Q&A with Kelly Wang, Senior Merchant for Levi’s Women’s Bottoms
Kelly Wang jokes that she grew up on the sales floor. She began working in retail and visual merchandising starting at the early age of sixteen, eventually transitioning into the corporate environment at both luxury and mass-market companies. Two years ago, she came to Levi Strauss & Co., today serving as the Senior Merchant for Levi’s Women’s Bottoms. Unzipped recently chatted with Kelly about what it takes to ensure that Levi’s® customers find what they’re looking for, season after season.
How did your experience in stores inform your job today?
Even after moving into corporate, I’m still using the knowledge that I gained from working with customers in fitting rooms. Continuing to be passionate about what the customer wants and listening to your customer is so important. Part of a merchant’s challenge is planning so far out. You have to keep asking yourself, “What is the experience for the customer going to be like 18 months from now when they pick up this product and try it on for the first time?”
How do you work with other departments, like designers and product development?
So much of what we do as merchants relies on our cross-functional partners. We are the ones connecting the dots. The designer presents a collection or a concept, and then it is our job to connect with product developers and other partners to understand how we make it come to life for the customer, while also protecting the bottom line for the business.
What is your favorite part of the job?
There are those very special moments when you are in fittings or opening up a box of samples for the first time. You see the full product development lifecycle and then see the product come to life.
Where do you think that passion comes from?
My mother was a merchant. I remember growing up and watching her study samples at home, making forecasts, and calling customers to get sales information. I loved getting to see what she did. But more than anything, I was in love with my mom’s closet — and I still am! That is where passion for the product comes into play.
How do you strategize each season?
Part of your job is to look backwards at what has happened before, analyzing sales. And then you need to balance that with looking forward to new trends in the marketplace. It comes down to two things: trusting your designers to always push you forward and providing that counterbalance of a merchandise hind-sighting strategy. It’s also instinct — trusting your gut on what is going to be the next big thing, and then making those calls.
You recently made a switch from women’s tops to women’s bottoms. How does that change your process?
A mentor of mine once told me that a good merchant can merchandise anything. What I am most excited about with my new role is learning more about the product development piece. To be at Levi’s and to learn about women’s bottoms — finishes, constructions, and washes — is like getting a Harvard MBA in denim.
What trends are you most excited about?
In terms of marketplace trends and runway trends, I am noticing a return to more authentic looks, finishes, and silhouettes. This is great for Levi’s because we can really drive that heritage and authenticity. It is a change from the clean modern looks that have been dominating the marketplace over the last few years.
What style are you most excited about?
Right now we are super excited about the Levi’s 501® CT jeans. It is perfectly on trend right now. It’s a nod towards the 501’s heritage, but made modern through a custom cut and taper.
What are your favorite jeans?
The Levi’ Vintage Clothing 1967 505™ jeans. At Levi’s, I have learned an appreciation for craftsmanship and authenticity, and those jeans epitomize that. They have a great vintage look. They’re really comfortable and wear in beautifully.
What is the best part about working for Levi Strauss & Co.?
Sometimes it feels like you are working at a startup. Levi’s is such a huge brand, but we are challenged to be entrepreneurial and come up with new ways of working, thinking, and fostering innovation. The women’s business here is at an incredible turning point. How do we lead the marketplace in terms of trends, not just in denim but head-to-toe expression? I love being a part of that challenge, and the answer lies in being customer-oriented and consumer-focused.
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