Former CEO of Banana Republic, Jack Calhoun

Today’s article is about the former CEO of Banana Republic, Jack Calhoun. Prior to his work he attended Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Purdue University, and Harvard University. After attending higher education, Calhoun went on to lead an extensive life in the fashion industry. He stated that he, “worked in retail fashion for seventeen years starting in beauty as I ran CoverGirl cosmetics.” In addition to working in beauty, he has a vast amount of experience in the fashion world ranging from marketing manager at Levi Strauss & Co, to account director of Foote, Cone & Belding, to the Vice President of Citron Haligman Bedecarre. He later went on to become a general manager at Young & Rubicam in San Francisco. Also in San Francisco, he worked on brand management at Charles Schwab. In 2003 Calhoun launched his career with Banana Republic as their Marketing and Merchandising expert. Jack’s passion for design did not simply stop at clothing as he joined the board of directors for Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams in 2005, which is an organization that works with furniture design and manufacturing companies. He was later in the board of directors for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

By the beginning of 2007, Calhoun was the global president of Banana Republic, where he continued to be CEO for a respectable twelve years. This job entailed running a $3 billion global business, staying true to the brand, and promoting a healthy working environment for all 22,000 employees that work at the 700 stores around the worldwide. Chris and I were both very curious about the amount of sway a big company like Banana Republic has on the fashion industry as a whole and Jack mentioned to us that “Banana Republic redefined what business casual means, before Banana Republic, people were wearing suits to work. So I think that in the early 2000’s it had a lot of influence.” During his time there he explained to us that he has seen many brands rise and fall as the world of fashion evolves. He claimed that quality brands “don’t try to market to everybody.” And that if a brand is struggling that they should return to their roots and continue to create high-quality clothing.

As more of a side project, Jack was an executive board member of the San Francisco Opera in which he helped fundraise and increased engagement, especially for younger participants. He is now a vice-chair board of directors for the Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco and continues to be an essential and informative member of the fashion industry through his work as a senior advisor for McKinsey & Company, consulting with high-end luxury brands. He says that this job has a “more flexible schedule” than his work at Banana Republic and he enjoys his work. He travels a lot for work so were we grateful for the opportunity to interview him.

Once we had a good understanding of Jack background we dove into one of today’s growing trends: sustainability. While this is probably not the first beauty trend that comes to mind, it is one that is becoming increasingly popular due to Millennials and Generation Z. “People were just marketing sustainability, but not really doing it, so people your age now or in college actually really care, so they’re not buying brands if they think they’re fake or just a marketing gimmick.” As today’s youth are more conscious of how clothing is processed, they have a deeper desire to have clothes that are not only good for the planet but also made through ethical practices. This pushes companies to be more sustainable because they know it will be more profitable if they manufacture clothing how their customers want them to. I was curious to understand if there was a way to verify if companies were genuinely being sustainable and Calhoun answered by saying, “if you start looking at their annual reports on what they’re talking about on sustainable you can start to really see if they’re actually doing something because it’s a lot about how they source or where they source and even if they report certain things. So you can really see on a companies report are they talking and have details about what they’re doing to promote good ethical practices. So that’s a huge trend.”

This led us into a discussion about different trends and how social media effects these trends. Jack explained to us that, “new trends are starting to come out of Asia which is unique”. This is because in this day and age everything, especially in the fashion industry, is being mobilized. This makes it easy to watch high fashion runway shows and then have cheaper brands, such as Forever 21, rip them off. Social media has also changed the way we advertise. As we mentioned in some of our other posts, today’s “influencers” are becoming the new way of marketing a brand or style. It is much more effective to have a celebrity wear clothes and post about it than to spend money and time on a full shoot. We asked Jack about how this new way of marketing would change the attitude of beauty norms and what his personal opinion on the matter was due to his intense amount of experience. “I kind of feel like at the moment there’s a little bit more fun happening with beauty. It’s more transformative and becoming less gender specific. So I think it’s just creating more fun out of it vs everyone just trying to look like a supermodel which is not very realistic.”

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