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Coach: Creative to Its Core

BoF meets Diane Mahady, the head of global merchandising at Coach, to learn how the company’s collaborative attitude and meritocratic approach powers the dynamism of its teams.
Coach Inc. offices | Source: Courtesy
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NEW YORK, United States — Capturing the unique opportunity for a creative-based career at a critically acclaimed and aesthetically relevant fashion and accessories group in New York, in a new series BoF will investigate Tapestry’s culture of empowered aesthetic excellence through the lens of its creative leaders, across disciplines.

Coach, the commercial powerhouse of the Tapestry brands which is responsible for over 70 percent of company sales, is a leader in its market and offers a uniquely creative career in New York under the direction of British-born designer Stuart Vevers. Placing creative expression at the core of both its strategies and internal initiatives, the business seeks to empower all of its employees to contribute to its success, organising itself along strict meritocratic lines.

To discover how Coach nurtures creativity in everything it does, and how Tapestry empowers her to develop her teams to the best of their creative ability, BoF sits down with Diane Mahady, the head of global merchandising at the New York brand.

What excites you most about working at Coach?

Diane Mahady, head of global merchandising at Coach | Source: Courtesy

I never cease to be amazed by the talent that we have at Coach. We have so many incredibly talented people and they’re real individuals — and that’s something I enjoy. At Coach, we look to curate teams where each person is empowered to bring something special and something different to the table. If I think about the make-up of our team, they truly come from a variety of backgrounds, geographies and companies. Each individual brings perspective and experiences that help raise the quality of what we do.

How does Tapestry enable you to nurture original creative expression?

One thing I find unique in our culture is that we’re very open minded, welcoming and collaborative. We’re a nice place to work and we’re very diverse, which naturally brings more creativity and innovation to our brand. It’s also not super formal, yet everyone is here to do their very best and to achieve and take personal pride in what they do — we’re incredibly dynamic. I love working in our high performing culture where we celebrate success.

We work in a very collaborative fashion. For example, when it comes to product, we start at the beginning of a season by laying out the strategy. Design, merchandising, product development — all levels are included in that process and some of the best ideas and most interesting information come from the junior members of the team. Everyone is a part of that and everyone brings ideas to the table.

How have you seen your role, and how you execute it, evolve?

When I first started, we were looking at how we were going to write the next chapter for Coach. We did some really exciting work with Stuart Vevers on the brand codes and reinterpreting those codes to maintain their relevance to the changing consumer. In 5 years, it’s amazing how much the market has changed.

We have quite a lot of freedom. I’m lucky to have a terrific design partner in Stuart and in our meetings together, we don’t have specific guidelines, we don’t have rules. One thing that is a constant here at Coach is that we always want to do better, we always want things to improve. So, if someone has a better idea, we’ll change the way we do things.

At Coach, we always want to do better — we always want things to improve.

In the time that I’ve been here, we’ve constantly evolved, whether it’s process or product. It’s exciting to work in an environment that is so dynamic. For example, today, we work more globally than ever. We work with our teams in North America, Asia and Europe daily. These teams are on the front lines, interacting with the consumers, and they provide terrific insights, so we’re closely engaged with them.

It’s also been exciting, as a leather goods-based house, to see the tremendous growth in our men’s business and in our lifestyle categories and the customer reaction to what we’re creating.

What are the unique challenges you face?

We are a large brand with global reach. When I started, it was all about creating a consistent identity for the brand globally. But now, 5 years later, one of the challenges that we have is being regionally nuanced and relevant — it is more important than ever. We have to remain focused on evolving the way we work, to ensure we are in close enough partnerships with all our different markets to enable us to create products that really speak to the different local consumers.

How do you develop your team?

We’re a learning culture, and I believe that a lot of development comes from day-to-day interactions and getting to be close to the decisions we make. That comes to life in the way that we work.

We have formal milestones where we come together, but in between, we have working sessions. In those meetings, we’re not hierarchical. The people that are closest to the product or the project are empowered to have a say and influence our decisions. Having your voice heard, and seeing your ideas come to life, motivates a lot of the team here and it’s a great way to learn and grow.

The people closest to the product or project are empowered to have a say and influence our decisions.

A fun example is that we have an internal “Shark Tank” and individuals come forward with design ideas, commercial ideas, all different sorts of things. All of the ideas are terrific, but we’ve adopted one in particular from a designer on the men’s leather team, an out-of-the-box super-fun concept, and we’re launching it as a big idea within our stores.

What talent needs do you currently have?

We’re constantly looking for product-centric individuals who have a strong intuition and appreciation for what customers love. For example, we’ve shifted the way that we think about our windows and the visual expression in stores, so we’re currently growing our creative teams in this space. We’re focused on innovating in different ways to speak to the consumer, be it pop up shops or how we do LED screens in impactful ways; both outside of the four walls of our stores, and within the four walls.

We’re also looking at how we work cross functionally, and we are increasing the size of our Collaborations team as we do more and more partnerships with external artists or other brands. It’s an exciting time to be part of the team.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Tapestry as part of a BoF Careers partnership. To explore careers at Coach, please click here.

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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
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