On March 31, the LIM Fashion Education Foundation (LIM FEF) virtually launched its “People in The Know” event series. Arnold Cohen, the President of LIM FEF, kicked things off and introduced the featured guest, Jen Foyle, Chief Creative Officer, AEO Inc. and Aerie's Global Brand President. Jen was LIM College's 2020 Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient.
Jen shared great insight on how she utilized passion and innovation to grow the Aerie brand and further the body positivity movement through #AerieREAL. As a huge fan of the Aerie brand, I was so excited to learn from Jen and get to know her more.
Jen opened with the story of how she ended up working in the fashion industry. Shortly after she graduated from college with a sociology degree, Jen searched for jobs in the New York Times and eventually got the position of "Christmas Executive" at Bloomingdale’s. She saw this as a career stepping stone and worked at Bloomingdale’s for 10 years. “I loved the touching and feeling of merchandising, but I also like the business side.”
Jen went on to pitch and create her own line to be sold at Bloomingdale’s. She found that building this line from the ground up was a great learning experience that led her to help build Lauren by Ralph Lauren into a successful womenswear brand. She shared a great story about interviewing with Mickey Drexler, the founder of Old Navy and former CEO of J. Crew. By having a fun attitude and being a go-getter, she was offered a Denim position with Gap.
“It taught me a 360 approach. Whether it’s creative or merchandising, it all has to tie together,” Jen said of her time at Gap, adding that she also got to work closely with brands such as Madewell and J. Crew. While there, Jen introduced the Flare Jean to the brand; they had great sales for their first styles.
Later, while taking care of her family, Jen ran a boutique called Calypso. She found running Calypso to be a wonderful leadership experience that really allowed her to grow professionally when she needed to take on the challenges of the 2008 financial crisis.
Jen then arrived at her experience at American Eagle and spoke about the launch and growth of Aerie, American Eagle’s intimate apparel and lifestyle sub-brand. “We really had to get that strategy nailed of how to leverage American Eagle and introduce the brand to customers,” she said.
Jen mentioned starting the intimate apparel brand was tough because, at the time, they were competing with Victoria's Secret. “For too long we were trying to do what they were doing.” Realizing their customer was different than Victoria's Secret’s in terms of body image was important in making Aerie successful. They let me take this leap of faith that seemed entirely different and scary at the time.”
“The more we listened to our customers, it took off—it lit up.” This shift in branding started a movement and sparked models to reach out to Aerie and share their experiences with body image. The British model Iskra Lawrence became a global ambassador for the brand. Jen explained how Iskra was in and out of the industry and struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
“It turned into this beautiful organic growth where it was real and authentic, which is so important in today’s marketplace.”
Customers wanted more than just intimates. In the last few years, the brand has expanded into selling swimwear, loungewear, and activewear. Jen shared great insight on marketing through their brand by using billboards and tote bags and letting the brand shine through more conventional marketing methods alongside social media and customer/influencer marketing.
Jen also helped launch Aerie’s legging business during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We kept moving forward and responding to our customers’ needs and being cognizant of the safety issues.”
With the loyalty of customers and the strength of the team at Aerie, they were able to push through the pandemic and continue to grow the Aerie brand.
“You’re as good as your team,” Jen added, noting what she looks for in potential team members at Aerie. “I think it’s so important for someone to have a different perspective. Somebody that thinks outside the box.”
Jen wants teammates with high energy, hunger for innovation, and the ability to take a new angle on everyday businesses. As a person who likes to take action and be involved, she wants someone who has “their desk on their feet.”
Jen is an inspiration to LIM students and young people aspiring to work in this industry. She showed that putting her creative ideas into action in innovative ways allowed her to be a successful leader in fashion.
A huge thank you to Arnold Cohen for hosting, LIM alumna Aubriana Sweet for moderating the Q&A, and President Marcuse and the FEF board members who attended to support the event. And of course, thank you to Jen Foyle for sharing her story with our students.
There will be more “People in the Know” events held by LIM FEF, coming soon, and I'm excited to see what great speakers and conversations are in store.