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CCRI alumna oversees Alex and Ani's
national expansion in vice president role
Nov. 29, 2013
Susan Soares ’90 jokes that she’s a typical Rhode Islander. Apart from a short stint in Connecticut early on in her life, the West Warwick native has never called another state – let alone another town – home. She’s even represented the state in the Miss USA pageant. But it’s not just inertia and her family that have kept her anchored to the state she loves. Her career launched a new chapter down by the docks in Newport one fateful summer day, a chapter she’s still writing – and one that’s anything but typical.
Soares is the vice president of retail operations at Alex and Ani, the homegrown jewelry company that has made its mark on the fashion world with its distinctive, 100 percent American-made and sourced bangles and charms. It was in true Rhode Island fashion that she found herself at the post, running into an old high school acquaintance, Giovanni Feroce, the company’s CEO, in front of the flagship store in Newport.
“I believe it was fate that brought us together that day,” she said of seeing Feroce on the wharf during a Memorial Day jaunt in 2010 with her husband, Brian. “He told me that he and Carolyn Rafaelian were about to open seven more stores, and that we should talk. I’ve been here ever since.”
Now, sitting in Alex and Ani’s sleekly picturesque vintage modern office, Soares oversees the empire’s national expansion, predicting that she will have opened 40 stores by the year’s end. But it’s not just fate that Soares says she has to thank for her exciting and rewarding career; she got a boost fro m another Rhode Island institution: the Community College of Rhode Island.
After graduating from high school and spending a few years working as a secretary in a law office, Soares found that she wasn’t being challenged in the way that she hoped for. “The busier I am, the more productive and happier I am,” said Soares, who juggled, a cheerleader, tap dancing and a part-time job in high school.
Sitting at the same desk and doing the same thing day in and day out wasn’t sitting well with her, and so when she found a job with a tuition reimbursement program, she began to take business management classes at the college.
After she was laid off from that job, a part-time position in retail at Ganto’s, the now-defunct women’s apparel store, opened the door to her true passion. She switched her major to retail management, where she studied with professors such as Susan Caressimo, with whom she maintains contact to this day. While she was attending class full time, the college allowed her to count her concurrent work experience toward her degree, making getting her associate in retail management and fashion merchandising a viable proposition.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion,” she explained, adding that her older sister also worked in retail, exposing Soares to the latest fashions from a young age. “And I love retail. I love the challenge of having a sales goal to meet, and having people leave the store happy. How many people get to see that happen in their careers?”
After graduating from CCRI, she continued to work at Ganto’s. Her next stop was Ann Taylor, where she stayed for 12 years, first as an assistant manager at the Warwick Mall location and then as a training store manager for the company, helping new management hires acclimate to the culture and align with the company goals. She was responsible for opening the store at Providence Place, after which she took a post as regional training and development manager, overseeing 31 stores and creating management programs for the personnel.
She and her husband had two children in the interim, and she took a break from retail for a while to work for Barnes & Noble in Warwick as the community relations manager, a position that gave her a more manageable schedule but didn’t quite give her the challenge she knew she’d be looking for long term. Then she ran into Feroce, and the rest is an undeniably successful piece of local – and now national – retail history.
“In three years, we’ve opened 39 new stores and gone from 11 employees at the original Newport location to now over 600 retail people in the field,” she said, motioning to a wall on her office adorned with photographs of each Alex and Ani storefront as well as the area and district managers she oversees.
Her pride in the company – and the home state she shares with it – is palpable. “It’s nice to see the state’s economy bouncing back, and to be a part a company that is involved in the revitalization of that economy,” she said. “Another important part of our mission is that we don’t go into mall situations – we’re on Main Street. Through our success, we can boost visibility of the street that we’re on and bring extra foot traffic to local neighborhood businesses.”
Although Alex and Ani’s first priority will always be its home state, Soares calls the national expansion effort “exciting.” Now winding its way down the East Coast as well as into strategic clusters out West, the brand’s momentum keeps growing. “I have that whole thing to dot,” Soares said, motioning to another wall of her office adorned with a broad United States map.
Other than helping the company expand its reach, Soares keeps herself busy by spending time with her family (daughter Brooke, 17, is beginning the college application process, and son, Jake, 12, is involved in sports) and beginning to lay the groundwork for her volunteer involvement with the American Cancer Society. It’s a cause close to her heart; her mother battled three different cancers, eventually succumbing to leukemia. Alex and Ani carries bangles that help fund cancer research, and Soares said she looks forward to “jumping in with both feet” to raise a fund for the organization.
Though she has much to look forward to still, Soares looks back fondly on her time at CCRI, crediting the college with helping her discover her passion and make career advancement possible.
“I felt like everything I learned there, I could really use. And that made me more invested in the career that I chose. I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.
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