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Study away program provides students immersion into Florence, Italy, fashion scene

The city of Florence, nestled in the breathtaking landscape of Italy, is a must-see for fashion enthusiasts. 

As one of the world's foremost fashion capitals, this celebrated city served as the stage for the 2023 Florence Retail Tour, an educational study away program offered through the Retail and Fashion Merchandising Program with the Office of Global Opportunities. Immersed in the city's artisanal traditions, Ohio University students explored local fashion trends and gained a deeper understanding of the economic and social factors that shaped Florence's retail landscape. 

Led by Program Director Lisa Williams, the OHIO students were transported beyond textbooks and classrooms. Against a backdrop of Renaissance architecture and winding cobblestone streets, Florence, Italy's renowned tradition of skilled artisans, respected tanneries, and rich history of craftsmanship had established it as a global hub for high-quality leather goods. Students explored various aspects of the production and retail cycle, from the intricate craftsmanship behind attractive handbags to the distinctive strategies employed in the city's department stores.

Williams explained the value this kind of experience brings to a student's educational journey.

"Our aim is to enable students to truly understand the voyage of a product, from its inception and design concepts to its prominent place on the shelves of retail establishments. By immersing themselves in influential fashion destinations like Paris, London, Milan, and now Florence, students gain a comprehensive understanding of how European fashion influence trends, eventually making their way to the United States," Williams said.

A fashion display is shown in Florence, Italy

Students also received invaluable networking opportunities that could shape their future careers. Through engagement with industry professionals and direct interaction with designers, participants gained firsthand knowledge about potential paths in fashion production, wholesale, and retail.

Retail merchandising and fashion production major Lanae' Hobbs-Gazaway shared her transformative experience.

"This opportunity showed me a part of the fashion industry I hadn't experienced before. Seeing the relationship between theory and reality in this European city was an eye-opener, which will help me explore more potential opportunities in the retail industry," said Hobbs-Gazaway.

The experience also provided the OHIO students an opportunity for cultural exploration, allowing them to appreciate the vibrant atmosphere of Florence. From wandering the streets and visiting iconic landmarks to embracing the essence of Italian culture, students gained a holistic perspective that enriched their educational journey.

a building is shown in Florence, Italy

Williams emphasized the transformative power of such tours.

"These immersive experiences bridge the gap between theory and practice, empowering students with an in-depth understanding of the fashion industry's inner workings," Williams said. "By witnessing firsthand, the evolution of trends and gaining insight into their potential impact, students cultivate their unique place within the industry. It is an integral part of their education and personal development."

Looking ahead, the Office of Global Opportunities has tentatively scheduled the next Fashion Retail Tour for 2025. Paris, France will host this next program and will offer students an immersive experience in this vibrant fashion capital. Highlights include visits to fashion landmarks like Champs-Elysées, Louvre, and the Paris fashion district, as well as exclusive access to Galleries Lafayette, Fondation Louis Vuitton, and Lesage, Cecile et Jeanne, Maria deCarvalho and Beau Souci. Students will also explore historical sites such as the Palace of Versailles and the Left Bank, ensuring a rich cultural experience alongside valuable insights into apparel merchandising.

Anyone interested in learning more about this educational opportunity is encouraged to contact Williams at or contact the Office of Global Opportunities at Students interested in learning more about other study abroad experiences are encouraged to visit

June 7, 2023
Douglas Dennis