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PVH Corp VP Caitlin Kis: “I would love to be a part of a bigger shift in the industry towards normalizing motherhood in the workplace”

I am a mother of 2 young girls and I am very aware of the challenges that they will face as working women. Creating change around maternal (and paternal!) care and supporting mothers, across all industries, will result in happier and healthier families as a whole. PVH is genuinely supportive of working parents and a […]

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I am a mother of 2 young girls and I am very aware of the challenges that they will face as working women. Creating change around maternal (and paternal!) care and supporting mothers, across all industries, will result in happier and healthier families as a whole. PVH is genuinely supportive of working parents and a great place to work but I would love to be a part of a bigger shift in the industry towards normalizing motherhood in the workplace.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlin Kis, the Vice President of Product Strategy + Innovation at PVH Corp. PVH Corp is an American clothing company which owns brands such as Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, IZOD, Arrow, Warner’s, Olga, True & Co., and Geoffrey Beene. Originally from western Canada, Caitlin has worked in product creation for over 15 years spanning fashion, performance and intimates. She has championed solving problems for consumers in companies such as Aritzia, Lululemon and Calvin Klein. In her current role she focuses on product innovation including: new technologies, digital co-creation, supply chain revolution and sustainable materials and experience innovation: how we educate consumers on new product technologies and help them to find the right products. She is most passionate about portfolio management, starting with why and truly shifting people’s perceptions of how they feel in their clothes. Caitlin currently lives in New York City with her family.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was in University pursuing my degree in Political Science and I got a part-time job at a major Canadian fashion retailer. They designed and produced the majority of their product in house and after seeing that process first-hand, I realized that it was an industry that I really wanted to be a part of. I was curious about everything from day 1 and that has led to me to so many different roles throughout my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I get to travel the world meeting with vendors and consumers in order to create the best product possible. I think learning about different consumers around the globe and how to serve their needs has been fascinating. The more that we can connect with them the better. Currently in my role at PVH, the majority of the work I do is product creation and innovation around intimates, which is a very personal portion of a women’s wardrobe. There are no two bodies that are the same, and hearing directly from women on what they need in a product, directly from them, helps to generate new solutions. I love hearing their stories and have found one commonality across all women when they’re describing their perfect undergarments — they want to feel confident!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t take myself too seriously and have made countless mistakes over the years. I will never forget when I was a buyer at a fashion brand and keyed in my color breakdown incorrectly and bought thousands of units in yellow instead of black. I can remember walking the floor at our annual warehouse sale and our CEO saying, “Why did we buy so much yellow???” I can laugh about it now but I definitely learned to check my work and pay attention to detail. Seeing what is on markdown or on sale at the end of the season is always a good exercise and I encourage my team to check out the sale sections to this day!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the things that really stands out is that we are so rooted in history but also always looking to the future. PVH has a beautiful archive collection that we reference regularly. Looking back to the past 100+ years, Warner’s has been at the forefront of all intimates innovations, that is grounding that inspired the team regularly. Warner’s marketed the corset and even introduced the A-B-C sizing system! The brand evolved to meet the women’s needs of the time. This pushes us to look at what she is doing today, how her life has changed and what need to solve for her. We have always been a solutions first brand and this remains true today.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Set boundaries and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. Focus on doing great work. When l reflect on big leaps in my career the majority were achieved through personal development as well as taking risks. I’ve moved countries for jobs, taken a year off to do an MBA in Paris and worked for multiple brands. I have grown the most through challenging work that I feel connected to while protecting my core values (family for me!).

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think that intimates is a really unique space because it is deeply personal. I think that making people feel comfortable, beautiful and confident is incredibly important work. We are also striving to be more inclusive and produce our garments more sustainably in order to protect our planet.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek is a must read. Brands that have purpose are growing exponentially because we all want to be a part of change. Simon started a movement to show people it’s not about what or how they do things it’s about the why. While it’s not a quote, it really focuses being a catalyst for change, and helps you to uncover the purpose behind what you are trying to do. It’s an excellent filter, and is something I continue to keep in mind as my scope grows at PVH.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

I am most excited about the pursuit of comfort and more natural esthetics. With the continued advancement in technology and improved fabrications, there’s more opportunity to try and test new product innovation. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been dedicated to hearing stories from real women about what they are looking for in intimates and we’ve seen a shift in their responses over the past few years. Warner’s & Olga by Warner’s intimates were created to provide women with solutions to feel more confident and comfortable. We’re excited to see that the conversation around intimates has shifted from how we look to how we want to feel and we are planning to launch a number of collections that really celebrate that over the next year.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”? Please share a story or example for each.

1) Curiosity. Always keep your eyes open and ask questions. I have done roles that span from buying, merchandising, go to market, strategic initiatives and innovation. Curiosity has lead me on that path. This meant I was always learning and sharing my interests with others which lead to new opportunities. Some were more successful than others (I am not cut out for systems implementations) but I really know the ins and outs of creating products because of it.

2) Be entrepreneurial. Don’t be afraid to take risks and figure things out for yourself. In my past I have had a number of bosses who have given me the autonomy to make decisions and move quickly. Our spring 2020 launch for Warner’s + Olga by Warner’s is a real departure for the brand. We have had to mobilize teams in a way that they were not used to working and really create a change. No easy task but it has united the team and is exciting to be a part of.

3) Be open to change. Change in this industry is constant and you have to embrace it. I’ve changed everything from categories to business models over the years. I started out buying kidswear, then I moved to fashion, then performance and now intimates. I think that working across multiple categories helps you deliver better product and understand the consumer landscape. The retail landscape is evolving so fast that we are always looking for different ways to interact with the consumer. Warner’s had an AR experience last year to elevate product education and the consumers really responded positively to a new voice. I think we will see more and more of that as the brand evolves.

4) Passion. You have to love the creative process and the inner workings of the industry in order to create the best products. I love my job — it’s not easy and some days are harder than others, but I work with an amazing team that are focused on impacting people’s lives through products and it’s very gratifying. We laugh a lot in our design meetings and that translates into an environment that people feel safe to be creative in.

5) Work Hard. Be willing to do anything no matter what your job title. Just get it done. This is something that I learned very early in my career. I worked at 3 separate high-growth companies where we didn’t have the luxury of a ton of people or money. We would all just dive in and do what was needed to complete the task. PVH is a huge company but within the teams it is still a very scrappy mindset. The key is balancing being scrappy with being strategic so that you are spending your time on the right things.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

I think the industry needs to encourage people to buy quality pieces that have longevity. We’re starting to see an initial shift away from “fast fashion,” but this needs to become an industry priority. If retailers and brands can develop items that consumers love, will last longer than a few wears, all offered at a reasonable price point, the consumer will have an overall better relationship with their clothes. In Warner’s and Olga by Warner’s bras every detail has been considered and they have been thoughtfully made. Our Supply team at PVH is amazing and is always looking for ways we can make products better. We need to guide the consumer towards choosing options that have a long lifespan that they love.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am a mother of 2 young girls and I am very aware of the challenges that they will face as working women. Creating change around maternal (and paternal!) care and supporting mothers, across all industries, will result in happier and healthier families as a whole. PVH is genuinely supportive of working parents and a great place to work but I would love to be a part of a bigger shift in the industry towards normalizing motherhood in the workplace.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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