Hill City’s First Year: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead
by Chris Cooney, Gap Inc. Communications
October 15, 2019
One year ago today, Hill City launched into the premium menswear market. Centering its product philosophy between high-performance athletic wear and minimalist street style, Hill City instantly filled an unoccupied space in modern menswear.
As a direct-to-consumer brand with an innovative marketing strategy and a scrappy, less than 20 full-time employee team, Hill City has taken a unique role in the Gap Inc.’s portfolio of global brands. One year in, the team is taking stock of its wins and charting a course to accelerate its growth. To celebrate, we sat down with a few folks from the small but mighty team to talk about Hill City’s first year and what they’re most excited about as they look ahead.
How has Hill City proven to be different than other brands in the Gap Inc. portfolio, or other brands in the marketplace?
Elizabeth Bloom, designer: We are a start-up within one of the world’s largest fashion retailers. We want people to see that there are real people behind this brand, with a real passion for what we are creating. We try to give Hill City a face and showcase the hard-working people, giving customers a glance into our work life. This allows us to have a closer connection which directly influences our product and brand. Leveraging the Gap Inc. infrastructure has allowed us to focus all of our time and attention on creating the best brand possible, from our product design to our marketing and delivery.
What is something that completely surprised you in the first year?
Andrew Marcia, marketing coordinator: I’m most surprised by our Wear Test Program, which is now 700 members. We’re seeing guys recommend products to each other, posting photos wearing Hill City, and asking how they can continue to help the brand grow. It feels like we have a whole army behind us, this tells us we’re doing the right thing. I’ve seen this program go from its first, Messenger-based platform with no connection to the brand, to a huge community of testers on Facebook, all connected to the brand.
What is your favorite product?
Noah Palmer, head of brand: My favorite product to work on has been The Everyday Pant. It was the first style we worked on and it was so personal. It started with Luke and I, we wore cotton workwear pants daily and spent years wishing they were easier to break in, had bit of stretch, and came with hidden performance features like water repellency and a hidden zipper pocket. We essentially wanted a performance pant masquerading as a workwear pant, because while we despised the ‘tech’ and ‘commuter’ pants that were on the market, we couldn’t deny their comfort. So we set to build a highly technical pant that didn’t look highly technical. With the Everyday Pant, we did that. I wear it every day.
How does the small size of the team affect the way you work together?
Haley Gaston, product merchandiser and content manager: We are fast and efficient. Since there is essentially one person per function, we have to trust each other to make decisions without needing to get sign-off from every person in the room. Also, there aren’t any back-to-back meetings. Being able to yell across the room or walk two feet to your cross functional partner’s desk saves a lot of time. And surprisingly, overhearing the team’s conversations keeps everyone informed and able to chime in when needed.
What’s been your favorite part about working for Hill City during its first year?
Luke Linder, Head of Design: Building a brand is an incredible challenge. We are all learning together. There is no book on how this is supposed to be done but being able to create product and help shape the identity of a brand with teammates that you respect is an incredible and humbling experience.
Sarah Curlin, manager of fabric R&D: I love being in the loop on what the other teams are working on. From sneak peaks of the videos that our videographer Ian shoots, to the opening of our first store and the Hill City truck, and to the look book. It inspires me to continue pushing forward.
What excites you most about Hill City’s future?
Noah Palmer, head of brand: Hill City is turning a corner. It’s taken a year to iron out our strategy, start to solidify the brand ethos, and get all of our products to where we want them. Now we are taking the brand, which has almost exclusively been hiding behind an iPhone screen, and bringing it into the physical world with events, wholesale partners, Athleta capsules, and a Hill City truck and pop-up store. Everything we are doing is in the name of taking the Hill City brand to where the customer is.
As Noah said, Hill City’s second year will be focused on bringing the brand to the customer, starting with a new retail shop in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. The 12-month pop-up is now open on 522 Octavia Street. The space is thoughtfully curated based on best sellers and is meant to test the operations of a physical space and engage with the community with local events.
In addition, a Hill City Truck is hitting the streets of San Francisco. The mobile shop-in-a-truck will bring customers another unique opportunity to touch, feel and purchase product in person. You can also shop Hill City at Huckberry.com, Need Supply, Neighborhood Goods and Ships (in Toyko) through wholesale partnerships, and will soon be able to find a capsule collection in seven Athleta stores and A Runner’s Mind.
Follow Hill City’s Instagram to keep up with their product drops and Facebook page for the truck’s next whereabouts!