The Business of Fashion — the independent resource for the global fashion community — surveyed over 2,600 industry professionals, representing more than 190 leading fashion companies from around the world, for our first annual report on The Best Companies To Work For In Fashion.The 16 companies listed below are the industry’s leading employers in 2017, achieving a strong baseline performance across Rewards & Benefits, Leadership & Development and Culture and Working Environment.
The eyewear company that uses ‘any excuse’ to host employee celebrations was praised for the autonomy and support it offers its employees.
Warby Parker is the disruptive eyewear retailer launched online in 2010, taking on eyewear licensing giants like Luxottica and Safilo with a vertically integrated model that offers consumers style-conscious glasses at significantly lower prices. Today, the company has an estimated value of over $1 billion — a fact attributed as much to its culture as to its disruptive business model.
Its employees agree. “There is a happy and authentic vibe at Warby Parker that I notice is different to what I experience when I visit friends or peers. I look forward to seeing my co-workers and we work together to solve problems, and never have a ‘not my job’ mentality,” says one communications specialist.
Warby Parker was also consistently praised by its employees for the autonomy it grants them. “My opinion is taken seriously: I get to make my own decisions, take my own risks and try new things,” says a brand specialist. “There’s so much ability to work freely and explore ideas, but helpful and actionable feedback is always given,” adds a recruiting consultant. Having just crossed the 1,000 employee mark in 2017, Warby Parker is as committed as ever to its belief that employees are more engaged and impactful as a united yet autonomous team.
Philanthropy is at the heart of the company’s operations. For every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need through the company’s “Buy-a-Pair, Give-a-Pair” programme. To date, Warby Parker has distributed over two million pairs of glasses to people in need.
At Loewe, cultural development is key to defining the employee experience.
Spain’s oldest and most prestigious luxury house Loewe has been given a new lease of life under the creative direction of Jonathan Anderson, who became creative director in 2013. The LVMH-owned leather specialist has successfully channelled its creative and commercial momentum into its company culture — creating what employees describe as “a great working environment.”
By listening to its employees and enabling them to work effectively, Loewe has crafted a working culture and environment that instills pride and dedication in its team — a fact compellingly reflected throughout its employee survey results.
However, it is the nuanced approach to employee development that really makes the brand stand out. At Loewe, in addition to career development, employees are also given the opportunity for cultural development. The Loewe Foundation’s interest and investment support in arts and culture means team members can work on numerous cultural and craft-based initiatives, across poetry, dance, architecture, photography, design and craftsmanship. Additionally, team members from different countries are eligible for “Culture Training,” which includes leather working heritage, factories, museum visits and a plethora of additional artistic and cultural influences, creating a deeper understanding of the brand identity.
“My company is an attractive place to work because there is a great working environment, with progression opportunities and the development of very interesting cultural projects,” says an employee of the brand.
The success of the company’s culture seems to stem from employees’ ability to collaborate and communicate with each other across geographies and teams. The company’s excellence in communication was also reflected in its high scores on the effectiveness of managerial feedback. Loewe employees were some of the most willing to go beyond the basic expectations of their roles.
Tommy Hilfiger successfully balances a results-based work environment with a genuine belief in the importance of employee satisfaction.
The Tommy Hilfiger brand has re-established itself at the forefront of the industry thanks to its innovative “See Now, Buy Now” initiatives. To radically reduce its lead-times and get product to market faster, the company has galvanised its 17,000-strong team into a cohesive and collaborative single entity, investing in team-focused working environments (as opposed to those designed with visitors in mind), and emphasising team bonding through events, parties and training courses. It seems to be working. Having now successfully shifted its operating processes, Tommy Hilfiger has created a culture open to both more change and collaboration.
But collaboration and change are not enough. To make the kind of radical changes Tommy Hilfiger is pursuing, the company is focusing on results. The company successfully balances a results-based work environment with a genuine belief in the importance of employee satisfaction. “The balance makes for strong personal accountability and drive — ambition is respected and supported.” Importantly, the brand has understood that a happy work place does not diminish productivity, but instead boosts it. As one employee says, “It’s hard work, but there is a lot of freedom to go your own way — and great parties.”
“The people are extremely helpful, friendly and outgoing. It’s nice to feel comfortable asking anyone for help without the expectation of a negative response,” says a product manager employed by the brand. “Our company is very multi-cultural, it’s the mix of people that make the environment,” said another.
Nordstrom doesn’t just believe in diversity, it views it as good business.
With more than 350 stores dotted throughout North America and over 115 years of history, Nordstrom is one of America’s most established retailers. Comfortingly, given the current political situation in the country, it is also a champion of diversity and inclusivity.
“I have yet to work in (or even witness) a more diverse tech team. We all come from different backgrounds,” says a UX designer employed by the Seattle-based retailer. “The company’s values are clearly articulated, in both word and deed. And the company strongly believes in the diversity and acceptance of its employees,” adds another.
But Nordstrom does not believe in diversity for diversity’s sake. It views it as good business. “At Nordstrom, we value the richness that diversity brings to our company — it makes us better and the communities we serve stronger. We’re deeply committed to cultivating an environment where the contributions of every employee are respected and appreciated,” says the company. “We believe in rewarding outstanding work, promoting from within and building long-term relationships with our employees. Our culture makes all of these things possible.”
The company should also be commended for its wide-ranging and immersive internship scheme, divided across retail, finance, technology, merchandising and MBA programmes. Interns are expected to play material roles in the projects they work on, and are given access to senior members of staff throughout their time at the company.
Levi Strauss & Co. has been a champion of the working man across three centuries, and continues to put its workers first in terms of remuneration.
“As someone who works in the Bay Area, my compensation is actually more than reasonable given my function and the fact that I work in a business role in a non-tech industry,” says an HRIS analyst at Levi Strauss & Co., founded in 1853 and based in San Francisco. “Given that I live in the most expensive city in the USA, I receive a more than reasonable salary, including a 10 percent bonus on my salary for the year when achieving financial targets,” says another merchant at the company.
Remuneration packages at the company are designed to promote productivity by granting employees adequate financial means for the city in which they live — allowing them to focus on their work rather than their bank accounts.
But Levi Strauss & Co.’s generous rewards schemes are not limited to base pay. According to the company, it seeks to build a culture of “ownership, high-performance and pride in which our colleagues can thrive.” Friendly competitions — including annual “best in class” prizes awarded in each of its three operating regions (representing 110 countries in total) and the Koshland Award, “the highest honour employees can receive, recognising the most outstanding performance worldwide decided by senior leaders,” — create company-wide incentives for employees to go the extra mile.
The company also points to the values contained in its “profits through principles” company mantra as a key differentiator. Throughout its history, the denim company was “first in the workplace” on several major societal issues, including HIV/AIDS awareness and training.
The 130-year-old Parisian brand has a thoroughly modern attitude, focused on creating stimulating working environments.
Since 1895, the savoir-faire of Berluti’s leather craftsmanship has created some of the finest men’s shoes available. Today, the company is bringing that same attention to detail to its working culture and environment. In addition to providing employees at Berluti HQ with a concierge, a cobbler and a pressing service, the company also offers discounted weekly yoga and gym classes, and fresh juices. As one visual merchandiser reports, Berluti “puts everything in place so the employees [can] give their most.”
Still modestly sized (there are only 148 employees at the head office), the company takes pride in being both a small and an agile operation. The brand’s current stage of development is “particularly exciting and interesting,” says one employee.
The company encourages regular inter-team communication in its beautifully appointed, “relationship strengthening” open plan headquarters, as well as regular team building exercises. As one employee says, “Berluti brings daily satisfaction and good working conditions to the people working [here].”
With on-site osteopaths and personal trainers, flexible hours and a dedicated health and wellness team, Cotton On Group takes employee care to a different level.
Over the past 25 years, the Cotton On Group has grown to become Australia’s largest value fashion group, employing over 22,000 people. It now distributes seven brands across 19 countries, and was one of the best performing employers across the breadth of BoF’s employee survey. The group’s reward packages and numerous employee perks were especially well-regarded by employees.
“I have just come back from my in-house osteopathy appointment, in an hour I have my weekly personal training session in the company gym. On Friday, I will be leaving early for a long weekend, made possible by the group’s flexi-hours programme,” explains one global merchandising director.
According to the company, “activity and energy” are at the heart of what they do. “We work hard, have fun and are passionate about what we do. Our dedicated health and wellbeing team coordinate and implement a vast range of activities and programmes geared toward energising and revitalising all members of our team globally,” it explains.
In addition to more holistic benefits, the company ensures career progression tools are always available to its employees through the Cotton On Group University. No wonder the company performed so well and employees are so satisfied.
“We are well looked after, Cotton On Group is an amazing place to work,” says a product developer at the company.
Amidst a challenging retail market, Gap Inc. offers some of the industry’s most attractive compensation packages.
Since opening its doors in 1969, during the heyday of liberal San Francisco, Gap Inc. has always tried to do things a little differently. Today, that ethos remains at the heart of the company’s HR practices.
“What makes us great is our people and our culture,” says America’s largest apparel-focused retailer. Its generous benefits packages fit with a desire to retain talent and reward its employees at a time when the company has struggled to find its feet in the new retail reality in America. Doing away with traditional review processes in an effort to remove gender bias and unproductive internal competition, the company launched an evidence-based performance pay scheme in 2014.
Compensation and rewards are now decided with a far greater emphasis on measurable business performance metrics, as opposed to subjective performance evaluations, while monthly informal one-on-one meetings with managers are designed to create opportunities for employees to learn “from both success and failure.”
The approach seems to be working. As one employee says, “Gap is extremely generous with salary and compensation, but also provides lots of feedback and incentives for hard work.”
“It’s the only company I met with that offered me fair compensation for my responsibilities,” adds another fabric researcher and developer. “I am being paid to learn and be mentored for 10 months. As a recent college graduate, our compensation is generous,” says a management trainee.
Galeries Lafayette uses a simple but effective strategy to motivate its workforce — linking individual output to business impact.
With more than €2 billion ($2.13 billion) in annual retail sales at its boulevard Haussmann flagship alone, and more than 50 other stores in cities around France, as well as international outposts in Berlin, Beijing, Jakarta, Dubai, Casablanca — and more to come in Doha, Milan and Istanbul — Galeries Lafayette is one of France’s most successful retail brands, both at home and abroad.
Driving the group’s international growth are its highly engaged employees. Galeries Lafayette uses a simple but effective strategy to motivate its workforce — linking individual output to business impact. “I am highly motivated in my role because I can see the impact I have day-to-day,” says one trade marketing manager. As a result, employees’ career trajectories are plotted in relation to their greatest skills. “My manager sees my potential and develops different tasks — pushing me to new professional directions so that my experiences and expertise increase,” adds a marketing manager.
In addition to tailored roles and recognition, Galeries Lafayette motivates its employees to go “beyond expectations,” through a “variable remuneration system” based on individual and collective performance as well as exceptional bonuses. But it is the company’s managers and their ability to encourage and develop their juniors that makes Galeries Lafayette one of the best companies to work for in fashion. “The company’s leadership pushes us to be our very best. I find great satisfaction in going to work everyday,” says one buyer, adding, “I work extremely hard because of it. I am passionate about the work we do.”
The company regularly taps employee feedback data to see what actually motivates its employees, who collectively care more about values and development than renumeration.
New joiners at Farfetch receive a one page “behaviour directorate” with the core competencies it takes to be a “Farfetcher” outlined in a simple one-line description and mapped to the company’s values. “Farfetch has a fantastic culture — a culture of excellence. It dares me to be innovative and revolutionary,” says a global service director.
As one of the few “unicorns” to emerge in the fashion industry and join the league of private tech companies worth more than $1 billion, Farfetch can be forgiven for adopting some Silicon Valley-style language and perks, including rooftop yoga, running clubs, pilates, kids days, free homemade soup, breakfasts and fresh fruit, and family lunches.
Indeed, the company does not believe that money is the “No. 1 motivation of people,” and instead trusts in a semi-annual employee engagement survey to see what people are most motivated by. “We have seen sharp increases in engagement when we focus on these things,” says the company. Additionally, through a new initiative called “Farfetch for All,” all employees will be offered share options in the company — a $40 million investment.
In 2016, employee requests for a more “connected” leadership team led to a number of new all-company updates (live streamed in local offices), local celebrations of success and global senior leadership summits.
Zalando excels in its flexibility in developing career paths, enabling its employees to progress ‘to fit the gaps’ of its growing business.
Founded in 2008, Zalando, a German e-tailer that operates in 15 European markets, generates over €3.6 billion ($3.8 billion) in annual revenue. Working at such a young and fast growing company offers Zalando’s employees a number of advantages. “They really look at how good you are, not how much experience you have,” says a senior merchandiser at the company. Zalando excels in developing flexible career paths, enabling its employees to progress “to fit the gaps,” as one junior merchandiser describes it, adding, “It’s a fast changing environment — so you have to adapt quickly — but it’s a great team, with opportunities to learn and everyday challenges.”
What’s more, the company’s flexible approach to promotions offers employees better opportunities for personal growth and development. “There is a lot of movement within teams at Zalando. Career progression within or outside of my current team seems very possible,” says a buying assistant. “Because it is a young company, [employees] are able to influence the work they do and the processes they work under. It’s a good company to grow with,” adds a member of the design team.
To meet the growing demands of its business, Zalando managers meet with their team regularly for a one-on-one progress check. The company recently introduced new tools and training for all employees to establish an environment in which everyone is enabled to share feedback instantly and regularly. Every six months a more thorough performance assessment is made, “to determine the next development steps for me to evolve in the team and within the company,” as one buying assistant employed by the company puts it.
At fashion’s brand of the moment, employees can count on Calvin Klein’s help in preparing for their long-term financial security.
Already iconic for its ubiquitous underwear and fragrances, Calvin Klein is now seeking to apply the exacting aesthetic of one of the industry’s great designers. Recently appointed chief creative officer Raf Simons oversees every aspect of its creative output, which runs the gamut from mass-market underwear to a new “by appointment” made-to-measure service. The scale of that ambition is an indication of the long-term strategic thinking an operation of this scale must adopt to continue growing. This long-term approach is also reflected in the way the company regards the financial security and wellbeing of its employees.
A top performer in our survey with regards to pension plans, the company told BoF, “We believe our associates should be well-positioned financially — during their work lives and for life after work. We offer retirement and savings programmes that help them prepare for a secure financial future.” The company also drew praise for its working culture. “I feel CK thinks about the wellbeing of its workforce regarding [work/life] balance, nutrition, salary and more,” adds one e-commerce manager.
The company’s assertion that it is committed to providing a competitive pay programme and benefits package was corroborated in our survey data, although its performance in the salary section of the survey is better described as good rather than exceptional. What is clear is that individuals seeking a long-term career, and the financial benefits and securities that go with it, would be well-served to plan for their future at the brand of the moment.
It is Adidas’ ability to develop existing talent that makes the company stand out.
In recent cycles, the once stalling sportswear giant, with more than 60,000 employees, has gained ground on its rivals by placing creativity at the heart of its global operations, finding new commercial opportunities as a result. However, it is Adidas’ ability to develop existing talent that makes the company stand out to its employees. Despite its scale and operational complexity, the sportswear giant won consistently high praise from its employees with regards to its training and development programmes. Managers were praised for their “clear and open communication, zero micro-management,” and “always offering opportunities for further learning.”
The brand’s global presence also offers ample opportunities for mobility and growth in over 160 countries. The company actively encourages an exchange between local market talent and global talent in its operations, in addition to encouraging its employees to build diverse and varied careers across the numerous departments and roles within its operations. “The opportunities to build a long and varied career in multiple locations are strong positives — as is the culture and the general youthfulness of the workforce, which make it an exciting and fun environment,” says a vice president of the brand.
Adidas was also a top performer in equipping employees with the necessary tools and information to do their jobs and scored highly in additional employee benefits, including health insurance, travel allowances, pensions and health and wellness.
H&M balances a teamwork-focused culture with global opportunities for individual progression.
Having grown from a single store in Sweden into a network with over 4,600 locations, H&M is one of the world’s largest fashion retailers employing over 160,000 people. Adamant that it is not a “fast fashion” retailer, H&M defines itself as “democratic” both in terms of its business model and its internal culture.
“When you work for H&M, you’re working for a democracy. It’s all about working together, as a team or a store, rather than simply what someone’s job title is,” says the company. It is a sentiment that is echoed in the comments of a marketing specialist: “We are all equal. We all have to do each other’s jobs, to an extent. We all try to work towards a common goal. It’s all about teamwork here.”
According to employees, working as a member of a team does not stand in the way of individual career progression. “There are always people willing to get you to the next level. Whether it be the person in the next role you are trying to obtain or your senior manager. Ask questions. Ask for feedback. Work hard. You’ll move up fast!” says a department supervisor. The numbers corroborate the company’s claims. In 2016, in the US alone, H&M promoted nearly 700 people and, in the last five years, between 6,000 to 7,000 employees were promoted.
At Zara, applicants seeking a crucible in which to truly prove their abilities are handsomely rewarded. That is, if they can handle the pace.
Generating a massive €15.4 billion ($16.4 billion) in net revenue in 2016 — and commanding an ever-expanding store network that currently stands at more than 2,200 — Zara is the leviathan of the fashion industry. The company owes its market-leading position to the speed at which it runs its operations.
“Our manufacturing process allows us to provide stores with new designs twice a week,” the company says. Fortunately, Zara is aware that to attract and retain a team that can handle its breakneck speed requires both a competitive remuneration package, and a proactive HR strategy. “The company is so fast-paced, they understand they need fast-paced individuals. This requires they make life as easy as possible for employees with a proper salary and benefits package,” reports one design manager.
To protect the efficiency of its workforce, and fortify its output, the retail brand’s parent company Inditex operates a central control room, located in A Coruña, Spain, manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a team of people tracking real-time data on every Zara store, as well as every Inditex logistics centre and factory, troubleshooting any problems that may arise.
In addition to focusing on removing any obstacles facing its workforce, the company’s cooling profits (profitability peaked four years ago) have not impacted its remuneration packages. “Zara bucks the trend of traditional low paying brands,” says one employee, with another adding, “compensation is very good quality.” At Zara, applicants seeking a crucible to prove their abilities are handsomely rewarded. That is, if they can handle the pace.
Since appointing its new chief executive, Gucci has experienced an impressive turnaround thanks to Marco Bizzarri’s belief in transparency and focus on communication.
In the fourth quarter of 2016, Gucci revenue grew 21 percent, almost twice as fast as analysts expected. Those results were the latest evidence of how successful Gucci’s creative reinvention has been — but the business turnaround under the leadership of Marco Bizzarri has played just as important a role in the company’s comeback.
“With the arrival of our new CEO and the new vision for Gucci, the company culture has dramatically improved, and the overall motivation at work is very high,” says one employee. “To reinvent the Gucci brand, Marco Bizzarri had to reinvent the company itself, and to do so he has focused on one thing above all else: clear, concise and efficient communication.”
“We needed to communicate very openly to make sure people understood the change. In fashion, technological barriers are not high compared with other industries, so it’s people that make the difference. I needed to make sure that everyone working for Gucci embraced the change,” the chief executive said in an interview with BoF in 2016, when he met with almost 4,000 employees, from all over the world, within three months of joining the company. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. “Our CEO is an excellent leader and communicator, with a very transparent and motivating strategy, and important company decisions are being communicated very well,” agrees another.
As to how that strategy impacts working culture, Bizzarri says: “Our guiding principle is ‘no is not an option.’ Often the human reaction when you’re doing something new is ‘it’s not possible.’ To disrupt a brand as big as Gucci, we needed to be open to all proposals, at every stage of every process.”
Special Report on Best Companies to Work for in Fashion
The Business of Fashion surveyed over 2,600 industry professionals, representing more than 190 leading fashion companies around the world for our first annual report on the best companies to work for in fashion.
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