Design

Following a Childhood Passion: Meet the Head of Women’s Design at Banana Republic

Omar Nobil joined Banana Republic as a young designer just a year into his career — and a dozen years later, he’s head of women’s design. He sat down with us to chat about his path, why he’s loved spending most of his career at one brand, and what fashion designers have in common with rock stars.

What sparked your passion for design and what path did you take? I was inspired by my father’s closet —all these beautifully made tailored suits from British manufacturers. In my early teens, I started wearing the clothes he had bought for himself in the ’60s and ’70s. Loving fashion was really about loving style.

After college [at London’s Central Saint Martins, or CSM] I worked in fashion PR and special projects for Hussein Chalayan, the British Designer of the Year in 1999 and 2000. Then I went back to CSM for a master’s degree in Womenswear. I had to get back to designing.

How did you make your way to Banana Republic? I worked for Abercrombie for a year after getting my master’s. In 2006 I got a call from Gap Inc. recruiting, and met with the Banana Republic team … I didn’t have any real intent to change jobs, but the aesthetic of the brand matched my personal aesthetic. Everyone on the team I met with seemed genuinely happy in the organization and in their jobs. They also all had great individual style, which was inspiring.

When did you know this was the right place for you? On my first day as a designer here, in an all-level meeting, the head of merchandising asked my opinion. That was really thrilling; I was used to a much more hierarchical environment.

You’ve basically grown your career within one brand — are there advantages to that? Some people might think you’d stagnate being in the same place, but I think it gives you a safety net to be bolder creatively. There’s vulnerability in putting your ideas out there. Being in a place where I trust the people I work with, and there’s trust in me, makes it a safe place to be bold and be creative. And at the same time, there are always new challenges and ways to expand your skill set.

And are there advantages to coming up at a big organization like Gap Inc.? We offer pretty extraordinary resources that allow designers to play and experiment, like the Denim Kitchen in Los Angeles and our innovation lab in San Francisco. Designers also work directly with our best-in-class global vendors on new ideas: mills, factories, wash laundries and other suppliers are very open to experimenting and collaborating with us. That’s much harder to do at a smaller brand.

What’s your best advice to young designers? Do not compromise: Make sure you’re working for and with a brand that you proud of. We designers are pretty lucky; we get paid to do something that we love and that we’ve wanted to do since we were kids. Not many people get to say that other than rock stars and firefighters! It’s a privilege to do this for a living; never forget why you went into this field and why you love it.

Interested in joining the design team at one of our brands? Check out our open design jobs in San Francisco and New York.