This article previously appeared on News at Northeastern. It was written by Greg St. Martin.
Jarrod Kahn remembers the moment that changed his life. He says it was 1993, and he was riding the train in New York City to meet a client. He was reading a daily fashion newspaper and came across an article about CK, a new brand launched by the iconic company Calvin Klein.
Kahn, who was working as a salesman for his family's fashion accessories company, Cipriani Accessories, saw the opportunity for the company to acquire the license to sell women's belts under the CK brand.
“I felt the brand. I felt it was coming,” says Kahn, a 1990 Northeastern University graduate. “It was having success, but I felt that the momentum was there and we really needed a new brand, something to bring to the customers that was going to be different.”
Kahn urged his uncle to set up a meeting with representatives from Calvin Klein. Cipriani ultimately landed the CK license and went on to establish licensing agreements with other companies such as Michael Kors, Nine West, and Donna Karan to design and sell their accessories. By the early 2000s, Cipriani had expanded into small leather goods and cold-weather accessories such as hats, scarves, and gloves.
“The article changed my life forever,” Kahn says. “I've since seen Calvin [Klein] and I told him that he made my career. His response was, ‘I gave you an opportunity. You made your own career.'”
Kahn, for his part, became president of sales and partner at the company. Throughout his career, he has used his strategic business sense to negotiate license agreements with Kate Spade, Cole Haan, Lacoste, and other brands.
Kahn now serves as group president of accessories for Centric Brands, which designs, produces, and sells children's and adults' accessories and apparel around the world, and where he oversees more than 300 employees. His current workplace—the Empire State Building in Manhattan—is only a block away from his former offices at Cipriani.
Kahn says that he's learned in his career that there is no substitute for making high-quality, authentic products that people want. And to know what people want, you have to have a feel for fashion trends and a passion for the product. He says he regularly peruses department and specialty clothing stores, reads fashion industry news, and keeps a sharp eye for the accessories passersby are toting around the city.
“Without the passion for the product and feel for the business, it doesn't matter how book-smart you are. It's going to be very difficult to have a successful career in the fashion industry,” Kahn says. “It's all about the product, the DNA of the product, and the execution of the design and the quality. A brand name gives you an audience. But like anything, you're as good as your last line.”
Kahn says that the experiences early in his career and while studying at Northeastern helped propel his success. His first job at Cipriani was in the warehouse, packing boxes to be shipped to stores, and loading shipments of products on and off trucks. He says those experiences helped him learn the business from the bottom up, and gave him an appreciation for how products are made.
While studying at Northeastern, he worked on co-op at the New England Life Insurance Company in 1987. His job—fetching files of paperwork, tasks that would likely be computerized today—was far from glamorous. But he says it helped instill in him the importance of following up and following through on projects.
“The hustle and drive have really helped propel my career,” he says.
Kahn grew up with a learning disability, which he used as motivation to succeed in the classroom and his career. He says Northeastern provided notetakers to take notes for him in class, and he'd collect the notes at the end of each day. He says his professors always made him feel at home and comfortable and that “even when I struggled in class, I had the feeling that it would be OK.”
“Having a learning disability, I wanted to succeed,” says Kahn, who has served on the board of directors for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “It motivated me to show the world that having a learning disability doesn't mean you can't be successful or contribute.”