Queen of Comeback: Why Gap’s Head of Accessories Calls Change Her Comfort Zone

Gap

Fashion trends change more frequently than the seasons it seems. One minute, fanny packs are everywhere, and the next minute bike shorts are a thing (really). Oddly enough, the only constant thing in this industry is change. For Gap’s Director of Adult Accessories, Marisa Ripo, it’s that constant change that inspires her. She’s worked for some of the best fashion brands in the business (Coach, DKNY, and Club Monaco, just to name a few), but she’s always loved Gap’s iconic American aesthetic, and dreamed of working here.

We sat down with Marisa to find out how she’s rolled with the proverbial fashion punches and what it takes to transform a brand.


Marisa studied Painting in college, and after graduating, got a temp job working at Club Monaco while she was hoping to find a job in a museum. As fate would have it, she fell in love with conceptual design and continued down the fashion path. She told us, “The VP of Design at CM let me do concepts for her and really taught me the foundation of color and concept direction.”

She then made the jump to Coach for another Concept Design role and stayed there for 8 years doing Men’s, Women’s, Fragrance, Ready-to-Wear, and Accessories. This is where she told us her love of change and transformation was born. “There were so many transformations happening at Coach during that time. When I started, it was post-recession, so our prices instantly became too high for the customer.” At that point, Coach pivoted their leather business to focus more on fabric based clothing to reduce costs. Then once the economy got better, they went back to leather. The business eventually leveled out, as did the economy, and Marisa figured it was time to move on to the next opportunity to transform.

The next stop was DKNY, working in Lingerie, Home, Sleepwear, and Watches. There she was tasked with elevating the licensing categories to make them emulate the versions on the runway. This was another opportunity for her to lean into change and learn from it. “The difference between a trend and a brand code is something that my time at DKNY really drove home. In conceptual design, there will be trends that we tap into, but it must always align back to our brand code, and our identity...who we really are. You can’t stray from that.”

When her time at DKNY was cut short after the brand was sold, it was onto the next transformation. She reached out to Gap, which was a company on her “short list of companies [she’d] like to work for, and the Director of Adult Accessories role had just opened. It was meant to be!”

“Gap has such an iconic, classic, American aesthetic, and I love working for those types of brands that are looking to revamp.” But beyond that, Marisa is admittedly obsessed with accessories. “It’s true! I will actually pick out my accessories for an outfit first and then choose the clothes from there. Some people call it dressing backwards, but that’s my style.” And she’s certainly made her mark on Gap, designing some greatest hits like holiday gear for dogs, and her all-time favorite, the Gap logo arch belt.

But outside of her love of accessories, it’s the transformation currently happening at Gap that really speaks to her. While some people resist change like the plague, Marisa runs towards it. “I’m so energized by our new Brand President, Neil Fiske, and the inspiration he’s instilled in us. I know it might sound strange, but change truly inspires and fuels me. It keeps things fresh, and creates new challenges and opportunities for me to learn. Every day. Gap has an opportunity to be better than ever before, and everyone’s rooting for us. It’s an amazing place to be in. There is so much love for this brand; we all had a Gap piece we loved growing up or a personal relationship to the brand through a store or a commercial.”

She added, “people love a good comeback and we’re primed for it.”

So what does it take to transform a brand? Marisa believes it all comes down to “consistent messaging. Above anything else, we need to be extremely clear to our customer about who we are and how we serve them. It’s up to us to communicate to them clearly and authentically, so that they can understand us and trust us.”

Marisa really exemplifies how we can be inspired by change, and that any challenge can be reframed into an opportunity for growth and progress. If you want to see Marisa’s creations come to life, pop into your local Gap or check out the accessories online. Want to be a part of Gap’s transformation, too? Head here for their open roles.
 

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