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At Gap, How Community Culture Powers Creative Output

BoF sits down with Gap’s VP global creative director Len Peltier to hear how the apparel company uses its creative campaigns to represent and engage its community.
Gap Generation Good Campaign. Gap
Gap Generation Good Campaign. Gap
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With a history spanning over five decades on the premise of an inclusive offering — first conceived through a pair of jeans with a great fit for all — Gap continues to develop its mission in a bid to respond to deeper, evolving customer sentiment.

Today, the company operates with a series of targets and values aimed at bridging the gaps between individuals, generations and cultures. Although brand specific, the work is rooted in parent company Gap Inc. From the commitment to doubling the representation of Black and Latinx employees at all levels by 2025, to joining Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge initiative as an advocacy partner, aligning with the Pledge’s mission of creating a more equitable industry.

The brand’s collaborations are designed to emphasise and exercise these values. Amplification of civic engagement with non-profit partners such as Rock the Vote have taken the form of capsule collections, donations and a dedicated voter registration page, while an Instagram Live series with inclusion strategist Amber Cabral discussed the shared responsibility to advocate for equality.

Len Gap

To hear more about how creative output is a critical tool in Gap’s strategy to represent and engage its community, BoF sits down with Gap’s VP global creative director Len Peltier to understand the ways in which the apparel company’s creative culture continues to evolve, and how diverse talent and skill sets are integral to its execution.

How would you define Gap’s company culture?

As a large organisation, there’s a corporate culture that, while still business-focused, is open and inclusive. The brand is interested in doing more — that is what keeps its culture evolving. Our Equality and Belonging Network Groups were created by employees to ensure that we build a workforce that reflects our customer base and the communities where we do business. For example, we have a strong, inclusive LGBTQIA+ community — I’m gay myself and an executive. The network groups help develop a company culture that embraces differences and individuality.

How does Gap’s company culture impact its creative strategy?

The strong people culture within the company is helping the creative aspect of the business become more purpose-driven. Its creative identity is rooted in modern Americana which, to me, really means being “of the moment.” That identity is the way in to talking about who is wearing the product.

Why Gap? While the product has to be great, it has to come from something more meaningful.

Creatively, we are asking, “Why does anyone want to belong to this brand?” [Brands] all make similar things — we might make them better, or we might have a certain niche — so why Gap? While the product has to be great, it has to come from something more meaningful.

Wanting to connect with consumers has become more important than ever, but it’s interesting because we are a company “for everybody”. You do have to really think about the creative being relatable to all. We want to be provocative in a way that makes people think. That doesn’t have to be political or partisan. For instance, our recently launched spring campaign, Generation Good, profiles a diverse range of next generation leaders all acting on the shared values of inclusion and community.

How does that impact how you approach campaigns?

When it comes to campaigns, we recognise that it’s not important for those featured to be famous. For our ambassadors, it’s not so much about their day job anymore. They need to reflect what our community cares about — from cultural and social issues to sustainability.

On the new campaign, we wanted to show who our brand is for. Otherwise, we are just creating a catalogue. We looked into different professional realms to find fine artists, social leaders, athletes — you can showcase different kinds of creativity. It’s not just entertainment anymore. Education, social causes, environmental issues — there are creative ways of bringing that to light.

We watched this energy unfold as we brought them together and interviewed them about this moment in time and to understand their optimism regarding the future. We wanted a true reflection of our community. A six-year-old skateboarder, musician Dizzy Fae, transgender community leaders and 72-year old actor and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov all feature.

How has the work you oversee evolved in recent years?

Deeper storytelling, relating to as many people as possible, is the best way to tell the brand story. It’s really about being externally focused. We are on the lookout for stories and recruiting different people to tell those stories. We look for fine artists, portrait photographers, spoken word artists — who we partnered with for International Women’s Day — to tell our story. We also did a film of dancer Jon Boogz life story coming up as a street dancer with zero money within the brand.

We recognise that creativity doesn’t always happen in the building when you are talking about process and deadlines. So, we keep our ear to the ground and keep our access to different communities open.

Creatively, we also look internally. The Gap Collective is an ongoing product collaboration, which features artists from around the globe and also from within our own creative community. The collection celebrates the spirit of activism and this season’s capsule, honouring Black History Month, was designed by the company’s own artists and allies in Gap Inc.’s African American Networking Group. It’s an amazing opportunity to promote existing employees and talent.

How are creative employees developed at the company?

When it comes to developing internal talent, I always ask if it is possible to see personal work. I know how to apply that personal edge to the brand. I consider what energy they bring and how that fits in with the soul of the business.

Gap has partnered with Business Roundtable to reform internal hiring and implement a programme that identifies new, upward career paths that employees can explore by acquiring new or different skills. It’s a quality in a company that I don’t always see.

We recognise that creativity doesn’t always happen in the building when you are talking about process and deadlines.

We can also move people around into new opportunities. I had an employee who began doing hand-tags and packaging. I looked at her process and could see she was a conceptual thinker. Within a year, she was developed into doing brand concept. It may not be the norm for a corporation of this size, but looking internally for people who have incredible talent but are misplaced in a job and may even sit within other parts of the business is crucial to Gap.

How is your hiring strategy evolving?

I love bringing in talent from other fields to get fresh expertise — people who operate outside of the retail market who bring new skillsets, whether it’s digital or visuals or concepts. We just hired a head of styling who was formerly a fashion writer. We are looking to bring people from different disciplines and cultures.

But, particularly after this past year, we realise that we have more to do. How do you get people in who you know are talented, but haven’t had the same opportunities, education, experience? If we are really going to promote diversity through our brand, it has to be internal too. We are redesigning our existing mentoring programme and launching a new suite of mentoring tools and resources, including a “Real Talk” forum focused on cross-cultural mentoring, lunch and learns and a speaker series during National Mentoring Month.

What excites you for the future?

Redefining the way that we use marketing is exciting to me. We have a history of purpose-driven messaging and we are building confidence in how we connect with that history. Now, we’re taking it further. When Covid-19 restrictions lift, we want Gap to be able to express itself in some incredible external engagement programmes to build deeper connections with the consumer.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Gap as part of a BoF Careers partnership.

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