Alumna and Executive Vice President at Li & Fung Wendy (West) Santana '83 hosts a PhilaU Dinner with the Rams.
As Executive Vice President at Li & Fung, a leading global supply chain management company, Wendy Santana’s present day success derived from early-life influences involving summers spent down the Jersey Shore at her grandmother’s clothing boutique in Atlantic City. Describing her experience working in the boutique surrounded by clothes as feeling “like home,” Santana’s passion for clothing, coupled with researching careers in the fashion industry, ultimately led to her decision to major in Apparel Management at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (PCTS.)
However, her path to attend PCTS was detoured by a two-year stint as a Social Work major at Penn State where Santana claims, “I quickly realized I liked clothes more than people!” Her decision to transfer schools allowed her to study both the creative and business side of apparel management. Upon graduating from PCTS in 1983, with help from Marianne Able, Director of Career Services for 28 years, Santana was hired to work for an intimate apparel company in Cortland, NY.
Santana was grateful for the job and gainful experience, despite the fact that Cortland was not where she dreamed of living and working for the rest of her life. “If I never accepted this position I would never have ended up where I am today.”
Eventually, Santana was able to advance her career at New Age Intimates, a larger intimate apparel company in Long Island City, Queens. “This job was closer to my ultimate goal of working in the city,” Santana explains, “but I really wanted to be in women’s apparel. Having said that, that role really ‘raised’ me.”
Santana’s position at New Age Intimates afforded her the opportunity to work in Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. “I grew up in the factories of these countries. That is where I got my foundation and understanding of production and product life cycle. It set the tone for the rest of my career.”
Santana stayed with the company for 12 years until it closed its doors, leading her to her third and current job. Santana was hired as a Production Manager in 1999 for Oxford Industries—a women’s and men’s company headquartered in Atlanta, GA with a division in New York City. “I finally made it to New York,” Santana said.
It was working in production in women’s apparel where Santana finally felt she was doing what she had always set out to do after graduating college. Over a span of 17 years of hard work, Santana moved up the ranks within the company from Production, to Senior Production, to Sales, to Senior Sales, to Vice President, to her current role as Executive Vice President of Sales. Additionally, through her advancement, Santana expanded her product knowledge from women’s apparel to include plus size, maternity, and kid’s apparel.
Santana’s impressive résumé boasts exciting collaborations with well-known designers and retailers.
“In 2006, we had the opportunity to partner with Target on the inception of its Designer Collaborations initiative launching with Luella Bartley. I am proud to say that I have been working on Designer Collaborations from the beginning to the present day announcement of Victoria Beckham for Target,” Santana said.
Santana remains inspired by the opportunities that allow her to work in a creative environment that continues to motivate her. “There are not many people who can say that they have worked with over 50 designers on their limited partnerships collections, but I am fortunate enough to say that I have. From John Paul Gaultier to Zac Posen to Karl Lagerfeld to Jason Wu and on and on. It has been a hell of a ride.”
Also in 2006, Oxford’s Women’s Division was acquired by the mega company Li & Fung. “It was then my good fortune to be a part of the largest global supply chain company in the world with over 100 years of experience,” Santana said.
When Santana describes the company she works for today, it’s no secret she is passionate about the career she is in.
“Oxford Collections as we are known today is part of the LF Americas team. We are the leading private label company driven by superior design and execution, anchored by exceptional talent. A complete service company from reality to retail in Women’s, Special sizes, Men’s, Children’s and Swim Wear. We have a unique advantage with our partnerships overseas that quite frankly can’t be beaten,” Santana explains, “I am home.”
Santana’s list of accomplishments and impressive career path is something any student in a fashion-related program would be interested in learning about first-hand. Fortunately for PhilaU students, Santana recently hosted a Dinner with the Rams, a networking event that connects current students with successful alumni. A dozen students studying Fashion Design, Fashion Merchandising and Management and Global Fashion Enterprise were invited to travel to NYC for an intimate dinner in Bryant Park where they were able to hear for themselves the journey of Santana’s career path while also having an open discussion about fashion and shifts within the industry.
The PhilaU students attending the dinner were thrilled for the opportunity to be able to network with and ask questions of a leader in the fashion management industry.
“Dinner with Wendy was extremely inspiring and informative,” said Fashion Design student, Vivian Cooper ’17. “My favorite part of the night was when Wendy spoke about interviewing and what she looks for in her candidates. Having that insight from an industry professional like Wendy was priceless.”
Santana expressed that if she had any advice for the masses of PhilaU students studying fashion, or otherwise, it would be to take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to them. “Even if it is not the perfect job and what you dreamed of, learn what you can from it and then move on. One day the path will end where you wanted to be, you just didn’t know the road you were going to take to get there.”
To be more specific to those studying fashion, Santana feels that factory experience is a must. “Get into a factory – even if you are in design or fabric development or sales, it’s important to understand the product life cycle. It will give you the edge over your competition.”
But, above all, Santana believes you have to love what you do. “It’s a fast, unforgiving industry. In order to survive your entire career, make sure you love what you do. And when it gets tough, remember why you got into it the beginning.”
Santana explains that what she took away from the Dinner with the Rams was just that.
“The experience of having dinner with the students made me realize that the win was really mine. This industry can be so damn difficult and challenging. And then, you meet these students with stars in their eyes and excitement in their voices; they can’t wait to jump in with both feet. You remember why you do this and that it is really a part of your heart,” Santana said. “They reminded me of that, and for that I am grateful.”