While it’s true we’re in the business of style, we’re equally as interested in the cool things our favorite women in cool clothes are up to. So when it comes to our workwear wardrobes, what better way to get inspired than by taking a look at the lives of some of fashion’s most successful women? That’s the idea behind our #hipowered series, in which we’ll be profiling chic professionals from every corner of our industry, from our own Who What Wear team to top Old Navy executives to leaders paving the way in creative startups.
The opportunity to pick the brains of executives at one of the world’s biggest fashion brands doesn’t come along every day, so you can imagine that when the occasion arose to do just that, I couldn’t book a flight fast enough. One quick trip up to San Francisco later, I found myself in the lobby of Old Navy’s headquarters. The brightly colored office was buzzing with energy (maybe because of the exciting work going on upstairs; maybe because it was lunchtime). Either way, I was eager to meet with Sonia Syngal and Sarah Holme, the company’s CEO and senior VP of design, respectively.
My nerves were immediately quelled once they walked into the room: Both women were warm and eager to share their wealth of knowledge (which, for the record, they have quite an abundance of). Syngal graduated from Stanford with a master’s in engineering, worked in the automotive industry for over six years, and held various positions at Gap Inc. before becoming CEO of Old Navy, the largest of the corporations six brands. Holme, on the other hand, designed for several popular brands in the U.S. and the UK before starting her current role. Below, I chat with Syngal and Holme about their careers, fashion, and Old Navy’s new Power Jean, the straight-leg silhouette inspired by powerful women.
Old Navy, one of the six brands under Gap Inc., is a household name in the U.S., and for good reason. Syngal explains that the key is creating designs and price points that allow fashion to be accessible to the masses. However, affordable style is not the company’s only win in the industry. Gap Inc. was recently named one of the 104 businesses on Bloomberg’s inaugural Gender-Equality Index, and it was the only U.S. based retailer to make the list.
Syngal is particularly proud of this achievement, and tells me a lot of emphasis is placed on equal pay within the organization, especially during a time when women still only make 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. In fact, the company’s founders, Don and Doris Fisher, both invested an equal amount of their own money to start Gap Inc., Syngal tells me.
Syngal believes that you can’t be what you can’t see, which is why it’s so important for young women to see other women succeeding in top positions. “They’re mothers and they’re wives and they’re badasses,” she says of her female colleagues.
While it’s true both women come from creative backgrounds (Syngal was a self-taught clothing designer for years), their style inspirations are quite drastically different. Holme credits Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort’s retro yet contemporary fashion sense for inspiring both her personal style and her designs.
When I asked Syngal to cite her own fashion muse, she barely skipped a beat before naming her 19-year-old daughter. “She’s my role model because she’s so confident in herself,” Syngal tells me. “Whenever I have a really hard problem, I go to her for advice.” As a 20-something not too far along in my own career, I’m relieved and inspired to learn that the CEO of a 56,000-person company looks to a teenager when times get tough.
I’m equally relieved when I learn that Syngal and Holme are advocates of wearing denim at the office. The women emphasize the importance of being comfortable in your outfit no matter the environment, and when I think comfort, I visualize an incredible pair of jeans. Holme’s rule of thumb is simple: “If you’re comfortable and feel stylish, that’s the perfect combination of what to wear to work.” Words I’ll be living by from here on out.
As a fashion editor, I naturally notice the appealing style of the jeans that the Old Navy leaders are rocking: the cropped, lived-in wash, frayed cut, and vintage-style straight-leg fit, to name a few elements. With every style ingredient ticked off my denim checklist I don't even stop to question the origin of the style name, Power Jean. These pants are clearly meant to make women feel powerful.
Syngal and Holme are quick to point out that they’re also extremely comfortable, which is a win-win when getting dressed in the morning. My personal favorite part about the Power Jean is their versatility—I’m equally in love with the way Holme styled hers with suede heels as I am with the way Syngal paired hers with slip-on sneakers.