Six years after Nancy Green left Gap Inc., where she had spent 16 years with the company working in general management and merchandising, a piece of news about her alma mater caught her eye. The company was acquiring women’s yoga and athletic apparel brand Athleta.
“I saw an opportunity to build an amazing lifestyle brand,” said Green, Athleta’s CEO and president, who rejoined Gap Inc. in 2009 and took her current position in 2013. “That acquisition was very interesting to me. I saw a place in the market where Athleta could offer something different than other retailers, especially other active brands.”
Under Green, Athleta has leaned into being a brand associated with both women’s empowerment and sustainability, by carving out a list of related core values and updating its branding around those. On Tuesday, the company announced it was officially a certified B Corp brand, a stamp of officiation for purpose-driven brands that follow environmentally and ethically conscious practices.
Green joined the Glossy Podcast to talk about how Athleta differentiates itself within the broader Gap corporation, how to outlast the athleisure bubble, and what threats and opportunities retailers face today.
On Athleta’s role as a Gap brand
Green said Athleta uses Gap’s resources to its advantage in order to push its goals around sustainability and employee support. Under Gap, Athleta can do things that smaller brands aren’t capable of doing on their own, while Gap can look to the smaller and more nimble team at Athleta as an experimental arm of the company.
“I look at Athleta as the brand that points the arrow toward what’s possible for Gap Inc.,” said Green, who also serves on the Gap Foundation Board of Trustees. “We’re aggressive about our sustainability goals. [To run] a successful business, a strong purpose and values must be intrinsically linked together, because one allows you to do the other. The larger you get as a company, the more responsibility you have to really be a change agent on what you want to do in the world and use your business as a platform for good.”
On the athleisure bubble
Green’s answer to the saturation of the athletic apparel market, and the looming athleisure bubble: Through its value-driven business, she believes, Athleta is laying the foundation for a long-lasting relationship with its customers.
“Our customer isn’t going to buy something only because of what you stand for; you also have to deliver an amazing product and experience. But purpose, product and experience all go together in building a relationship with the customer,” said Green. “It’s very important to have a strong continuity, because the minute you let that go, the brand becomes very fragile.”
On threats and opportunities
After working in retail for nearly 30 years, Green said she sees an industry that’s moving at a more breakneck speed than ever before. To her, the worst thing a retailer can do is not adapt. For Athleta, that means knowing and understanding the customers’ every move.
“Retailers are trapped in an old view of what retail was in the 20th century. [You have to] keep pace, and you have to stay close to understanding what’s important to customers, and how they spend their time and money, and then orient products and your brand to that,” said Green. “You have to understand how to use that information: You have to take it all in and connect the dots, and continue to move toward where things are headed, not where they’ve been.”