January 22, 2019
Kirk Pestlin has built an amazing career at Gap Inc., rising to become Senior Director of Merchandising for Banana Republic — but, he says, some part of him will always be the teenage Gap sales associate who loves coming to work to learn and grow. He talked with us recently about his journey, what he’s been excited to work on this year, and why he loves Banana Republic.
You describe yourself as a “knit rat.” What’s that about?
You were just a kid when you started working for Gap brand — it seems like you knew right away that this company was the place for you.
Every milestone of my high school and college life had some Gap Inc. component: I started working at a Gap store as a sophomore in high school; I got my prom shirt from Banana Republic; when I was crazy during finals at UW-Madison, I’d clear my head by working a shift at the Gap store on State Street. After college I was accepted to the Rotational Management Program (RMP), which meant moving out to California where I didn’t know anybody, so I imprinted on Gap all over again like a baby duckling. It feels like everything I’ve learned in my life has had Gap Inc. as part of it.
I tell my team that there are two obvious paths you can take within Gap Inc.: You can be a jack of all trades, or you can build really deep knowledge in one area. I did a little of both, but knits became my specialty. After RMP, I was an assistant merchant at Banana Republic in men’s knits and then in women’s. Then I went to Gap brand as a merchant in women’s knits. I wanted to learn a different business model, so I spent a couple of years as director of merchandising at Ralph Lauren for knits, sweaters and dresses before coming back to Banana Republic in 2015. (I said in my exit interview that I’d be back!)
It seems like you knew early on that merchandising was the path for you.
I did, and part of it was that I loved studying economics in college and was always curious about why
customers chose to buy what they did. When orange was trending, what was going on in the world that was inspiring people to dress more colorfully? Why did people choose one kind of fleece over another? Why has athleisure dressing become so popular? That curiosity still drives me.
What was one of your favorite recent projects?
This year I was thrilled to be able to create and lead Banana Republic’s first-ever Pride assortment, which included a donation from every sale to Free & Equal, a U.N. Human Rights Office campaign for LGBTI equality. It’s not just me — everybody here has license to stretch into that kind of project. It’s one of a thousand things that make Banana Republic such a great place to work.
OK, we’ll bite: What are a few of the other 999 things?
Leaders are really dialed in to the future of their teams: You can be really candid about your aspirations, and your manager will help you realize your vision of what you want for yourself. (When I wanted to work in New York City, my manager helped make it happen.) You’re recognized for great work. People are weirdly smart here, but at the same time everyone is approachable and has a big heart. How many is that?
If you want to learn 995 more reasons that Banana Republic is an amazing place to work, click here to check out open jobs. And follow Gap Inc. on LinkedIn for news and more opportunities all over the company.