Old Navy refuses to stop selling the long-derided cargo short, and it's a brilliant business strategy

Old Navy refuses to stop selling the long-derided cargo short, and it's a brilliant business strategy

obama cargo shorts


Barack Obama loves a pair of cargo shorts.


Few garments of clothing are quite as divisive as cargo shorts, a point of sartorial contention that Old Navy CEO Sonia Syngal has managed to capitalize on.

The debate against cargo shorts became national media fodder back in 2016, thanks to a series of articles that both praised and bemoaned the staple. "Men who love them say they're comfortable and practical for summer," Nicole Hong wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "Detractors​ say they've been out of style for years, deriding them as bulky, uncool and just flat-out ugly."

BuzzFeed called them "a deadly plague that has infected America for far too long." Business Insider itself was split, with one staffer dubbing them the "single worst item a man can wear" while another pleaded to "end the war against cargo shorts."

Hate 'em or love 'em, Syngal knows men will buy them and has the receipts to prove it. In an interview with Fortune discussing the brand's upcoming spinoff from parent company Gap Inc., she explained how Old Navy employs its extensive data set to identify styles that resonate while predicting future trends. Despite its haters, cargo shorts repeatedly make the cut, though now they're a bit more tailored and fitted than before, she said.


cargo shorts

AP/Ted S. Warren

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider wearing cargo shorts in 2014.

"Poor guys, they don't get to carry a purse," she told Fortune, referencing the high storage capacity of cargo shorts due to its many pockets.

Reporter Phil Wahba wrote that Syngal "makes no apologies" for her role in the revival of the cargo short, even if it comes "to the chagrin of many American women."

Read more: Yes, cargo shorts really are that bad - here's what you should wear instead

Old Navy's role in the revitalization of the cargo short is also emblematic of its larger business strategy, which is centered around selling a curated mix of go-to basics and trendy - but not overly trendy - pieces at affordable prices.


"We are in one-third of American households," Syngal told Fortune. "Why can't we be in half? Why can't we be in three-quarters?"

Perhaps the trick will be going all in on cargo shorts.