July 15, 2024

Velocity and Vision

Climb the steep stairs to Zach Kerns’ room, and you’re only halfway. The next hurdle is the closet. In the foyer, which he turned into a wardrobe, you’ll skim past racks full of dress shirts, a set of silk ties and a choo-choo of shoes – AllSaints, Common Projects and Prada.

Clothes might not make the man, but for this UMW junior, style certainly counts.

A business major and model with a future in fashion merchandising, he’s determined to get all sides of the industry under his slick leather belt. And while Mary Washington and its offerings, like last winter’s business-law program in Chile, have helped make that happen, Kerns has been busy returning the favor. With his speed on the track, and his face on UMW bus wraps and mall signs, this blond-haired, blue-eyed sprinter can’t turn down a chance to talk up his school.

“I probably care a little too much,” he said, crossing his cheetah-print kicks and tugging at his two-tone Saks sweater during an interview at the Hurley Convergence Center. “Mary Washington’s given me so much. It’s another way I can give back.”

UMW student Zach Kerns

Growing up in Loudoun County, Va., Kerns was an all-sports athlete and a wannabe architect. Before high school, though, two things – a trip and a fall – would change his trajectory. The trip, a month with his grandfather in China, was a crash course in business that opened his eyes to another career. The fall, a rock-climbing mishap that crushed two bones in his arm, was an omen that kept him from contact sports.

While he healed, Kerns turned to running, and when the cast finally came off, so did the pretense. “I realized I could be the fastest on the basketball court or I could be the fastest where it really counts most – on the track,” he said. Recruited by longtime UMW track and field coach Stan Soper, Kerns crushed a school record during his first Mary Washington meet, running the 300-meter dash in 35.49 seconds.

He was quick off the block on campus, too, joining the Student Athlete Advisory Council and the honorary business society Sigma Beta Delta. He’s served as a UMW brand ambassador, appearing on ads and in Mary Washington’s first-ever TV commercial; interned with upscale online retailer Gilt; and signed up to study abroad.

“He’s a good representative of UMW overseas and as an American,” said attorney and Mary Washington senior lecturer Kimberley Kinsley, who led Kerns and others on a recent two-week business-law trip to Chile. “He’s truly a leader. He’s confident and humble, and that’s what’s refreshing.”

UMW student Zach Kerns

It’s that combination that helped Kerns land his former role as a rep for trendy clothes line Abercrombie & Fitch, where his job was to lure shoppers with his GQ good looks, 6-foot-3 height and that signature A&F question: “Hey, what’s up?” He’ll model this summer, for Naked Décor and Britches of Georgetowne, but it isn’t his first choice of professions.

“Modeling seems fun but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s not as rewarding as other things I could be doing with my time.”

Like what? Next up for Kerns is another internship, this one with contemporary fashion label Theory. And he has big post-Mary Washington plans – earn an executive MBA, launch a fashion-merchandising career in New York or L.A., and move into the “C-suite.”

“I’m a millennial,” he said, blue eyes twinkling. “I want to rule the world.”