As the president of Anthropologie Group Apparel and Accessories, Hillary Super finds the most satisfaction helping women feel their best. “To hear our customer talk about the role our clothes play in her life and the joy they bring to her, it just makes me want to raise the bar in every way,” says Super. It’s also one of the reasons why she stepped into the role last year. “I feel like I can represent her,” says Super. “I have been her over the years. I feel extremely connected to the mission of what we do.”
Retail has been a prominent part of Super’s life ever since she was old enough to work. Raised in Arcadia, California, as the eldest of two sisters, Super landed her first job at age 14 selling clothing at the mall. “I loved the mall experience. I was definitely an early adopter in terms of fashion trends,” says Super, who was both artsy and academic (“but strongly preferred the artsy,” she says).
After her dreams of attending art school were sidelined by her father, who insisted that she first obtain a liberal-arts degree, Super opted to pursue a bachelor’s in women’s studies at the University of Southern California, while working at The Gap to fund her fashion addiction along the way.
Super planned to go into academia after graduation, until a friend’s father, who happened to be the CEO of the now-shuttered department-store chain Mervyn’s, stated the obvious: Super’s real passions lay in retail and fashion. “I didn’t even know what that career path was, or what it would look like,” says Super. “He basically introduced me to that and brought me into the training program there.”
In 1996, while working as a planner for Mervyn’s in the Bay Area, Super crossed paths with Kathy Bronstein, then CEO of Wet Seal, who took a chance and hired Super as a buyer. Super credits Bronstein with not only teaching her everything about buying in retail and how to develop product but also for instilling in her an intense level of standards and discipline. “I think of her as being one of the most influential people in my career,” says Super.
Super went on to forge her own formidable path, working for Gap, Inc., in San Francisco as a senior merchandiser and later as a divisional merchandise manager for the company’s Old Navy brand—with stints in New York at Ann Taylor and New York and Company in between. In 2013, Super landed what she had always imagined to be her dream job of running a company with Guess North America in Los Angeles, only to depart the following year. For the first time in 20 years, Super took time off to relax, and also to re-examine her career priorities. “It was the job I thought I had always wanted, but actually, it was just what I was supposed to want. It didn’t make me happy at all.”
After a summer of traveling, sailing and reflecting, Super was pointed in the direction of Maris Collective, a small Santa Monica-based startup that brings retail to five-star resorts. For the next two years, Super learned everything she could about running a nontraditional retail business. “It really showed me that retail is not dead, because if you have a unique offering and you have a personal connection and experience, it will drive people to your store,” says Super, who applies that mindset to her current job, where “it’s all about delivering joy.”
One of the big things Super hears repeatedly through customer feedback at Anthropologie is how the brand makes them feel. “The fact that women don’t feel better about themselves in general is something that’s on my mind,” says Super. “Women tend to defer and apologize, and not speak the truth or make a direct statement because of the way they fear they’re going to be perceived—something I think just has to stop.”
Super remembers the first time she felt the glass ceiling, when she began working at a senior level in retail. “I remember the men in the room talking over the women and basically disregarding what they were saying in a way that was so blatant, I sat back in the room and thought, ‘Oh, this is what it feels like.’ ”
Her advice to other women: “Help each other,” she says. “There’s no reason for us to be competing against each other, because there’s room for all of us. The place that each of us is meant to be, we’ll find it.”
Inspired by “the Kathy Bronsteins of the world,” Super, who now splits her time between Philadelphia and Palm Springs, where she and her San Francisco-based partner have a home, is committed to being a role model for women in retail. “I was very lucky that my father and an early mentor [Kathy] both had the unwavering belief that I could do anything, and that really helped to form my own self-perceptions,” she says.
To that end, Super also acts as a coach and connects female entrepreneurs to resources through LDR Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in women. “We all have those moments where we need someone to make a call for us, make the intro, recommend us, redirect us, give us some pointed feedback, and it takes purpose. It’s easy to forget or get busy, and we as women have to act with purpose and commit to helping each other along and to encouraging each other, instilling belief in one another. We can do it.”