The Groundbreakers: The executives behind key changes at influential companies
EVP, GMM of women’s apparel, men’s apparel and designer
Named the retailer’s general merchandising manager in August, Sam Lobban has been instrumental in fueling excitement around Nordstrom’s product assortment since joining the company to support menswear merchandising in 2018. He subsequently led the retailer’s designer department and spearheaded its Concepts@Nordstrom offering, centered on a rotating shop-in-shop spotlighting fashion’s “next and best” fashion brands. In August, Concepts hosted multiple brands, with the focus being the “flagship projects” of the late Virgil Abloh.
Nordstrom has made innovative moves to evolve its merchandising team since 2020, including enlisting fashion publishing veterans Jian DeLeon and Rickie De Sole to join as men’s and women’s fashion directors, respectively. Just ahead of Lobban’s promotion, Nordstrom’s first-quarter earnings showed its men’s and women’s apparel, shoes and designer categories had the highest annual sales growth across the company.
You’ve been described by Nordstrom leadership as taking a “customer-first” approach to your work. How so?
“Our customers are at the center of everything we do. We [want to strike a] balance between [filling] customer needs and [offering] the most relevant products that provide a sense of discovery and inspiration. We often talk about [our focus on] relevancy and inspiration, and to successfully deliver on this promise, we must have the right product mix at the right place and at the right time. Our main goal is to offer customers something cool, interesting, relevant and a little unexpected.”
How has the role of a merchant evolved?
“Merchants have the unique role of analyzing data while staying agile to seasonal trends and recognizing the needs of our customers. While data plays a critical role in determining what our customers are looking for, we also want to focus on the communities we serve. [That includes dedicating] space to new, diverse brand partnerships to bring those perspectives and stories closer to our customers. We’re always thinking about how we can provide a sense of newness and discovery, while also delivering great customer experiences.”
How must department stores evolve, as you see it?
“Moving with speed and agility to meet customer needs while embracing the unique combination of the physical and digital experience has never been more relevant and imperative, as we think about the evolution of retail. Harnessing the power of a digital-first approach enables us to offer the broadest assortment for our customers, optimize personalization and discovery, and evolve the way we think about partnership models.”
What’s your proudest accomplishment in the last year?
“I was particularly proud of our New Concepts 018: Virgil Abloh Securities project. We started working on it with Virgil and his team back in March 2021, and we were grateful his estate trusted us to continue the project and celebrate Virgil and his legacy with our shop, offering a range of men’s and women’s [styles]. We [were able to] extend the reach and impact outside of Nordstrom through a partnership with the Brooklyn Museum and the “Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” exhibition, as well as the Fashion Scholarship Fund, aiming to foster equity and inclusion in the fashion industry.”
How has your job changed in your new position of general merchandising manager?
“I now support product strategy and vision across women’s apparel, men’s apparel and all designer categories. My role is centered around giving the right level of context to our expert merchants that ultimately helps empower and inform their decision-making. So, while I now support additional apparel categories, the mission of providing relevant products and serving customers is still the same.”
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