Grad is Director of Marketing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield
Ashley Itliong was born and raised in Los Angeles, where she was a FIDM Fashion Club President during her senior year of high school. Since earning degrees in Apparel Industry Management and Business Management from FIDM, Ashley has lived and worked in Las Vegas, New York, and Dubai. Last year, she joined Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), the premier global developer and operator of flagship destinations, as a Director of Marketing. Now living in West Hollywood, California, her primary role is leading marketing for Westfield Topanga & The Village. We recently chatted with Ashley to learn more about her inspiring journey.
How did you first hear about FIDM? One of my favorite fashion designers is Monique Lhuillier. She is a fellow Filipina and was one of the most notable designers on the red carpets during my late high school years. Through my research, I came to find she was a FIDM Alumna, which inspired me to consider FIDM as one of my top college choices. I was also torn between applying to a fashion school in California or applying to one in New York. After weighing out the pros and cons, I realized that it made the most sense to apply to FIDM, the obvious choice as it is the most reputable fashion school on the West Coast. California is one of the leading economic hubs in the states. We have the highest population out of all other states, a diverse economy blending fashion, entertainment, tech, manufacturing, and agriculture, and beautiful mountains, beaches, and sunshine almost 365 days out of the year! I knew that by going to FIDM, I’d not only gain the hands-on industry knowledge and experience, but also secure a great career opportunity upon graduation through its extensive network and strategic location.
What was it like being involved in FIDM Fashion Club? FIDM Fashion Club is an amazing initiative and I feel fortunate to have launched it at my high school. My role as President during my senior year gave me the opportunity to flex my leadership and entrepreneurial abilities, while also bringing together other like-minded creatives and fashionistas at my school to produce a charity fashion show. I was able to negotiate partnerships with several national and local retailers to provide looks for the show and organized the event from start to finish – from sourcing the models, venue, DJ, F&B, to marketing and generating buzz for the event, leading the creative direction of the show, managing event operations to ensuring we stayed within our budget. Not only did the event raise money for a local family in need, but it also led me to receiving a full scholarship during my first year at FIDM.
How did you pick your FIDM major and campus? It was between Fashion Design and Apparel Industry Management. I found myself to have a creative side at a young age, but my immigrant parents instilled in me a hustle mentality and strong business savvy. Ultimately, I chose to pursue Apparel Industry Management because it seemed to be a good mix of the glamorous, creative, and commercial side of fashion. A couple years later, I went on to get my Bachelor’s in Business Management as well. I chose the Los Angeles campus because it was where the school was founded. I wanted to be in the middle of all the action and history that downtown Los Angeles has to offer. It’s a dynamic part of the city with its unique food, fashion, art, entertainment, and sports culture.
Any favorite FIDM memories? There are many, but my favorite memories were both of my graduation ceremonies at Staples Center. It’s a good feeling to be inside of a world-class, world-renowned venue surrounded by courageous individuals who all took a risk on their dreams of pursuing a non-traditional education and career path in a cutthroat yet rewarding industry.
After graduating in 2014, you went on to work for Simon Property Group. What was that like? Working for Simon broadened my perspective on the fashion industry. I didn’t go to fashion school to then see myself working in real estate, but at Simon I quickly realized how important brick and mortar retail was to essentially deliver an environment to help brands connect with their consumers in a more personal and experiential way. Ecommerce isn’t going away and will continue to grow, but meaningful, in-real-life connection is what truly fulfills people. What I find interesting about retail real estate is the ability to host a diversity of brands, lifestyles, experiences, and people under one roof. Humans are meant to interact with each other.
You then moved to Dubai and worked in various roles. Can you tell us about that time? Funnily enough I had never imagined that I would be moving to the Middle East. After my time with Simon, I relocated to New York City for a new career opportunity with the thought that I’d make it my final home. Months into being there, I was headhunted for a new role in Dubai for Al-Futtaim, one of the largest conglomerates in the region. It turned out that the former executive who created my role at Simon was now leading the retail real estate arm at Al-Futtaim, and looked to me to help spearhead business development for the company. My role was essentially to attract both global and local retail brands to set up operations in the Middle East, or if already there, to further expand their brick and mortar presence in the region. I was able to travel throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa to discover these new and exciting high-growth brands, while also absorbing different cultures, local tastes and preferences, and being more competent in global affairs.
After a couple years in this role I was then recruited by Emaar, the leading real estate company in the UAE, to help develop a new retail concept housing up-and-coming designers from all over the world to showcase their collections at the world famous Dubai Mall. This role also led to managing retail operations for several brands that the company introduced to the region, like John Varvatos and Moynat. While working for these companies in the UAE, I also decided to pursue my very first entrepreneurial venture. After a number of events fueling the rise in women empowerment (i.e. the 2016 election, the Me Too movement, Saudi Arabia now allowing women to drive, and the UAE mandating equal pay for women in the private sector), I was inspired to launch The Women Xchange.
Being a woman who wrote my final thesis paper at FIDM on the lack of female leadership in fashion, who has worked in traditionally male-dominated industries and who was now living in a part of the world where women were traditionally suppressed, I felt it was important to connect other women who share the same experiences in hopes to further our social and economic advancement in society. In the span of one year, The Women Xchange was able to engage women from all cultures and partner with some of the most notable businesswomen from the region and a number of global brands like Classpass, GoDaddy, IBM, and Lexus. This is probably my proudest accomplishment to date.
How did your URW Marketing Director position come about? I attended a global retail conference in Cannes the year Unibail-Rodamco had acquired Westfield’s U.S. operations. I was fortunate to have met Christophe Cuvillier, their Group CEO at the time and the headlining speaker. I stayed in touch and sure enough a couple years later this connection led me to landing my current role. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships, in life and in business.
What are your responsibilities in this role? As Director of Marketing for URW, my primary responsibility is to lead the marketing function for one of our flagship shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations, Westfield Topanga & The Village. This involves developing short- and long-term marketing plans that drive sales, foot traffic, and NOI growth. I manage a multi-million dollar budget, develop and measure campaigns, and foster talent within my team and the greater organization. I’m also responsible for collaborating with other functions like Operations, Development, Leasing, Brand Ventures, and Events to ensure total asset value creation. My day-to-day involves analysis and insights, brand marketing, content creation, PR and communications, events, and digital marketing programs that support over 300 retailers. The role also involves managing community relations, outreach, partnerships, and sponsorships.
Westfield Topanga is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar redevelopment and expansion of a former Sears department store anchor, and during the pandemic received city approval to move forward with Promenade 2035, a multi-billion dollar mixed-use project that will not only transform the North Los Angeles landscape, but also create tens of thousands of jobs and new businesses. I’m excited and grateful to be a part of what’s to come for URW and contributing to making these projects a success.
What are some of the challenges you're dealing with during the pandemic? First and foremost, ensuring the health and safety of our stakeholders which include customers, mall employees, my fellow colleagues, and the community at large. But equally important and challenging is supporting and ensuring the viability of our national retailers and small business owners that make up the heart of each Westfield destination. The pandemic has accelerated the shift from traditional brick and mortar shopping to online shopping, which has challenged me to think outside of the box in driving commerce through digital marketing strategies while also redefining the role of the mall and customer experiences.
What advice would you share with a FIDM student or grad? For current students, I recommend interning for different companies and in different roles if not working on your own business. It helps to be well-versed in all aspects of the industry whether you’re working for someone else or working on your own venture. For grads, go and experience the world! If you are able to secure the opportunity, work abroad. Otherwise, try to travel to as many cities and countries as possible. It is incredibly enriching to leave what you know and are accustomed to, to explore the unknown – you will learn so much about yourself and others! These experiences will help fuel your creativity and perspective in your work.