Core Careers: Billabong Women’s Global GM Katie Singer
Billabong Women’s Global GM Katie Singer is leading one of the most successful women’s brands in the industry.
She has an interesting and varied background, including early years spent at Esprit de Corp. and Pottery Barn in sales, merchandising and e-commerce roles.
She joined Billabong Women’s seven years ago from Roxy, and two years ago was elevated to Billabong Women’s Global GM.
We asked her how her background outside the industry has helped her in her current position, what projects she is most proud of during her time at Billabong Women’s, and how COVID-19 has changed how her team works.
How did you get started in the business?
Katie Singer: I was really interested in fashion and design, so I started applying for roles at companies in the apparel industry that I thought were of most interest to me. I was fortunate enough to land my first job after college as a sales assistant in women’s apparel at Esprit de Corp in San Francisco.
It was completely unrelated to my marketing degree, but it was a good stepping stone into the apparel industry. I was very fortunate to work with a sales rep who took me under her wing and was an incredible mentor. This mentorship really helped me and provided me with the ability to advance into a West Coast specialty sales rep position rather quickly.
As a sales rep, I worked closely with the merchandising team in the corporate office giving them feedback on the ranges and what I thought we needed to drive the business forward. They ended up offering me a role on the team. So, after a somewhat short stint in sales, I started a long career in merchandising.
I loved analyzing the business, getting in tune with the customer and coming up with brand and product strategies. I also loved working with the design team and incorporating key insights from actual results with go forward design trends. I learned early on it’s a true balance of both aspects that gets the best results.
You have worked at a wide range of companies, including William Sonoma/Pottery Barn. How did those experiences outside the industry help you in your present job?
Katie Singer: While I was living in the Bay Area, I joined the e-commerce team at Pottery Barn. It was an exciting time to be involved in e-commerce. It was the peak of the Bay Area dot com boom and Pottery Barn hired a market leading e-commerce company in San Francisco to create their site.
I gained an incredible e-commerce education from my time there and ended up running the e-commerce business channel for the brand for two years.
After a couple years I missed working directly with the design team developing product, so I switched roles and became the DMM/Director of Merchandising over home furnishings and textiles for the retail team. Because I had so much apparel experience, the switch wasn’t too hard. I’ve found that if you analyze and listen to the consumer trends you can easily switch product categories or industries fairly easily.
During my time at Pottery Barn, I worked with several ex-Gap merchants. The Gap back then was one of the most successful and progressive businesses in the apparel industry and some of the best merchants in the industry were trained there. They taught me the true fundamentals of how to build strong brand strategies, how to react to the business, how to shape an assortment and how to build a financial plan.
After we had our first child, my husband and I decided to move back to my hometown of Laguna Beach to be closer to family. I wanted to get back into the apparel industry, so I sought a job at Roxy/Quiksilver. It felt like a much better fit for me and aligned a little closer to my upbringing in Laguna.
I joined the Roxy team and served for nine years in various lead merchant and product roles across the brand. At the time there were not a lot of true merchants in the surf industry, and I was able to bring a lot of experience from my prior roles to help create and develop new brand strategies and concept-to-customer processes.
What has the transition been like to Global GM of Billabong Women’s? Are there certain projects or initiatives that you are particularly proud of?
Katie Singer: I joined the Billabong brand seven years ago and have been in the GM role for almost two years now. The first six months of my GM role was definitely a transition period with moving to the Huntington Beach office and our continued integration into the Boardriders organization.
While we went through all the new transitions, we continued to remain focused on designing and developing beautiful ranges and creating compelling product and marketing stories.
There are so many things we have accomplished over the last two years but there are a few that I am especially proud of.
We created strong, engaging, and powerful brand stories through our key Sincerely Jules and Salty Blonde collaborations. These brand stories resonated with our existing core consumers and helped us to tell engaging digital stories across different channels to help increase our customer size.
I am also especially proud of our ‘Know The Feeling’ franchise that celebrates the diversity in women’s surfing and promotes female participation in the sport. Our Philippines and Japan Know The Feeling Women’s campaigns celebrated diversity in women’s surfing with authentic surf lifestyle moments with our athletes and local surfers.
We’ve also made a huge commitment to sustainability. Starting in Fall ’21 all our products that touch the ocean will be eco-conscious. We have defined a clear sustainability road map for the next three years.
Diversity and inclusion is another important initiative for us. We are partnering with authentic and credible individuals and ambassadors and organizations to promote diversity and inclusion within the community and sport of surfing.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work? Are there any key lessons you have learned during this time?
Katie Singer: COVID was a huge disruption to the business and temporarily created a very challenging and unpredictable work environment along with some massive disruptions across the supply chain. I never thought that remote work on the product side would be possible. We are all so hands on with product, but we had no choice but to pivot to 100% remote product reviews. The team responded well, and we quickly came up with new processes and accountabilities.
There have been a lot of key benefits from our remote work, including:
- We are more efficient in meetings; they start and end on time.
- We make modifications in real time and have been able to eliminate multiple meetings.
- There’s more trust and accountability.
- We’ve created strong productivity and connectivity.
- There definitely is some multi-tasking happening on the side, but for the most part the teams are focused.
- With the use of Microsoft Teams, we have created a much better way to communicate and share files with everyone across the globe. We are also able to attend and interact in key regional sales and product meetings.
Any words of advice for people who’d like to follow in your footsteps?
Katie Singer: My advice is to work for a brand or company that aligns to your values.
It’s also important to understand and study the results but let your instincts and “gut” guide you.
Relentlessly pursue a consumer first mindset.
Surround yourself with an incredible team with diverse skills.
Invest in people – they are the key to success!
Create a balanced work/life environment for yourself and your team.