Felix del Toro

felix del toro, 51, chief merchandise/design officer, los angeles

There are 32 components in the making of a woman’s bra. This was something Felix del Toro did not know when he started at Calvin Klein. He’d spent more than 20 years at Gap and Banana Republic, but not once did someone tell him how an article of women’s intimate clothing was constructed.

“It’s similar to architecture,” he says. “It’s a true feat to get it to fit consistently for women.”

This, of course, wasn’t a hurdle because if there is one thing del Toro prides himself on when it comes to his professional life, it’s his adaptability. This has been the case since the Indiana native set out on his dream of traveling the world working with designers by heading to New York.

What has followed in the 30 years since has been a masterclass in career evolution and learning the lesson of “self-compassion” and asking for help.

We’ve highlighted folks in here who’ve enjoyed long careers in industries only to find  themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This week’s profile proves that.

del Toro grew immensely in his 21 years at Gap and Banana Republic, from manager to senior director. He leveraged that into senior executive roles at Calvin Klein and later, as an SVP at athletic wear brand lululemon. But del Toro was missing large-scale digital experience from his portfolio of work and he was worried that, in 2016, he’d soon be left out.

His colleagues shared similar concerns.

“Everyone was like, ‘Good luck going digital. You’re too far in your career, you’re too experienced. A lot of digital brands will have a tough time taking you on because they’ll be fearful you’re too entrenched in how you do things’,” he told me.

So del Toro took it step by step. He took on a consulting gig in merchandising at Lou & Grey that allowed him to expand his range in the digital space.

This was consistent with an approach he’d hit upon midway through his career: to be comfortable not being the smartest person in the room. Growing up in a family with traditional values in the midwest, del Toro was taught to soldier on “unless you were literally drowning.”

But at one point, “I realized I didn’t have all the answers, so I asked people for help,” he says. “As a leader, as a manager, I realized that if I surround myself with people who are smarter than me in different aspects, it’ll push me further.”

In our conversation he cited an interesting Harvard Business Review article on self-esteem vs. self-compassion. The American corporate world is strewn with over-zealous, over-confident managers who tell themselves they are better at something than they actually are.

“Whereas if you focus on self-compassion,” del Toro says, “it really is the understanding of: what have I done, what am I capable of, and what have I learned that I can actually improve.”

del Toro’s circle of friends and colleagues includes people of all age groups. He gathers people around him who can give him knowledge of different things, and have a different vantage point, because “whether I agree with them or not, it’s going to put me in a place of thinking.”

This obviously includes younger members of his team.

“I look at it both ways: What can I give them with my wisdom, experience and perspective? And what can I learn from them from their youth, vitality and their experience?” he says. “And even if it’s only five or seven years, it’s a different experience than I have and if I discount that then I’m not actually understanding the future.”

Last July, del Toro started at a digital native retailer named Fabletics, where he serves as chief merchandise and design officer. He was after digital native experience; they were after someone who understood apparel making through and through. At 52, he’s back on the right side of the digital shift, and if the tectonic plates move again, he’ll be ready.

“I think the ability to learn is such an incredible gift,” he told me. “To not be able to utilize it fully throughout our lives is the ultimate waste. I can’t fathom not wanting to learn for the rest of my life.”

Exactly. Curious to see, by the way, if any of you have navigated yourselves through this constantly shifting digital landscape — and what tactics you employed. Write ushere, or jump into our Facebook Group and write a post.


Andreas Tzortzis
He has worked as a journalist for the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Newsweek and Monocle Magazine from Berlin and London before leading Red Bull’s mainstream-facing content platform, The Red Bulletin, from Los Angeles. He recently returned to his hometown of San Francisco with his small family. dre@agei.st


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