Design is in the details. And it takes obsession with detail to breathe life into that irresistible piece of clothing. These are the people behind the scenes at Gap Inc. — the dedicated professionals who push themselves every day to create clothing that resonates with the finesse of their trade. Get to know these heroes of their craft.
Naveen Khanna flips through a large stack of denim in a mixture of blues and blacks. Behind him, the green mountains of Hong Kong rise through the window, surrounded by candy-colored pastel sky scrapers and a series of traffic-jammed roads connecting them.
He pauses on an indigo pair to point out the distress marks across the front pockets and zipper —manufactured wear highlights known as feathering. With a glimmer in his eye, Naveen describes how the pair was hand-sanded after it was cut and sewn, and then washed with dye to reveal the markings and their resulting color variations.
“It’s a blind process. When you wash it, you see if you wanted more feather, and then you adjust the feathering process — by hand or by laser,” Naveen explained, the awe still heavy in his voice after 12½ years of working with product for Gap Inc.
It’s this attention to detail, combined with ever-changing innovations in clothing manufacturing, that keeps Naveen as invigorated and impassioned as if it were his first day on the job.
“There’s so much newness — new, different textures; new fabrics; new bodies … it’s such a creative line of work, where you can do so much,” he said.
That passion for change and for newness is what inspired Naveen to step into the fashion world, change his career path and ultimately move himself, his wife, his two kids and the family dog from India to Hong Kong — the busy, candy-colored international epicenter of clothing manufacturing.
Years ago, when Naveen and his wife were first dating, Naveen was studying commerce accountancy while his wife pursued a fashion degree. Every time he visited her campus, Naveen would see mannequins draped in fabric, and was moved by all of the skillful ways designers would transform a simple piece of fabric into a beautiful garment with a shape that people were moved to spend their lives in.
Now, Naveen sits at the center of that transformation — working with vendors to bring designers’ visions to life, to stores, and into homes across the globe.
For Naveen, it’s all about the challenge of finding something that will excite people, something that people will seek out and take home to wear day in and day out — a piece of clothing that becomes a part of their lives and their memories.
And that’s why, in the middle of our conversation, I find myself being interviewed about my own choice of denim. Naveen wants to know what made me buy the pair of Gap 1969 destructed resolution true skinny high-rise jeans I’m currently wearing in washed black. (For the record, Naveen’s go-to denim is a pair of Banana Republic’s traveler jeans.)
Do I prefer distressed denim? How does the material feel? Do I favor dark washes or light? Have I had any issues with the dye? (Naveen and his team have worked to ensure that dyes stay on Gap Inc. denim — and don’t come off in the wash or on their wearer.)
Have I noticed the information about Gap Inc.’s water quality program — designed to fight water pollution in places where the company constructs its clothes — printed on the inside of the front left pocket?
“Everyone's looking at how we can conserve energy, how we can use less water, how we can really look at the environment,” Naveen said. “It’s a great opportunity we have.”
Naveen sees opportunities for partnership everywhere.
As the VP of Global Sourcing for Denim and Bottoms, Naveen and his team manage Gap Inc.’s relationships with mills and vendors while partnering with the brands on product creation — tracing designs from sampling through development, and bringing speed to the product-to-market process.
This includes working with R&D to identify and implement new fabric trends; coordinating with designers and vendors to develop product and place orders; and seeing product through the supply chain.
It also includes working with the brands to communicate which design elements — distress, shade, color, etc. — are critical to each piece of product, so that vendors are able to appropriately target their construction … or destruction.
“When you’re working with designers, you have to understand from them, ‘What do you want the jean to talk about?’” he explained. Is the distressing the most important part of the design? Is slight color variation OK, or does the vendor need to make color the priority? “As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.”