Inclusive Design Goes Beyond Color: A Conversation with Gap Inc. Leaders

by Gap Inc. blogs

Gap Inc.

July 16, 2019

During this year’s San Francisco Design Week, Gap Inc. hosted a discussion at our headquarters around inclusive design. Design, marketing and merchandising leaders from Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta talked about the many ways inclusivity is top of mind every day at our brands — from how we present ourselves at work to how we listen to our customers to how clothing can make a real impact in the world. Read on for four takeaways from the event.

Designing for everyone means bringing your whole self to work.
“You look around and our people reflect a myriad of differences,” said Bahja Johnson, Banana Republic Director of Global Merchandising. “I am a black woman … and I lead with that every single day to be the best of who I am and reflect my customer base.” Customers are all different and need different things, she explained, and everyone bringing their whole selves to work is the way Gap Inc. can connect in an authentic way with the broad diversity of people we serve.

Putting inclusive product into the world means more than just making additional colors or sizes.
Abby Flora, Senior Director of Marketing at Athleta, explains that there is a void in women’s performance apparel and that Athleta’s mission is to make “technical, beautiful, sustainable products that empower women and girls.” Gap Inc.’s commitment to a diverse team is essential to inclusivity, Johnson added: “If you’re going to say you represent inclusion in your product, you’d better have inclusive voices in the room.”

And being inclusive means considering socioeconomic inclusivity, too. “As a brand, Old Navy stands for inclusivity and the democracy of style,” said Janet Chun, Old Navy’s Senior Designer of Maternity and Plus . “We make fashion for everyone ­– on-trend styles at accessible price points, fits that flatter any body, and a range of sizes as diverse as our customers. We’re always looking for things we can do to accentuate every body. When designing for our Plus customer, this could include adjustments such as adding wider straps for more support, a no-peek button at the chest to prevent gaping, or contouring waistbands for our bottoms.”

Inclusion means listening closely to the customer’s voice.
“Our customer is incredibly vocal,” said Janette Cox, Senior Director of Technical Design at Old Navy. “They’ll tell us that they don’t like a change of fabric in the Rockstar jean, or that a swim dress was unflattering. We take all those comments incredibly seriously.” She also added that the brand is taking a high-tech approach to help ensure inclusivity with new design tools like software that builds 3-D fit avatars for a wide range of body types.

For her part, Chun loves walking Old Navy stores with customers: “My favorite part of the design process is the shop-alongs. Customers will tell you what they like and what we’re missing. Most importantly, I enjoy learning about their lifestyles – it really paints the picture of who the brand customers are and how our designed products can be a part of their lives.”

Apparel can have a profound impact on people’s lives.
“I was lucky to be taught that I could do anything in sports, but that’s not the case for every girl,” said Abby. “Girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys, and starting at age 13 their confidence plummets — they stop taking risks and their fear of failure goes through the roof.” Encouraging girls to stay in the game is a key tenet of the Athleta Girl brand, which is all about how being active can fuel lifelong confidence.

Bahja pointed to the impact of Banana Republic’s True Hues collection, which offers nude undergarments and shoes in a wide range of shades to match different skin tones. True Hues has been a hit with diverse customers, especially those who say they haven’t always felt seen by apparel brands — and they’re asking for more. “Customers told us that they want to see even more shades and more of a range, so we said all right, we have more work to do. We have this inherent responsibility to make everybody feel good in their clothes.”

For us, striving for equality is just as much of a business imperative today as it was 50 years ago when we started out. See what else we’re doing.

And, if you’re someone who’s passionate about designing for everyone and making everybody feel good in what they wear, you might be a perfect fit for a role at one of our brands. Check out our open design roles here, and follow us on LinkedIn for more job opportunities plus a feel for what it’s like to work here.

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