Empowering Women Through Authenticity

SheReports Interview — In Partnership with #SEEHER

Andréa Mallard is the chief marketing officer at Athleta, Gap Inc.’s hugely successful women’s athleisure brand. A former journalist, she joined the company last year after stints at Omada Health and IDEO. Andréa recently spoke to SheReports about Athleta’s message of women’s empowerment.


Many apparel brands are struggling, but Athleta is growing.

We’re absolutely bucking any kind of downward trend, and we have been for years and years. We have an incredible product, but I would also attribute a lot of our success to some core values that we’ve never wavered from. Chief among them is celebrating women and empowering women. I think right now politically, socially, economically, we’re seeing truly the rise of women in a way that we haven’t seen in decades and decades. Athleta has always been very authentically about that notion.

Are you leaning more into those core values in your marketing now?

We’re leaning in more and more. At the very core of what we do is, What does it mean to be healthy? We want to inspire as many women as possible to be truly healthy. That’s not just physical; that is mental, that is emotional, that is financial. It’s a very holistic thing.

We have an incredible product, but I would also attribute a lot of our success to some core values that we’ve never wavered from. Chief among them is celebrating women and empowering women.

Our most recent campaign was called “Up for Anything.” The idea there was to say, What would happen if you just said yes as a woman? There are so many moments in our lives where we say no to things because we think we are not good enough, we’re not capable, we’re not worthy, we think we’re not invited. We were able to build a really lovely campaign with real Athleta customers, not using models, to join us on that journey. I think we are only going to be telling more stories about that holistic health. Not just what you physically do but what you mentally do, what you politically do, what you socially do.

Do you think that strategy can work for other sorts of products?

Here’s the truth: I think you just need to be honest. You need to be able to look at yourself and ask yourself a simple question: Are we good for the world? Are we good for humanity? Ultimately, I feel like the messages I’m putting out are good for humanity.

But I don’t think you can do that unless you can unequivocally answer yes to those questions. On one hand I’d love to see more companies do this, but only if it is genuinely authentic, and from a real place of wanting change and wanting to be part of the good, as opposed to wanting to take advantage of what they see as an economic opportunity for their company. But here’s the thing: Women are so smart, and they see through it pretty quickly.

You’re selling a fitness product, which is genuinely about bettering yourself.

Believing that you can do this. Believing that you should be in that race. Believing that you should be in that class. Believing that you should try something new. All these things taken together are really important messages to send to any woman, any girl. We care a lot about that.

Athleta has long featured women of different ages and different body types in its advertising.

What’s really remarkable, I think, is that it’s so part of the culture here now, we don’t even discuss it that often. No one questions the inclusion of a slightly curvier woman in our catalog. We included an amazing rock climber in our “Up for Anything” campaign, and no one on our team noticed that she has type 1 diabetes, that she was wearing an insulin port on her arm. It wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind on this team to Photoshop that out. We’ve gotten so much positive social press from folks saying, Hey, I noticed in that spread, in the sign in your stores, that the woman has an insulin port, and I showed it to my eight-year-old daughter who also has type 1 diabetes, to show her that, Look at what this amazing woman has achieved.

Why don’t more brands do this?

No one questions the inclusion of a slightly curvier woman in our catalog.

For so many decades, the conventional wisdom was advertising is about mythmaking. Make people buy into an ideal. But I think the world is rapidly evolving to the place where great stories are about truth telling instead of mythmaking. When people who have never seen their own truth represented to them see it, there’s a feeling of deep psychological relief. I think more brands are going to move this way. It’s going to take another decade or two. It’s going to take more female leaders as well, to stand up and refuse to participate in the diminishment of our children, of our daughters, of our sons.