Member Spotlight: Adrienne Shelton
With an infectious smile, and certain magnetism making her a natural people connector, Adrienne Shelton has built an unparalleled network of friends and colleagues throughout her career in the fashion industry. Her down-to-earth communication style combined with an analytical mind aided in building her pathway to the top. Adrienne would describe her own career as one of many “firsts” and “onlys”. In many of the roles she held she was the only black woman amongst her colleagues, or the first black buyer at a company. Although this fact was never a problem for her, Adrienne has always made it a point to show up as her most authentic self.
Growing up in Amityville, NY, she was one of six brothers and sisters. In her 6th grade autograph book she recalls her stepfather writing “Don’t wait for the ship to come in, row out and meet it.” A quote that has always stuck with her throughout life and has been part of her foundation of drive and determination.
A DEFINING MOMENT
During her junior year she was on her way to interview for an internship with Arthur Andersen, which at the time was one of the “Big Five” accounting firms, she had a chance meeting which would change the trajectory of her entire life and career. As she was waiting in the placement office a recruiter from Rike’s Department store was also waiting to interview another student, and they began talking. He was telling her about the retail industry and he said: “Wow, I really like your personality, I don’t see you as an accountant.” Once she heard someone actually say it outloud she thought to herself “I don’t either.” It was then she changed her major to Business Management; she was still able to graduate on time with a minor in accounting.
Adrienne had a front row seat in the evolution of the fashion industry, from “power dressing” in the 80’s, menswear suits, bold prints, and shoulder pads, to the 90’s where supermodels and slip dresses ruled. Her career began when materialism and consumerism were reaching an all time high. Mass producers replicated high fashions for the general public, and the department stores that specialized in selling them changed the industry forever. During her career she has been associated with 16 different companies from Federated to May Company to Lane Bryant to Montgomery Ward to Chico’s to the Ascena Group. She also moved to 15 different cities for job opportunities - from Chicago to New York to Cleveland to Columbus, to name a few.
THE FIRST, FIRST
Her first job was as an Assistant Buyer with Rike’s Department store in Dayton, OH. During this first phase of her career she worked in department stores and was focused on honing her merchandising skills. She worked hard and excelled in her roles winning award after award for best buyer of the month and outstanding comps. But, she was always last to get promoted, not for a lack of performance. While at MAY Company she did well as a buyer and had the opportunity to travel to Osaka and Hong Kong, her first trip of many to Asia. Throughout her career she would travel to more than 20 different countries.
On that first trip in 1985, she looked around as she was on the plane and realized she was the only black person on board. While she was in Hong Kong walking with a colleague down a major thoroughfare she happened to see another black woman, and as they passed each other they
stopped, hugged, and then continued walking their own separate ways. Her colleague says “Oh, did you know her?” to which Adrienne replied “No, but she just got me, and I got her.”
For the average person, it's difficult to have a vision of success or a belief in what is possible until you have seen it done. Adrienne proved to be anything but average and even with a severe lack of representation of black female executives, she knew where she belonged and was determined to get there.
“According to Equilar, a clearinghouse for corporate leadership data, 29.6% of companies on the S&P 500 do not have at least one Black board member. Today, there are five Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. When Ken Frazier retires from Merck next month, there will be four,” NPR said.
Although this is a sign of progression, the work has just begun. Women still only make up 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs, with women of color making up 1.2%, CBS News reported.
SHARPENING HER SKILLS
During the 90’s Adrienne was receiving her “PhD” in buying, merchandising, sourcing and marketing because back then the role was all encompassing. At the time, she worked for Lane Bryant, a subsidiary of Limited Inc and really learned what it was to be a great product developer, a great merchant, and to really understand sourcing. In her first role as a department store buyer she was buying in a category of around $1 million. When she got to Lane Bryant her volume increased substantially. During her 10 years at Lane Bryant she had the opportunity to move to many different departments and buy different items which allowed the company to keep a fresh eye on each business. She always aspired to get to the next level, which was a Divisional Merchandising Manager and she accepted a role in this position at Montgomery Ward.
In 2010 she got a call from an old colleague, someone she hadn’t spoken to in 16 years. This colleague worked for Catherine’s and informed Adrienne she was getting ready to do a restructure. Adrienne had made many career changes already, and let her know she wasn’t ready to make another move. Her colleague recounted the day they met all those years ago. Adrienne had just started at the Limited Inc, it was her very first day. Adrienne prepared all day for an evening meeting in which she would report on her entire business. From her extensive analysis she blew the team away, and was able to win a multi million dollar amount to impact the business that night. Her colleague said to Adrienne “I still remember that first day, you were memorable.” She hired Adrienne to come to Catherine’s as a Vice President.
2010 was a pivotal year for her and everything would change from that moment on for the better. She became THE subject matter expert on plus sizes, and at that point she had 20 years of experience under her belt. This was a culmination of all of her years of hard work in honing her craft.
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
In 2017, Adrienne would continue to forge a path towards breaking down barriers and holding the door for other women of color to enter the executive arena. Catherine’s was now owned by the Ascena Group as well as Lane Bryant. Ascena relocated Catherines HQ to Columbus, Ohio from Bensalem, PA to join Lane Bryant and formed the “Plus Segment”. She was faced with a difficult decision, to move or not to move. The decision to move was made easier when Adrienne got promoted to the SVP/GMM of Merchandising and Design for Catherines. The greatest “first and only “ of her career, and the one she had been working towards her entire career.
There was a herculean task in front of her; most of the design and merchandising team did not relocate. She had a short period of time to relocate, hire, train and set up a new team in Columbus. Adrienne formed a talented team, and the most diverse one in all of Ascena. No stranger to change, but after two years of constant change with Catherines and the Plus Segment and at this point in time in her life, Adrienne felt it was time. She was part of Catherine’s glory days and helped lead them to achieve 17 quarters of comp sales and margin growth. It was time to retire and focus on her life. In June 2019 she retired from the corporate world. Always one to continue learning and growing, she is now using her business acumen and expertise to partner with Jordan Alliance Group in an Executive Advisory role. In this role she studies organizational goals and business strategies to help better serve JAG and its clients.
TRUE TO THE CORE
Her core beliefs have always been centered around transparency, authenticity, family, and her spiritual connection with her Grandmother. Throughout her career she has recognized the importance of sharing
her story to inspire others and this has also driven her passion for mentoring. A trailblazer, a leader who was one of many “firsts and onlys”, Adrienne has proved that through perseverance, hard work, and a strong belief anything you want is attainable. Her story shows that when we have diverse leaders, diverse teams and organizations can be created.
Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious and you can’t help but smile while in her presence. Today you’ll find Adrienne gardening, traveling, discovering new Florida beaches near her home in Palm Coast, spending time with family and friends and walks with her fur baby Ebony.
Adrienne’s Favorite Quote:
“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else's survival guide.” - Brené Brown