Felix del Toro joined Athleta in January of 2022 as our new Head of Product with 30+ years experience in the fashion industry with brands such as Lululemon, Fabletics, and Calvin Klein. As a global style, design, and business innovator, Felix sees his role with Athleta as part architect, part coach. A combination of articulating the product vision for the brand and identifying, leading, and inspiring his team to drive the brand forward.
In his time with Athleta, the brand launched a fabric innovation with Transcend, added a new category with our Rituals collection, and helped formulate The Athleta Look.
We sat down with Felix to learn more about how he got into this industry, what brought him to Athleta, and what keeps him constantly creating.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be in fashion?
No, I didn’t figure it out until I was about 10 years old! Some of my earliest memories are of me asking my mom to buy GQ, Vanity Fair and Vogue for me. I poured over the images, and took in the editorial content, and knew I wanted to be part of this industry that could transform, and transport people.
I studied Marketing, knowing that I’d go into Merchandising, and wanted exposure to another discipline to inform what I’d do in the future. I spent 20 years with Gap, Inc. between Banana Republic and Gap Brand—associate store manager, regional visual manager, district manager, planner, merchant, product management, wholesale, and global merchandising. I pivoted into Calvin Klein underwear, then onto Lululemon, leading the men’s business and lastly Fabletics, where we launched men’s and shapewear. And now, back to Athleta because of what it stands for—a brand grounded in empowerment for all women and girls, along with the importance of being a B corp.
Q: As you mentioned, Athleta is a brand with a mission of empowering women and girls. How does it feel to be a man leading those efforts on the product side?
I was very close to my mom and sisters growing up, and I saw how they had to navigate the world, and how much easier I had it because of my gender. My mom always encouraged me to be my best, to believe in myself, and that I could determine what is possible for me. I carry that sentiment with me, and work to empower and support others in their professional journey and in how we create products.
I also think it is extremely important that I, as a man, ask a lot of questions and partake in active listening, knowing that I have thoughts and opinions and need to incorporate her point of view. In the end, I will always make the choice that honors her needs and validates what’s most important to her.
Q: In your mind, what makes Athleta unique in such a competitive landscape?
First and foremost, we design for women, with women. And, we create clothes that have a purpose AND are beautiful, well made, and durable. We do all of this with our commitment and focus of being a force for good through our B corp status, not to mention our values of empowerment, diversity, and inclusion.
Q: What’s your vision for the future of product at Athleta?
We have a unique product position in the competitive landscape—our DNA is born of performance, which comes to life in clothes for activity and life. We’re consistently assessing the assortment for category and product extensions that meet our customer’s needs. My vision is to create a wardrobe for her that she can personalize, much like her iPhone to express herself, meet her needs and feel an intuitive connection to the brand.
The goal is to then communicate this vision to her and own the space that is uniquely ours.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity in the fashion industry?
Creating product in a sustainable way—it is my answer for both. At Athleta, impact is one of our main design pillars. We challenge ourselves to do things the right way—even when it's not the easy way. We utilize the power of our global network to innovate and make informed decisions that improve lives for everyone, everywhere.
For instance, 100% of our swim products are made with recycled nylon or polyester, 100% of our down is certified to the Responsible Down Standard, and our Sundown Sweatshirt is made from 98% organic cotton. This year alone, 62% of our products contain at least 30% materials that are lower impact like recycled nylon and polyester, organic cotton and Lenzing branded fibers.
Q: You have mentioned the word innovative in describing your work. What does product innovation mean for you and the brand?
In this context, innovation is solving a problem for our customer in a way that is unlocked through creativity, ingenuity, or technological advances. It’s challenging, exciting, and inspiring to create something new, AND it must be grounded in creating a solution for our customer.
Q: If you could pick just three Athleta items to be deemed your favorite, what would they be?
Ascent Top, Headlands Hybrid Cargo Tight, Excursion Waist bag
Q: And finally, what advice would you give your younger self when you were starting out in this business?
Lean into your mistakes. Take a deep breath, dissect it, learn something, and move forward (and let go of the anxiety). Making mistakes can be a symptom of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and it is a really great way to learn.
Do you want to work with inspiring product experts like Felix? Join Athleta and learn what it's like to empower a community of active women and girls.