Interview with Giny Boer, CEO of C&A Europe


C&A has been at the forefront of fashion since 1841.

From making 'ready-to-wear' a thing when custom-made was the norm, to popularising miniskirts in the 60s, introducing the Com-bi-kini in the 70s, Bio Cotton in early 2000 and the first Cradle-to-Cradle Gold certified garment in 2017. Each day this retailer welcomes over two million visitors in about 1.400 stores across 18 European countries. Giny Boer joined C&A Europe as Chief Executive Officer, CEO. She replaced Edward Brenninkmeijer who joined the Board of C&A AG as Non-Executive Director. Giny Boer has a strong track record in leading large retail businesses through change and expansion in Europe. She is a retailer at heart who is deeply passionate about fashion and its ability to connect to people. As C&A has been refocussing on critical fundamental topics and strengthening the company’s business to set for future growth, Giny Boer is fit for the job.

"It is time to start with the changes we want to see in the world". Is this vision of C&A the reason for you to join?

C&A is a place of opportunities, where change is one important element allowing us to improve as an organization. We want to be more modern and digital while bringing the industry to an even higher level with regard to sustainability. As an icon with a long tradition, C&A is not a niche brand but able to set new standards on a new scale again. Referring to your initial quote: These new standards are part of the change I would like to see in the world, and that's why I'm happy to create them with a great team of talented colleagues.

How does C&A execute the #Wearthechange phrase?

For C&A sustainability is more than just a marketing claim. We have been one of the big players in organic and more sustainable cotton for a long time. We are committed to making fashion a force for good. Our industry is still not where we are supposed to be. This includes all aspects of the textile value chain, including environmental and social challenges that still need to be overcome. Sustainable fashion will grow. And it cannot grow in a niche. C&A has been democratizing fashion for a very long time; over the last decade we have started democratizing sustainable fashion, but there are many more things to come. Our ambitious 2028 sustainability strategy and our new Factory for Innovation in Textiles - FIT - in Mönchengladbach are just two examples.

C&A is a family-owned company: Where do you feel and see this until today? What does it mean to be the first female CEO?

C&A with its long tradition and strong retail foundation is an icon. It is not only a family-owned business, but also addressing the whole family. A very interesting aspect in my eyes. With regard to your second question: I don't think about being the first female CEO too much. I am working towards a future in which leadership is never a question of gender, but solely about talent and delivering results. At the same time, I do understand that female leaders are seen as role models representing a new level of diversity.

There are many managers talking about "servant leadership". What does your leadership style look like?

Powerful, friendly and human are three words I have often heard from others. I want to lead cooperatively, not top down. I am convinced that the whole world needs more kindness, but we should not shy away from clear decisions.

Good leadership comes from within: from motivation, taking different perspectives, and ambitious goals. It is the ability to inspire others and motivate people to give their best.

What is your vision on talent management, especially in these challenging times?

We have a program to identify, support and promote talents and provide equal opportunities. We should always start to work with the people we have and add new talents where it makes sense. Talent management is no question of age; we will all learn until the end of our lives.

We therefore provide mentoring and development infrastructure for all employees who are motivated to take the next step. A part of this is leadership development, particularly for high potentials, but also training opportunities for everyone in our organization. We continue to establish a family friendly working environment that accommodates the needs of both mothers and fathers, because talent management is about gender equality as well.

Do you wear clothes from C&A and if so: which ones?

Yes, there are many nice items in our collections and I wear them every day, ranging from denim and cashmere to outerwear. One thing is sure, they are different ones than the ones I used to wear as child and teenager when I remember my first times buying clothes at C&A in Groningen.

C&A has a wide range of different articles in her stores. Are there things you want to change?

Indeed, the assortment in our stores is pretty diverse and extensive. There are certain areas where I see this as an advantage. As one of the market leaders in Europe for denim, we are happy to offer a wide range of different styles to our customers. At the same time, we will see significant changes in other parts of our stores, where we will simplify the range of products and styles.

There are a lot of things happening in the world. How can you, as a fashion retailer, adapt your mode of production and supply chain?

I see one of our latest initiatives, the Factory for Innovation in Textiles - FIT in Mönchengladbach, as a great example. With the new factory, C&A contributes to making textile production and the supply chain more digital and sustainable. It's great to see the inside of the future factory coming to life now. FIT stands for three areas that shape C&A's approach to sustainability:

  • Collaboration with startups and academic partners at the forefront of digitizing textile production
  • production partners with expertise in sustainability issues and CO2 -neutral production
  • adapting local procurement approaches

Returning parts of our production to primary markets may be one part of the solution, but it is also a learning process other regions in the world will benefit from.

What are your long-term plans for C&A in Europe and what do you want to focus on?

One of this year's milestones was to launch our global sustainability strategy 2028. By then, C&A Europe aims to, among other things, source 100% of core materials more sustainably. Our goal is that seven out of ten products will have a longer lifespan by combining innovation and the circular economy. Thirdly, 50% of single-use plastics in stores, online and in the supply chain are replaced with sustainable alternatives.

A second field that I would like to highlight is our digital strategy with regard to our customers, but also within our organization. We need to become leaner and implement more of the advantages linked to digitization and data. Our clients will benefit from these new approaches as well. Talking about omnichannel: It is not enough to have great products. Our aim is to create a frictionless, seamless consumer experience combining the role of modern stores with our online potential. Therefore, we need to digitalize processes and work more data driven. This change, I would rather call it "further development", is only possible because of the great base we find at C&A.

What is life in Düsseldorf like?

Düsseldorf is the fashion capital of Germany and one of the most important fashion destinations in Europe. Not only does C&A have their headquarters in Düsseldorf, but it's also home to many talented young designers. Düsseldorf does have a unique geography characterized by the Rhine River, but there are also many cultural and culinary aspects, and it’s close to the Dutch boarder.