Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UA alumna finds success in fashion, stays connected

UA alumna Janet Gurwitch exemplifies the pinnacle of success in the business of fashion, and after working as senior vice president of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, she still finds time to stay in touch with the College of Human Environmental Sciences and attend football games on campus.

After graduating in 1974, Gurwitch began working at Foley’s department store in Houston, Texas, and left as senior vice president after 17 years. She went on to work at Neiman Marcus as the second woman ever to hold the position of senior vice president.

“[Working at Neiman] was a game changer because, first of all, Neiman Marcus was in the luxury tier,” Gurwitch said. “That’s the fist time I was exposed to global business – I was in Europe about nine weeks a year. It opened up my world in a major way.”

Gurwitch traveled across the globe for fashion events and was once invited to Kensington Palace by Princess Diana to honor 10 American retailers.

At 40, Gurwitch saw a niche for what she called “the flawless face” and started her own company, Laura Mercier. Now, Gurwitch works with Castanea buying and selling brands like Urban Decay.

“Today, I feel the opportunities are so much greater for young women,” Gurwitch said. “The glass ceiling’s been chipped away at.”

At the Capstone, Gurwitch was vice president of the Association of Women Students, a title she used to procure funds for women’s athletic teams per Coach Bryant.

“Coach Bryant gave her exactly what she asked for,” Milla Boschung, dean of the College of Human Environmental Sciences, said. “It was wonderful that she felt so passionate about the ability of female students to participate, that she went to coach Bryant, that absolutely was a legend then, that he is now.”

Sue Parker, a teacher in the College of HES when Gurwitch was a student, noted her drive in the school setting. Parker said she thinks Gurwitch is one of the most successful women to graduate from The University of Alabama.

“She believed in herself,” Parker said. “She had a goal, she had a passion and she was willing to work hard.”

Gurwitch cultivated relationships with UA faculty that helped jump-start her career and maintained those relationships long after graduation.

“I had a professor named Wilma Greene who was very, very key to everything I’ve done in college,” Gurwitch said. “She taught retailing. Not that many women students at that time were serious about their careers and I was, and she could see that and she was very helping in getting me great interviews and helping me prepare.”

Gurwitch continued to keep in touch with Greene until her death in 2008. She spoke at her funeral in Tuscaloosa at the request of the family.

Boschung said Gurwitch is a great example of using resources, like influential faculty, while in college and then giving back resources after graduation.

“In the college of HES, we pride ourselves on maintaining relationships with graduates and we say it’s the life cycle approach, the crimson life cycle,” Boschung said. “You come into HES, we help you achieve your goals as a student and then as a professional we like to stay in touch and have you serve as a mentor.”

Both professors, Boschung and Parker, stress the importance of faculty-student relationships on a deeper mentor level.

“I think [Gurwitch] realized the opportunities and she was mature and realized what she would be able to accomplish and I think looking at her success, it first of has to do with the individual and then that individual taking opportunities from those around them,” Parker said.

Gurwitch established the Gurwitch-Greene fund, a scholarship for fashion retail students, and sometimes speaks at on-campus events like entrepreneurship week.

“I’m always a Southern girl at heart and I love Alabama,” Gurwitch said. “I feel very fortunate I was exposed to the right people while I was there.”

In her talks with college groups, Gurwitch encourages students to get involved in a business they love and “make the career work for you.”

“I enjoyed [the fashion business],” Gurwitch said. “I was good at it and I enjoyed it. I got a lot of joy out of the intellectual challenge of business and I still do.”

Boschung said the HES department is thankful for Gurwitch completing what she calls the “crimson life cycle,” giving back both as a mentor and with scholarships.

“I think that it’s very important for all students to stay in touch with faculty because we really have a presence world wide,” Boschung said.


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