Bringing people together around the table is one of Kit Garton's favorite ways to spend time.
"Meals are a really special time for connections," she explains. "Cooking, eating, trying new restaurants or new cuisines—sharing a meal is my favorite way to get to know someone."
The VP of Product at apparel company Chubbies says she especially likes the way that breaking bread together gives people from different backgrounds a common space to connect and share stories.
She has a penchant for making the most of an interdisciplinary approach. When studying at Stanford, she started off on a pre-med track before Intro to Human Anatomy derailed her. "It completely ended my aspiration! I could not hang," says Kit, laughing. She switched to human biology, which she explains "sits at the intersection of biology, psychology, and sociology," and studied decision-making and development.
Years later, her interdisciplinary background would find her perfectly suited to lead the product team at a weekend-obsessed brand known for perfecting shorts.
Read on for Kit's insight about switching functional areas, making the most of a diverse team with different identities, and building the exact career you want.
Kit's path to product leadership wasn't a typical one.
Technically, Kit's first full-time job after college did deal with products, but specifically the kind you might see in the grocery store: she worked for a PR agency on consumer packaged goods accounts.
Planning events, creating marketing moments, and running campaigns taught Kit a lot, she says, including that she loved thinking about her work with the end consumer in mind. "I'm a people person, and I love making people happy," she says. "I started to see marketing as a way to connect consumers to something that might bring them joy or help them."
She also loved how quantifiable the work was. "I am someone whose performance is pretty driven from data and analytics," she says of her affinity for chasing metrics and using data to inform her next campaign.
But being spread across four or five accounts made Kit feel like she couldn't channel her creativity in the most effective way, so she started looking for a singular brand vision she could get behind.
She'd gone to college with the founders and had followed the brand since its launch. "No one at that time was creating clothes for young men, no one was marketing towards that," she says. "I thought that was unique and cool, but it never occurred to me that they would be hiring."
She checked, and they were: a role in PR and events. She applied, got an offer, and took a major leap to join them.
Kit was sure about the brand itself. "They were all about the weekend, and it felt like a fun and unique story I could tell really easily," she says.
But she wasn't so sure about the career change. "I was leaving a pretty established corporate job that had 401ks and management trainings," remembers Kit. "And when I started at Chubbies, I was reading over the job offer and said, 'I didn't notice a section about healthcare.' And they were like, 'We don't have healthcare, but we do provide lunch and Clif bars.'"
She had a bit of runway left on her parents' insurance, though, and decided to make the most of a big marketing role at a new startup. Her first few months were spent working at her desk for seven hours a day, then heading down to the warehouse to pack boxes for an hour or two.
"We were growing so fast, and we were so new, that we had hard times guessing when the demand for our shipments would arrive," explains Kit. She'd go home with hands stained blue from the boxes, and show up the next day to start again.
A Three-Point Approach to Switching Functional Areas
Kit started in a pure PR role, but she didn't stay there. She wanted to stretch her skill set by applying it to product marketing campaigns, so she asked to take on the project management of Chubbies' Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions.
That's her first lesson for anyone else looking to do the same: 1) Ask to take on what you're interested in.
Her boss said yes, and those campaigns went well. The cross-departmental coordination required to align departments and vendors on a common goal excited Kit, and when Chubbies' email manager said he was planning to leave the company, Kit stepped in to cover the role and help in searching for a full-time replacement.
After interviewing several candidates, Kit thought she could be that full-time replacement, and asked to take on emails full-time. Once again, she got a yes, leading to her second lesson: 2) Don't be afraid to grow your scope.
Kit became the senior marketing manager of earned media, which had her managing Chubbies' influencer program, retention, and email marketing. She had no formal education in those fields, but was able to take on those new tasks by soaking up everything from those around her and embracing self-study.
Then came lesson three: 3) Be excellent and opportunities will follow.
Chubbies' founders saw what Kit was doing with email marketing and asked if she'd apply her then-trademark customer-focused, data-driven approach to the product team as the director of merchandise planning. She said yes.
"I didn't hesitate. Fashion has always been a secret passion of mine," she says.
Her current role as VP of product came after a successful stint in merchandising, and it has her overseeing design and digital merchandising, from setting the strategy to managing a team of about 15 people across three departments.
Thinking About Identity in Product
When she was a marketer, it was natural to use diverse models to showcase products and inclusivity.. But now that she's in charge of figuring out the future of Chubbies' signature shorts (and other apparel and products), Kit has started to think about how she can stay focused on all of Chubbies' different customers.
She used to wonder if she was missing out on something by being a woman working on a clothing brand worn primarily by men. Then she learned to see it as a strength. "A mentor told me it was actually a huge positive, because the decisions that I make are not because of how I feel about something—it's all because of data," she says.
What she's learned lately is that there are multiple places that valuable data comes from. It turns out that a lot of women and nonbinary people wear Chubbies' shorts, says Kit. Kit regularly solicits feedback from a diverse range of buyers so that she can better understand the why behind their purchasing decisions and make sure that Chubbies' products keep evolving to meet their needs.
"Even though we're so much bigger, I still get to have personal interactions all the time," she says. "Our customer base is just as passionate today as they were nine years ago [when I joined]. They're almost more surprised now when they hear from me, like, 'Wait, you're a real person?' And I'll be like, 'Yeah, we could set up a Zoom and you could give me this feedback while seeing my face!'"
Something from Everything
Reflecting on her career, Kit sees her path from PR to marketing to product as a feature, not a bug. "At every stage of my career, I've gained a unique skill set that I still use today," she explains.
From event production, she learned how to deliver during crunch times and manage people. When running email campaigns, she figured out how to collaborate cross-functionally and always assume positive intent. From the shift to product, she learned about the importance of data analysis and understanding the customer perspective.
She can go all the way back to her first jobs and do the same thing. "I'm a confident public speaker because I worked as a campus tour guide in college," she says. Reflecting on her time as a waitress, working to create the dining experiences she so enjoys today, she adds: "I developed people and time management skills there."
"Every job is worthy and has a transferable and valuable skill set," says Kit. "Opportunity is out there, but you can't just sit back and wait for it—many times you have to create it for yourself."