Gap Outlet’s Global Visual Director Suki Uppal On The Power Of Reflection

When a customer walks into one of Gap’s nearly 1,600 stores worldwide, what they see and feel is a perfectly orchestrated experience thanks to the leadership and design of Suki Uppal. Uppal is Gap Outlet’s Global Visual Director and is responsible for leading the visual merchandising process for Gap Outlet stores from design strategy through execution.
It’s a big role. Uppal and her team are responsible for the “storytelling” within the stores; from perfect product placement, to strategic mannequin design, to the chosen styling of the photography. At the end of the day, her goal is to “create a simplified but elevated journey for our customer in store.”
While this role could be considered fairly new for Uppal, her tenure with the company is not.  Nineteen years ago, Uppal was a Visual Associate in a small town in Birmingham, UK. Over time, she made her way through a variety of other internal roles and channels before landing two years ago in New York City, where she took on the role of Global Visual Director for Gap Outlet. Here's what makes her feel powerful....

I feel most powerful when....

I feel powerful when the people around me feel empowered and confident in their abilities, and that goes for my life both inside and outside of work. I work alongside a very diverse and dynamic team who is resilient, passionate and wants to deliver the best results each and every day. My team continues to inspire me and makes me feel proud of what we have achieved in the short time we have worked together, and I am excited about what we can do together in the future.

At home, I am proud of being a single parent and bringing my 12-year-old son on this journey with me. When we decided to make the move from our small town in Birmingham, UK to New York City, I wasn’t prepared for how different it was going to be on a personal and emotional level.  The transition for my son, particularly, was significant.  He went from living in a small town where he was picked up on a school bus that transported him to his private school to New York City, which was the first city we ever lived in! Now, my son finds himself living in an apartment and having to navigate the city streets. The transition required him to grow up really quickly, but it boosted his confidence and social skills in a major way. Now, he tells me he never wants to live in a house again, he loves the city life! I am really proud of the person he is becoming. If it wasn’t for Gap Inc. affording me this opportunity to make such a big move, I don’t think I would have ever done it on my own.

Power to me means...

Power to me isreflection, and the opportunity to reflect on the culture you want to create. Ihave been fortunate in my career to have had exposure to many great, and not sogreat leaders, all of whom helped shape me and keep me focused on the trueleader I want to become. These mentors emphasized the importance of havingfreedom in your job and personal life which allows you to explore newthings and new ways of living. Iam fortunate I work for a global company that has allowed me and my son to experiencesuch a wide range of diversity.

What do you do when you feel powerless?

When I feel powerless, I retreat, step back and acknowledgethat I feel powerless and remind myself there is a greater existence out theirthan the moment I am in right now. I’ll spend my energy talking to a smallcircumference of friends and coaches I have, and spending my time working out,rebalancing and refocusing. The one thing I have learned is that it’s okay tohit the pause button and recharge, it’s so important to do to reclaim yourpower!

What's your power anthem?

I’ve found that having just one power anthem is reallychallenging! Music can have such an impact on your soul: it’s a movement, amoment, an experience, a memory. I can get inspired by a variety of musicalgenres from classical, to cultural, to current music of today.

However, one which I can totally relate to for sure in my world of spinning multiple plates at the same time would be Alicia Keys' “Girl On Fire”. (Not all female power anthems need to be about failed relationships!).

Who's your power icon?

My mom and my sisters are my strength, stability andanchors, and I am thankful for them every day. I am the youngest of fivesiblings, and growing up, I watched how my mom adapted to situations, stayedfocused on her children, and gave me and my siblings the guiding principal toalways put family first.  My sisters, allof whom are working mothers themselves, are extremely independent and serve asthe anchors in their own families. They all have an internal strength and powerthat even they are not aware of.  

What do you wear when you want to feel powerful?

It’s not about what I am wearing externally, it’s about theconfidence I feel internally that makes me feel powerful.  If we’re talking about clothes specifically;classic, timeless pieces are my go-to. For me, it could be my favorite pairs ofjeans and a perfect white t-shirt, two pieces that are staples and can be worna multitude of ways. 

If I’m trying to pick out something for a big event ormeeting, I’d start with trying to find something that I feel comfortable in,and then tailor that outfit based on the audience. I’ve found that I can pullout 100 things and think, “I want to be different or try something new,” butend up wearing my neutral, classic standbys that I know will make me feel good.

More from Living

R29 Original Series