oming to work amid camping tents and a roaring fire might seem odd for any other general counsel. For Wilma Wallace ’89, however, it’s fitting as the new top attorney for REI, the consumer cooperative focused on outdoor sporting.
She loves that on any given day she has the flexibility to wear hiking boots and a flannel shirt to the office. After all, everyone else does.
Wallace assumed her role as vice president, general counsel and legal secretary in October. She oversees a team of two lawyers and nine other staff members at the Seattle headquarters.
Previously with Gap Inc., Wallace said the move was a leap from the investor-driven corporate environment to which she had grown accustomed. At REI, the co-op’s members — about 16 million of them and counting — drive the culture. REI has 153 stores in 36 states.
“The co-op model is a bit of a unicorn,” Wallace said. “We’re not as constrained by daily, weekly or monthly investor reports or share price. There’s certainly the inclination to have a longer line of sight. You can look at more of the long-term impact of decisions you are making.”
Wallace worked for more than two decades as an attorney with Gap Inc., whose family of companies includes Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic. As deputy general counsel, she oversaw commercial litigation and commercial transactions globally, and several of the company’s compliance functions.
Wallace helped build the company from a $4 billion valuation in 1994 to a $16 billion one.
Her work for the San Francisco-based clothing giant culminated in her becoming vice president of global sustainability — a role that focused her efforts on improving ethical and sustainable sourcing practices.
That job landed her on the board of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. While Gap Inc. was not a company associated with the 2013 building collapse in that country that killed more than a thousand garment workers, Wallace still wanted to be part of the solution.
She was also influential in drafting Gap’s first corporate responsibility report in the late 1990s.
So when she sought a new challenge, REI made her short list. After an interim position with Enveritas, a nonprofit developing sustainable business practices for coffee-growers in Africa and Latin America, the timing was right.
“It’s a continuing dream,” the outdoor enthusiast and longtime co-op member said.
Wallace is an avid trail runner, hiker and bicyclist. As a student at UVA Law, she didn’t miss the opportunity to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains and Charlottesville with law school friends.
When not outdoors or in class, she was a participant in moot court, a coordinator for student summer internships, and a member of the Critical Legal Society and the Black Law Students Association. Among many fond memories of the Law School, Wallace said, she appreciated the sense of community, development of lifelong friendships and the impact of professors such as Alex Johnson and Mildred Robinson in creating a sense of belonging.
“They helped take some of the mystery away from the law school experience,” she said.