, she has played a significant role in test programs and flagship locations, elevating the interior design in U.S. outlets and improving the customer experience.

Known among her colleagues as someone who listens and is instinctively willing to help those around her, Kathleen empowers her own team by encouraging them to take ownership of new things and develop their own processes.

What do you like the most about your job?

First, the amazing people I work with – I work with a team of exceptionally talented, dedicated, hard-working (and fun!) designers. Secondly, our team makes design decisions on a daily basis to positively impact customers in our 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants – the scale is tremendous and incredibly gratifying.


Photography: Mark Steele, Columbus Ohio

How can organizations cultivate talent among young women designers?

Personalized career guidance and active mentoring are critical to best support our young women designers. But also, as a female manager, listening is so important.  I have to keep a pulse of the workplace culture, [like] how my team is navigating challenges, encouraging them to be assertive and to never underestimate themselves. Young women should never feel unsupported or worse – passed by. 



Sarah Wexler
Senior Manager, Global Store Design
Under Armour, Baltimore

Sarah leads the global store design team at Under Armour and is responsible for the current and future design of all UA-owned and franchised stores globally. She also oversees all shop design for UA spaces within wholesale partners’ stores. This translates to nearly 1000 stores that Sarah is tasked with designing, maintaining and updating on an ongoing basis.

Sarah’s commitment to a collaborative team environment among functional partners, paired with her belief that the journey to delivering the perfect design is as important as the end product itself, are two clear leadership qualities noted by her nominator. Her high expectations and goals are rooted in educating, empowering and nurturing those who work with her.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

My team. They are the most hardworking, dedicated, incredible team. Everyone comes from different experiences within retail design, and I’m continuously impressed and inspired by not only their talent and passion for design, but their willingness to listen to the needs of the customer and the business, which leads to innovative thinking and problem solving. Best of all, their desire and eagerness to continue to learn is always teaching me something new, and I could not be more grateful for or proud of my team!


Courtesy of Tetris Design and Build, Amsterdam

How can organizations empower future generations of women in the workplace?

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Ann O’Brien “Muffet” McGraw’s (head coach for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team) advice to women in the workplace: “Don’t wait to be asked.” I could not agree more – if there’s an opportunity, go for it. Even if there’s not, and you think there should be, don’t wait for there to be one, go create it. As for how organizations can empower and foster these women, all they need to do is listen. I am very fortunate to work for a brand that not only listens, but encourages this as part of our culture.



Tina Brennan
Director, Visual Merchandising
The Walt Disney Co., Glendale, Calif.

Tina began her career in retail on the operations side, which, combined with her creativity, allows her to empathize with the team tasked with implementing her vision. She leads a team of 15 visual specialists across North America and is challenged with motivating and inspiring them from afar. Her team, known as the “Visual Incredibles” after the 2004 Disney movie, “The Incredibles,” maintains the visual standard of excellence across Disney Stores via storytelling through visual displays. Tina is a recipient of Disney’s highest honor, The Disney Spirit Award, which is given to fewer than one percent of employees.

What do you like the most about your job?

My role is magical!  I have the privilege of having new and different experiences every day. That’s what I love most. Elements that contribute to the newness each day include my team and collaborators, and the guests we strive to please. Each day I am afforded the opportunity to ideate and then create engaging, meaningful experiences for our guests. 

As priorities shift in and out, my job changes. As collaborators move in and out, my job changes. As guests react – both positively and negatively, my role changes. That constant change is what motivates me to do more, and do better, every day!

Who has had the most influence on your work in your career? How?

I am not sure I can identify just one individual who has had the most influence on my career. How I have developed and progressed has been the result of many individuals.

I have had the opportunity to work with some incredible leaders. They have taken the time to get to know me, identify my strengths and then worked with me to further develop my skills. There have been leaders and partners who have taken a chance on me, and I sincerely appreciate them. 

I strive to be that kind of leader and partner myself – to pay it forward, if you will. I try to look for the potential in those I work with and then inspire them to be the best version of themselves each and every day. 

Those who influenced me most were those who were able to bring out my own unique creativity, to trust my creativity and allowed me to take safe risks. Being able to collaborate within a safe environment has been extremely influential on my development. 



Nancy Webber
Senior Manager, Store Design
Nordstrom, Seattle

Recently retired, Nancy spent 39 years at Nordstrom, starting with the company as a Visual Manager in Bellevue, Wash., in 1980. She served as a Northwest Regional Manager, then moved into a store design role, where she’s been described by her nominators as “an unstoppable, critical, creative force, making every Nordstrom store ‘feel like a Nordstrom.’ Chances are, if you thought something was beautiful, inspiring, amazing or surprising, Nancy was behind it.”

Nancy was charged with transforming the look and feel of Nordstrom stores across the U.S. in both store design and visual merchandising, creating unique experiences for the customer. She worked with a cross-functional team of interior designers, visual merchandisers, architects and vendors, on projects ranging from Nordstrom’s corporate headquarters and Nordstrom Local to the Nordstrom Men’s store in New York.

What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

Designing furniture and artful moments throughout the stores that are relevant to customer demographics and the Nordstrom brand; creating expressive wow moments that inspire the customer and add drama; transcending through curation and collecting. I also was responsible for designing and partnering with the top mannequin companies to support the brand, fit and form. My success with new designs was a result of creative teams and talented vendors.


Courtesy of Nordstrom, Seattle

Who has had the most influence on your work in your career? How?

[Interior designer] Ted Tuttle mentored me as we traveled Europe for furniture [for Nordstrom], shopping for tables, chairs, art and decoratives to elevate the retail experience. Ted’s attention and knowledge of interior design concepts were crucial to take the brand further in the customer’s eyes, always using true materials. [MG2’s] MJ Munsell influenced me while working as the lead consultant for all of Nordstrom.  She taught me the importance of materials, finishes, scale, collaboration, and most importantly, amazing design sense that was beyond relevant to the industry.

I was also fortunate to be influenced over the past few years by Dawn Clark, Nordstrom SVP of Store Design. Dawn influenced the illumination and simplification of Nordstrom interiors through light and materials and supported my vision to add value and influence on the store interiors with art, sculptures, furniture and custom elements.

For more information on next year's Top Women in Retail Design awards, please check back summer 2019 for the 2019 submission form, or email VMSD Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Acevedo at jennifer.acevedo@stmediagroup.com.