Barbara Low's jam? Short shorts — Gap 1969 destructed shorts, to be exact — and long careers.
After 41 years as a sales associate for Gap — Forty. One. — she has lots of other likes, too: for one, the brand's fit-and-flare dresses, which describes her personality and energy as much as the garment itself. She loves the coral blues, sunset reds and emerald greens on the clothes she meticulously and efficiently arranges and presents to guests at the Stanford Shopping Center. And she's a sucker for seamless experiences — from browsing to trying on clothes to making the purchases — which she considers her team's greatest responsibility.
Loyalty is a key ingredient in the connection between Barbara and Gap — understandable when decades of her life traveled in parallel tracks to Gap's evolution as a global brand.
Barbara joined the Gap in 1975 as a seasonal employee, when Gap was just a kid and the Pacifica, Calif. native was a teen. At the time, a now fabulously retro, bulbous logo and catchy TV commercials encouraged us to fall into the Gap
. The women's selection comprised (maybe) five sweaters and two pairs of jeans, while walls of men's Levi's lined the rest of the store.
The 1980s gave way to the colorful Gap we see today, at a time when optimism was hard to come by for many. Relatively few individuals, let alone companies, were willing to publicly talk about the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Meanwhile, Barbara, who lost a family member to AIDS, worked alongside signs at the cash registers encouraging signups for the San Francisco AIDS Walk.
As the 1990s brought a Gap mock turtleneck to the Oscars with Sharon Stone, Barbara had two of the same ones sitting in her closet. She still does.
In 2009, Barbara was working when she received a phone call: Gap cofounder Don Fisher had passed away at age 81
. She still gets teary talking about it; more than being responsible for her beloved fit-and-flares, denim she sells like hotcakes and infectiously positive commercials, Don and his widow, co-founder Doris Fisher, were dedicated to fairness and being your true self — and that's why Barbara says she'll stay forever.
"The people are my favorite," Barbara said. "Diverse employees, diverse customers; it changes every single day. It's a company with a heart."
Forever is a long time to spread the knowhow to her team of associates, many of whom aren't much older than she was on that first day. She's not shy about giving feedback, whether it's solicited by CEO Art Peck or Doris Fisher — or even if she's giving it to fellow store associates on her day off. Store manager Keilani Petelo met Barbara that way, at another Bay Area Gap, when Barbara paused to give feedback on her folding techniques.
"She walked in and I was like, 'Who is this lady?'" Keilani recalled with a laugh. "She's a firecracker."
Keilani points to Barbara as an example for newer associates, who are jokingly asked to put more pep in their steps when Barbara runs up and down the stairs, from the stockroom to the sales floor, in high heels, pausing at the cash registers to ensure all is running smoothly, and stopping to connect with customers over distressed denim.
Those customers run a gamut of cultures and needs in the diverse Bay Area. Whether they are literal busloads of tourists who want to know how Gap denim is distressed — answer: pumice stones — or working moms loading up on fashionable and functional Sun Wash Sweats in every color, Barbara prides herself and her team on showing customers how the brand can be a part of their lives.
With a lifetime employee discount card in her pocket and a diamond ring the company bought her at 40 years of service, Barbara keeps busy in semi-retirement — after a couple of hours chatting with her, it's hard to imagine she'd even be capable of leisure.
"She comes in yodeling at 5 a.m," teammate Danielle Pucci, who has been with the company for 13 years, said. "This woman is passionate, motivated and a great team player."
When she's not in customer-service mode, the Palo Alto resident spends time with her family — her parents and siblings still live in the Bay Area. She ice skates, travels as often as possible with her best friend, and feeds her shopping habit every time a new pair of shorts or fit-and-flare dresses come into the stores.
"Gap is a family to me. " Barbara said with a laugh as she and her team prepped the store for opening and welcomed the first customer to the store that day. "I'm going to stay with them until they kick me out."