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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

For This VP at Athleta, Helping Women Feel Confident Is All in a Day’s Work

Lauren Kazemi, the Vice President of Merchandising at Athleta
Lauren Kazemi, the Vice President of Merchandising at Athleta.
| Courtesy of Gap Inc.

To hear Lauren Kazemi tell it, she was destined to work in fashion. “My mom was a buyer at a high-end women’s brand in San Francisco, and from as early as I can remember, I was exposed to fashion, culture, brands, and buying,” she says.

As a college student, Kazemi continued to pursue her passion, shadowing her mother on buying trips and interning at fashion brands, including Gucci. Upon graduating, she set her sights on working at Gap Inc., which had a rotational management program (RMP) that interested her.

“I was drawn to Gap Inc. because of its values. It was one of the first companies that believed in gender equity and inclusion before ‘inclusion’ was a buzzword,” Kazemi says. “I also really wanted to go through a corporate training program, one that allowed me to learn all functions, brands, and channels. RMP was that.”

More than 15 years after finishing the program, Kazemi is still at Gap Inc. She went on to hold leadership roles at Old Navy, Banana Republic, and now Athleta, where she is the Vice President of Merchandising.

Here, she shares why the role at Athleta is a dream come true, how the brand empowers women and girls, and what it takes to launch a new product.

Tell us about transitioning into your current role at Athleta. How did you know the brand would be a good fit?

I grew up with a very health-focused family. My dad was doing hot yoga and juice cleansing 30 years ago! We played sports and worked out together from when I was very young. I loved it and it’s a huge part of life. When Gap Inc. acquired Athleta, it became a dream of mine to work here and experience doing what I love professionally with products I love personally. The brand means so much because it is improving women’s lives through movement, both physically and mentally. I’m in a really special role and while every job I’ve had is important, this holds a different set of values for me.

What most excites you about the work you lead as VP of Merchandising?

I’m excited about the evolution of our product. I love seeing how we are reinventing our customers’ favorite items, like our Salutation Stash Tight and Coaster Luxe Recover Sweatshirt, while also creating new styles to build outfitting options for every facet of her active lifestyle. I love spending time with my team, geeking out on how to make the best product for our customer.

Is there a current project or initiative your team is working on that you’re most excited about?

Our upcoming holiday collection is a good example of some test-and-learn wins from our team. We have several new fabrications that are perfect for pre- and post-workout outfitting that we’re very proud of. It came to life through a true mixture of art and science, and I can’t wait for it to hit stores so our customers can experience it firsthand.

How has your time at Athleta impacted you both professionally and personally?

Personally, I am even more aware and invested in the role of wellness and fitness, both physically and mentally. It has opened up so many more honest conversations about the two. In addition, I am a mom of two young kids, including a one-year-old daughter. I feel so proud to work at this brand and I imagine her growing up, wearing Athleta Girl and feeling so proud of her mom!

Professionally, I’ve been so empowered and inspired to be a part of this brand transformation. Athleta’s leadership team welcomes all thoughts and feedback from across our business to make the best experience possible for our customer, and if that means sharing our ideas regarding store experience, naming, or anything else, we are empowered to help.

There is also unwavering support for development and career growth, both at Athleta and Gap Inc. I have experienced that and it’s why I’ve stayed for so long.

What impact does Athleta have on the world around us?

Athleta’s impact is substantial. As a B Corp, we are dedicated to supporting people and planet. Today, more than 60% of our products contain game-changing components like recycled nylon/polyester, organic cotton, fibers from responsibly managed forests, or materials with bio-based inputs. We recognize that we still have more opportunity in this space, but seeing the tangible results of our core values is impressive.

Our values also come to life as the Power of She. For example, we select brand partners for The Power of She Collective not just for their athletic abilities, but for their personal values. This game-changing approach to partnerships allows us to support these incredible women as more than just an athlete, but as a whole person.

There are also the smaller things I see every day. For example, the empowering messages we have written on our fitting room mirrors like “You Look Strong!” that help women and girls flip the script on how clothing should make them feel. We also have similar affirmations hidden within our Athleta Girl products to help lift girls’ confidence. It’s so inspiring to have our mission intentionally designed into our product and store experience.

What is the most impactful part of the product development process?

Our extensive wear-test process. We personally test all new product launches and big ideas to ensure they are perfect. We test on a range of body types, sizes, and activity ranges. We collect feedback and use it to make the next version. And we don’t stop until it’s perfect. In fact, we won’t launch if it isn’t perfect. But it’s worth it because we can confidently say that it’s tried, tested, and true.

What types of people thrive at Athleta?

At Athleta, we’re looking for people who share the same values as the brand, who are experts in their field, and who are willing to think big and take smart risks. It’s also important to have a future-facing mindset. Lastly, the emphasis on team is huge here. We value accountability, creativity, and collaboration.

What is a misconception about working in fashion/retail and how would you respond to it?

That it’s all driven by trends and gut or personal opinions. It’s quite the opposite, and is a very data-driven process. Data can exist in many forms—including sales, customer metrics, Google searches, and online reviews—and we use loads of it to make our decisions. Decisions that combine data and our gut generally lead to our best outcomes.

What is your all-time favorite Athleta item?

The Salutation Stash Tight. They fit perfectly, and I love the waistband compression. And with two little kids, I can’t live without pockets!