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Old Navy Taps Sarah Holme for Women’s Design

The retailer's first store in China opened Saturday on Shanghai’s Nanjing West Road.

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Old Navy has brought on Sarah Holme as vice president of women’s design, a key role of heightened significance in light of the brand’s accelerating overseas expansion and development of “a global collection.”

This story first appeared in the March 3, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Essentially, it’s one broad line that each of the countries selects from,” said Jill Stanton, the chain’s executive vice president of global product design and development, describing the global collection.

Old Navy’s first store in China opened Saturday on Shanghai’s Nanjing West Road. Simultaneous with the opening, Old Navy, which is a 1,000-unit division of Gap Inc., launched a dedicated e-commerce site for China. The plan is to open a total of five stores in China in fiscal 2014. Inclement weather didn’t stop a crowd of umbrella-wielding shoppers from descending on the Shanghai flagship opening.

“This is it! China is where the apparel growth is and bringing Old Navy here is a central part of our global strategy,” Robert Frank, Old Navy’s executive vice president of international, said. “This is the hopping off point to make it work for the rest of Asia.”

Located on Nanjing West Road, the premier shopping street in Shanghai’s downtown Jing’An District, the store’s opening was celebrated in exuberant fashion with performances from the University of Southern California’s drumline.

Old Navy is planning to open a total of five stores in China this year, concentrating on Shanghai for the time being, before testing the waters in other Chinese cities.

In about a month, Old Navy plans to launch a franchise business in the Philippines. Old Navy’s Asian expansion commenced with a pilot store in Japan in 2012. Last year marked Old Navy’s Asian expansion in earnest, with about two dozen stores opening in Japan. The brand sees 43 units operating in Japan by the end of 2014.

Outside the U.S., Old Navy operates in Canada and has an e-commerce presence in nearly 80 countries. Last week, Gap Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Glenn Murphy singled out Old Navy International as potentially delivering among the highest return on investment for the corporation, among the retailer’s growth strategies. He also singled out the potential of the emerging Athleta division, creating a “seamless inventory” and omnichannel initiatives.

Holme will head up all of Old Navy’s women’s design, which is considered the major driver of the Old Navy business, representing an estimated 50 percent of the volume. Most of Old Navy’s shoppers are women, who also buy the value chain’s men’s and kids’ merchandise.

Holme previously was the creative director of U.K.-based Jack Wills, where she was instrumental in growing the brand in that country and bringing it to Asia and the U.S. Earlier, she worked at Laura Ashley and Abercrombie & Fitch.

At Old Navy, she reports to Stanton, who said that while Holme’s arrival does not signal any major shift in the design direction, her skill set will be critical to Old Navy’s expansion. “She brings a broader skill set. Instead of just product design, she understands brand building,” Stanton told WWD. Stanton also cited Holme’s expertise in textiles, colors, patterns and prints. Holme takes the job previously held by Lenard Matias, who left the company.

On the design front going forward, Stanton said Old Navy is building up its assortment of pixie pants, which have stretch and are a bit more dressed up than jeans while still casual. She also cited cropped pants as becoming more important to the assortment, as well as maxidresses, linen, slub T-shirts and color.

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