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Gap's Rebekka Bay Sets Some Ground Rules for Design

Gap's new creative director's first mandate to her design team? "Everyone who doesn’t have an opinion can leave the room now."
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With her first collection for Gap having hit stores last month, Rebekka Bay's new job as the classic brand's creative director is officially underway. We've known for a while that Bay's strategy for reviving Gap -- which has blown through a number of attempts to resuscitate itself in recent years -- was to go back to the brand's roots in denim and casual t-shirts. In a new interview (and cover story) shared with us by Bloomberg Businessweek, the Danish designer says that she's laid out some very particular ground rules when it comes to leading creative.

Much of how Bay designs is governed by gut instinct rather than market research, but she's anything but dictatorial. “I was in a sketch review with 20 people, and I said, ‘Everyone who doesn’t have an opinion can leave the room now.’ I think everyone was shocked,” she tells Businessweek. If none of the members of her design team would realistically wear a piece of clothing, it's cut from the lineup.

As her talk of going back to Gap's roots suggests, the collection itself needs to be based on "a very strong foundation." Setting boundaries and learning to work within them is key, Bay says. "First, you design the most iconic piece. Then you can maybe create a seasonal version of that. If anyone is going to go beyond that, I have to agree to it.”

While Bay's skill lies in her ability to think broadly about trends and channel that into a collection -- remember, she's one of the minds behind beloved H&M-owned brand Cos -- she may think ahead of the curve to a fault. According to Businessweek, there was an instance in which Bay was ready to move on from skinny jeans, while customers were not. For that, Bay has a good partner in Michelle DeMartini, who runs merchandising for the company and knows when to keep products in stores a little longer to maximize sales.

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Stories of Gap have in recent years been filled with doom and gloom, but as Businessweek points out, Bay actually arrived to the company at a moment of turnaround -- not despair. The company had moved its design, production and marketing teams to a new, centralized location in New York and restructured its executive team, the sum of which was an improved company attitude. Colored jeans, Gap's latest push before Bay's arrival, had done well with customers.

Bay's use of color, however, has taken some adjustment during her transition from Europe to the U.S. As she tells Businessweek, her original palette was much moodier than American customers might be used to. But, hey -- everything takes some time.