September 23, 2021
You don’t have to be a creative to appreciate what designers Sierra Reed from Old Navy (pictured left) and Olivia Echols from Athleta (pictured right) had to say after hearing from world-renowned design forecaster Li Edelkoort during her latest presentation for Gap Inc. product and marketing teams. This session is part of the company’s Create with Audacity movement and has been inspiring creative teams across our brands since 2020.
Create with Audacity is also one of our eight Words to Live By. What does it mean to Olivia and Sierra? For Olivia, it means venturing into unexplored territory and creating truly innovative concepts to solve problems our customers didn’t know they had. She sees it as an opportunity to lead—driving new ideas forward with confidence versus following the pack. And for Sierra, it means working without constraint, not being afraid to bring new, bold, unusual ideas and “weirdness,” and challenging her team to think outside of the box. To her, it “looks like a painted rainbow and feels like a runner’s high.”
We sat down with these two creatives after the session for their perspective on Li’s discussion and to learn more about what fuels their creative processes.
What key concepts did Li discuss in this session?
Sierra: Li always takes us to different times, places and spaces. I really heard and felt her passion for the past in this session. The idea of looking to history to create for today is something that can provide infinite inspiration, since the past is so rich and vast.
Olivia: She paired 21st century artists with larger themes like “Body Architecture” (Lucy + Jorge Orta), “American Modernism” (Georgia O’Keeffe) and “Political Figuratives” (Jean-Michel Basquiat). There were so many concepts illustrated—wrapping and fastenings with functional textile and constructions; new exaggerated shapes and oversized proportions; the contrast between matte and shiny; checks and plaids in textiles (Li insists!); and simple, beautiful details.
How do you apply what you learn during these sessions to your own work?
Sierra: There’s a lot of concrete design takeaways in terms of color, imagery, silhouettes, etc. I’ll jot down notes, take lots of screenshots, and will often discuss what stood out with a teammate because it’s always interesting to hear others’ perspectives! I’ll always make note of concepts that Li offers that challenge my design thinking, and also apply to life. Some I jotted down from this session are:
- “the idea of opposition”
- “giving a new sense to what is basic”
- “light things on top of heavy … almost reversing the rules”
- “the importance of pockets”
- “the snail is saying that we need to go slow here, and that we need to take time”
- “the idea of ‘distortion’”
- “the notion of discretion, of being anonymous, not being in the limelight, not wanting to be seen”
Olivia: These sessions are like the creative brain spark to a new season. I love seeing how the information gets passed team-to-team and how it’s applied to the creative narrative of our individual brands. I also use it as a starting point to expand my own creative landscape—more concepts, people, visuals to further investigate as we ideate for future seasons. Even if not applied directly and immediately, they brew in my mind until I can apply them to a project or problem. My brain is a repository of ideas inspired by Li!
How did this session make you feel—during and after?
Sierra: For me, ‘feeling inspired’ is often a physical sensation—full body goosebumps, quiet but excitable, observative and curious. I felt both light and heavy watching this session, like the feeling when you hold your breath. This session felt particularly inspiring. Li always finds innovative ways to pair beautiful imagery that makes you think in a new way. I loved that this session was inspired by artists and compared conceptual art to fashion. Since we’re normally looking to competitor or runway clothing for new ideas, art is a very refreshing source of inspiration. Plus, it felt like Li started to share more of herself with us. She is one of those people that even over Zoom, her presence is felt; time with her feels precious.
Olivia: It’s hard not to say “inspired.” I’ve loved all of Li’s sessions, especially this one. My mind absorbs the words and beautiful visuals, and then “bookmarks” those that I want to come back to or research further. “Motivated” also comes to mind. I relocated to the Bay area recently, and hearing from Li about art-inspired fashion has me even more excited to explore the amazing museums this city has to offer.
Did Li share anything in particular that stood out to you?
Sierra: Li spoke about how Robert Raushenberg saved her life: “As a young teenager, I was really not okay. I was feeling super depressed, like many teenagers do. I saw him one night on the television; this was a documentary about him. And when that was done, I was where I needed to be. I knew I wanted to be in the arts and in culture and that this was my road.” As someone who was affected by depression as a young adult, I really identified with this. For a while, art and dance were the only hobbies helping me cope. I so admired Li’s vulnerability. I think the feeling of being “where we need to be” can often be fleeting … and using art as a way to get there feels tangible. I’ll be sitting with that notion for a while.
And when speaking about Georgia O’Keeffe, Li said, “It’s not just her flowers, it’s the way she lived and inhabited her space.” As a designer, we focus a lot on how things look—aesthetics. But I love Li’s perspective here because it highlights how people in their true forms can inspire us by just being. Society places a lot of weight and worth on what we as individuals produce, so the idea that we hold value by just being ourselves is quite beautiful.
How has this and other Create with Audacity (CWA) programming helped you?
Sierra: Working for a corporate company with a tight calendar and strict deadlines sometimes makes getting into a creative headspace tough. CWA programming creates space and time for us to stop what we’re doing, pause, and absorb pure inspirational content. This encourages the “white space” that we as designers need to authentically create unique product. It has changed my experience as a designer working for Gap Inc.!
Olivia: CWA sessions give me a moment to stop, learn and reflect on immediately relevant design topics. In addition to Li’s presentations, I’ve enjoyed culturally relevant programming like Cultural Appropriation in Design and Designing for Social Impact. I was also very fortunate to join a select group of cross-brand creatives on a trip to Santa Fe this past July. I’ve been remote since I started with Athleta…it’s hard to describe the feeling of being able to meet other designers and dive into a sea of inspiration in real life. I also enjoy how the CWA experiences build on one another to drive larger conversation. For example, we saw incredible folk art in Santa Fe and shared learnings when we returned, then soon after I and fellow creatives across brands joined Dr. Sass Brown for a conversation around cultural appropriation in our industry. Our CWA programming is a holistic experience, and I’m so grateful to Gap Inc. for offering it.