DICK’S Sporting Goods SVP on Finding a Common Language with Designers

By Lilly Milman |  June 17, 2021

Three years ago, Nina Barjesteh and her team began noticing a macro trend she describes as the “casualisation of apparel.” The men’s workwear staples of suits and ties were slowly turning into button downs and khakis, which became polos and khakis, and eventually (maybe on Fridays) jeans and khakis. The clothes that men would typically wear to run errands or head to the airport were becoming increasingly work appropriate, and Barjesteh wanted to capitalize on the trend.

Nina Barjesteh, Senior Vice President of Product Development, DICK’s Sporting Goods

This is how VRST (pronounced “versed”) — a new menswear apparel brand created by DICK’s Sporting Goods — was born. The brand focuses on casual and adaptable clothing. That includes a short-sleeve button down shirt made of stretching, moisture-wicking fabric that’s meant to go from the office to the gym; khaki-colored joggers also made to stretch and move; and a water-repellent blazer that can replace a raincoat during a drizzle. 

Barjesteh is the Senior Vice President of Product Development at DICK’s Sporting Goods. She heads the company’s sourcing team, the design team, and a business development team. 

Barjesteh breaks down the process behind building the VRST brand and shares tips on finding the right time to bring ideas to senior leadership.

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From Identifying a Trend to Building a Brand

After noticing the potential for a casual menswear brand, Barjesteh and her team decided it was time to begin speaking with customers — referred to as “athletes” at the company — to understand what was missing from their current offerings. That included asking questions like: “Why are you walking out of our store with sneakers, but not apparel?” and “Where else are you going for apparel, and why are you choosing them instead of us?”

Clothing from VRST.

After learning about what was lacking in DICK’s clothing selection, the team began building prototypes of the products. The design team gets involved early, Barjesteh says. Otherwise, they may be unable to fully align with her vision.

“It’s very important for the design team to clearly understand [the vision] from the beginning… The vision could be the brand vision. The vision could be the business opportunity,” she explains. “If you bring in the design team too late, there can be a disconnect from the true needs of what we’re trying to improve on, or the vision itself. … Ideation, understanding the consumer needs, and anticipating their needs — all of it has to be from the beginning with the design.”

Finding the Right Moment to Present Ideas

Getting a new brand from the page to the stores takes a lot more than a cohesive vision. Finding the right moment to elevate an idea to senior leadership is key, Barjesteh says. Otherwise, the execution of the idea could get muddled. 

According to Barjesteh, if you want senior leaders to be excited about a new potential product or brand, don’t get them involved when it’s just a “pie-in-the-sky idea.” An idea that’s too new won’t have a clear, well-researched vision behind it, and involvement from leadership could lead to misunderstandings. Ideas can get lost in translation. A more fleshed out project, Barjesteh says, clearly show a path to success. However, it’s also important to find alignment with the goals of leadership and the company. 

“It’s 90 percent in the presentation,” she says. “How do you take the vision and articulate it visually and have this amazing, easy-to-understand, visual presentation in which anyone walking in can say, ‘I totally get it. Go or no go?'”

Finding a Common Language with Designers

There have been plenty of moments where Barjesteh has had trouble articulating ideas to her team of around 70 designers, she says. This is when screenshots and images from outside websites or Google searches come in handy. 

“[If] I’m talking to my design team, like, ‘I’m seeing all of this purple everywhere, or I’m seeing shoulder lengths getting wider,’ and…they’re not totally getting it, I can show them 10 screenshots of what I mean by that,” she says. It’s important to be able to answer the question “Can you show me?” when relaying an idea — and Barjesteh accomplishes that by informing her ideas with multiple sources of information.

“One of the things that we always have to do as a design team when we’re presenting…new ideas is to not use one source of information to sell the idea. You can’t say…‘All the men are talking about how they want more comfortable clothes,'” she says. “Instead of just saying that, you say, ‘There’s this macro trend.’ You want to use multiple sources of information that [helped you come] to your conclusion of why you felt this innovation, or this design, was important.”