Women in Retail: The Inner Circle Q&A – Jennifer Foyle, President, Executive Creative Director, AE & Aerie

By: Melissa Campanelli | Link to article

We were so thrilled when we learned that Jennifer Foyle, president and executive creative director, American Eagle (AE) and Aerie, was named the recipient of Women in Retail’s Top Woman of the Year, an award created in partnership with with CommerceNext for its 2022 CommerceNexty Awards program. The award, which was announced at CommerceNext’s event in New York City last month, recognizes a woman leader in retail who has both contributed to the community and is a mentor to other women in the industry. Award winners are selected based upon votes by CommerceNext’s judges of industry leaders along with an equally weighted popular vote.

Why were we thrilled? Because Foyle is one of our favorite retail leaders. She joined AEO in 2010 and has been an instrumental force in Aerie’s successful expansion, leading growth from $225 million in 2014 to more than $1 billion in 2020. In 2014, Foyle revolutionized the intimate apparel industry by bringing body positivity and inclusivity to the forefront with the power of #AerieREAL. This movement has been a game-changer for the Aerie business as well as for millions of women and girls who have been empowered to love their REAL selves inside and out. Throughout her tenure, Foyle has assembled and developed a strong bench of talent at all levels and across functions. She began her career at Bloomingdale’s and held positions of increasing responsibility at Gap Inc. and J.Crew. Prior to joining Aerie in 2010, Foyle was the president of the global lifestyle brand Calypso St. Barth.

In the following interview, you’ll learn all about Foyle’s career journey, why mentorship is so important to her, retail trends she’s tracking, and more.

Inner Circle: Please tell us about your career journey and how you became the president and executive creative director of AE and Aerie?
Jennifer Foyle: I’ve had a successful — and very exciting — career in retail, which has spanned nearly 30 years. I spent 10 years at Bloomingdale’s, and then ran women’s denim at Gap. From there, I went to J.Crew with Mickey Drexler, where we collaborated in one of the most successful brand turnovers. I then spent time as CEO and president of Calypso St. Barth, before taking the leap to join the Aerie team in 2010.

With Aerie, I saw an amazing opportunity to create something really special. At that time, the industry had just one major brand with a strong legacy, yet a singular point of view. We positioned Aerie to offer young women a different take on intimates — that they didn’t need to be held to a nearly impossible physical standard. They could be REAL and love their REAL selves. And that was the start of #AerieREAL — and 29 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth. My role was expanded in 2020 to president, executive creative director, American Eagle and Aerie, and includes oversight of merchandising, design, marketing and business strategy for the American Eagle, Aerie, OFFL/NE by Aerie and Unsubscribed brands.

IC: What have accomplished professionally in the last year that you’re particularly proud of?
JF: I’m really proud of the work we’ve done to grow our brands over the last year through incredible product assortments, authentic connections with our customer community, and a commitment to greater sustainability. Our denim team propelled our signature AE jeans collection to $2 billion in revenue, solidifying our position as the dominant brand in our age category. Aerie continues to lead a movement of positivity and confidence that’s unmatched. And our OFFL/NE activewear collection is knocking it out of the park! I’m also really proud of the work we’re continuing to do to lessen our environmental impact through the use of more sustainable raw materials and water and energy reduction. We’re seeing that come to life in our Real Good collections in AE and Aerie, which signify products made with the highest environmental standards. Additionally, the Unsubscribed brand — with its focus on slow fashion, local makers, and the use of natural fibers — is helping to inform our journey toward building a better world.

IC: I’ve heard you have an open-door policy with team members across the organization and that it isn’t unusual to find you brainstorming with everyone from interns to store associates to other C-suite members. Why is this leadership style important? How is this motivating for your team?
JF: My team is everything to me. I’m an incredibly passionate person and I get my energy from those around me as we’re touching product together, conceptualizing marketing campaigns, and discussing how our clothes are going to make our customers feel … inside and out. Our community of associates and customers have brilliant ideas — you just have to be willing to listen. I spend a lot of time reading customers’ letters and listening to the stories of our store associates. This feedback model keeps us grounded and hungry to push harder. This isn’t about me being a great leader; it’s about a team motivating each other.

IC: Women in Retail’s Top Woman of the Year, created in partnership with with CommerceNext, recognizes women retail leaders who have contributed to the community and mentored others to get ahead. Can you talk about how you mentor and support women?
JF: I was incredibly humbled to receive the award this past June. It’s extremely important to me to be accessible to future women leaders and give them a safe space and opportunity to learn and grow. Much of the team that surrounds me every day are women that have worked alongside me for years. We celebrate our wins together and lift each other up when we face setbacks. Mentorship is a two-way street. Everyone has a unique perspective on life, career and balance. You can learn a lot from each other when you step back and honor the experiences and differences that got us to the same place.

IC: Has mentorship been important in your own career? If so, can you talk about a mentor you had and how he or she helped you?
JF: The ultimate mentor in my life was my mother. She shared countless lessons with me and instilled many priceless values. More than her words, she was a doer. She showed me more by her actions than by her words. She taught me the value of being a good person — to be kind and to always reach a hand out to those in need. From her, I learned to be there for people and to take time in life to do good things. In my career, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have three incredible businessmen, merchants and visionaries help to guide me over the last 30 years. I owe a lot to Jay Schottenstein, Roger Markfield and Mickey Drexler. They’ve taught me to be confident in my decisions and to use my creativity to be a better leader.

IC: What retail trends are you tracking right now?
JF: Being environmentally conscious and becoming more sustainable is the future of retail. To our brands, the future is now. There’s lots of work to do around fabrics, manufacturing, packaging … the list goes on. We see this as a journey and it’s up to all of us to do our part to build a better world for future generations.

IC: What are you most looking forward to personally and professionally this year?
JF: Certainly this year has presented a number of macro challenges — which we view as an opportunity for growth. I also look forward to reflecting on my own personal development and leadership to ensure that I’m setting the teams up for continued success, this year and beyond.