There are few times in a person’s career when lightning strikes twice; when the company’s values and vision match your goals and aspirations and everything aligns perfectly. Enter, Michele Lee, Head of Knits Design, who previously made big moves at our sister brand, Banana Republic, and is now on her second tour of duty at Gap Inc. Michele has basically worked for every iconic American brand out there and has a true passion for that aesthetic (it’s her style; you can find her walking the Gap House halls in Vans, classic denim, and a graphic tee). We sat down with Michele to see why she chose to come back to Gap and why she’s excited about what’s next for the brand.
How did you become the Head of Knits Design at Gap?
I started my fashion career by freelancing for brands like Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs. My first corporate job was at Abercrombie and Fitch doing sleep and loungewear. Then I worked for a variety of different brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Aeropostale, Faherty, Kate Spade, Banana Republic, and finally J.Crew before I landed back at Gap Inc. I’ve been back for three months and I’m so happy. I’m full of questions, ideas and inspiration; it’s been the best homecoming.
Knits is such an important category for Gap because we make so much of it, so we’re focused on fabric innovation and driving sustainability to make a positive impact on the world. Also, from a trend perspective, it’s a perfect time to work in this category because it’s high on the trend radar. People are wearing streetwear inspired sweatshirts and more relaxed fits. Knits at one point was just our basic tee, but now we’re refreshing it to be a statement piece. There’s also huge end use cases for knitwear, you could have a tee that you wear to yoga and then style differently for brunch.
Why come back now?
I believe in Gap. So much of fashion is inspired by the 90s, and that timeframe was pivotal for Gap so it felt like the perfect time to rejoin and be a part of that movement. Also, I missed the people and the culture. Everyone is so genuine and understands the importance of work-life balance; it’s nothing like the Devil Wears Prada.
You’ve been back for three months, what were your first impressions?
During my stint at J.Crew, I gained a lot of perspective on how Gap is leading in the fashion industry and ways they could improve. Now that I’m back at Gap, I’m processing how I could use my skills to solve our challenges and how best to motivate my team in a ever-changing industry. I ask myself, “Who do I have on my team that’s up for the challenge? How do I use the size and scale of Gap Inc. and its resources to solve for the next milestone ahead?”
What was your biggest learning from your time at Banana Republic?
The designers at Banana Republic emphasize the importance of having a focused and strategic point of view on fabrics and silhouettes in knits. Without a story for a collection, a brand can come across scattered without a personality – making it hard for the customer to get behind. I also learned how to navigate a global business. There are a lot of great designers out there, but it takes a certain skillset to be able to articulate your vision to influence the product and the business.
Since leaving the company and now returning, what did you learn during your time away?
J. Crew is a highly creative company and I’m so grateful for that. They taught me the importance of creativity – giving designers room to breathe, and sometimes in large companies that can get lost. I want to inspire and challenge my team to seek out inspiration and process what’s happening in the world. I refuse to just do what we’re told to do, instead, we need to do our absolute best and get the customer excited.
What might surprise people about the design process?
It’s interesting; I just said how important it is to be creative but design is also rooted in math – there really is an art and science to producing great product. To be an amazing designer, you need to have a strategic point of view, analyze trends, compartmentalize all the information you’re getting, and then harness it in useful ways to develop product that people will buy. The science of the fabrication and fit can be so tricky. Even color, there’s so much science involved getting that story right. There’s a formula to everything that we do.
We’re loving having Michele back within the hallowed halls of Gap House NY, and we can’t wait to see the creative sparks fly. If you’re a fan of the work we do, why not join the fun? We’re hiring designers right now.