Brian Duford ’05 helps bring versatility to menswear

As one of the first employees of Gap’s new men’s athleisure brand, Hill City, Brian Duford ’05 is helping reinterpret what men’s clothing can be. 

Previously working as a business forecaster at the women’s athleisure brand Athleta, Duford spent most of his time looking at spreadsheets, not clothes. “I’m an economics kind of guy,” he says. “I like being surrounded by creative people, but I’m the guy who is not creative.” For months, Duford had a folder on his desktop for a new project that the company, part of Gap Inc., was considering for a “men’s Athleta brand.” When Athleta leadership approached him to be a part of an internal team to make it a reality — building a new brand from the ground up — he didn’t hesitate. “It was a unique opportunity,” Duford says. 

Now he is one of approximately two dozen employees in the fledgling clothing brand Hill City, which hopes to do for men what Athleta and Lululemon did for women a decade ago: create a new category of clothing — athleisure. “It’s all about versatility,” says Duford. “Men’s clothes are siloed — if you are going on a hike, you wear Patagonia; if you are going to the gym, you wear something with logos all over it.” 

While he never gave much thought to clothes before, he considers himself the target demographic for the company, as a young urban professional in San Francisco who wants functional clothes to wear to the office, as well as after work. “If you want a pair of pants that looks good at night, but is also comfortable and has some stretch in the waistband, there aren’t a lot of options.”

Along with a new clothing category, Duford and his colleagues are creating a new kind of company, with a start-up mentality inside a legacy brand. This has required him to look beyond the numbers and take on multiple roles. 

Duford studied international relations at Colgate, focusing on international business economics. When he started at Gap, Inc. in San Francisco after graduation, he enjoyed the challenge of economic forecasting in an industry disrupted by the internet. “We found there is a place for retail stores, but it has to be done a little differently,” he says. While at Athleta, he pushed initiatives for smaller stores with running clubs and athletics events to bring in customers. “If you build a community and engage with the clientele, it keeps them coming back,” he says.

Hill City is primarily an internet brand, but Duford and his colleagues are pursuing innovative ways to market the company, with pop-up stores and clothing “food trucks” at athletics events. “We are doing something scrappy and different,” says Duford, who has taken on everything from inventory management to wholesale distribution to working in the store. “It’s energizing to come into work and not know what you are going to do that day,” he says. “And seeing how your work has direct impact on the bottom line is motivation to work harder.” 

Duford hopes to help grow Hill City to the point where he can once again focus on forecasting. For now, though, he’s enjoying looking beyond the spreadsheets every once in a while to be closer to the creative energy of the brand.