Stagnating Gap

Slate is looking at the Gap and wondering what the fuck happened.

Good question. In the mid-90’s, I — like many teenage boys trying to sucker girls into sleeping with them — spent a great time wandering down the mincing path of the “sensitive male friend”. As one might expect, this led to many girl-unfortunate-space-friends informing me that it would be like sleeping with their little brother. As an only child, I never quite understood the concern, but I digress. During these times, I spent a lot of time in malls with friends, assuring them outside of the Gap dressing room that those jeans didn’t make them look fat, or that a particular grungy t-shirt emphasized their breasts subtly yet profoundly. The Gap was the place for 90’s hipster fashion.

Yet if I get suckered into accompanying a friend now when clothes shopping, we always pass the Gap by without a word. Other retailers have stolen the spotlight. Slate examines The Gap and argues a large part of it is that The Gap has never gotten over the 90’s fashion aesthetic that once made their brand so powerful. In addition, they are over-priced for what they sell and even simple purchases like a pair of jeans require an advanced PhD in order to work out the overly-complicated sizing descriptions. Well worth a read as a case-study on how a powerful brand can let itself stagnate by not paying attention to what its customers want.

Never Mind the Gap [Slate]

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  1. Danilo says:

    “As one might expect, this led to many girl-unfortunate-space-friends informing me that it would be like sleeping with their little brother. As an only child, I never quite understood the concern, but I digress.”

    My God. It’s as though you’re penning the opening paragraph of the high school chapter of my biography.

  2. The Unicorn says:

    Not to mention the fact that their sizes are MORONIC. I recently went to the Gap because I had a gift card there, and discovered (in addition to all the other problems you mentioned above) that I require a larger size at the Gap than I do at Old Navy. Now, normally, inter-store size discrepancies are merely annoying, but considering that they’re the SAME COMPANY (and considering that I had just been to Old Navy) it was just frustrating, and made me feel like I had somehow gained 15 pounds in the four-block walk between the two stores.

    Also, the ostensive benefits of their numerous sizes is totally negated by the fact that everthing runs ridiculously long there. I tried on a pair of pants that were “ankle” cut (which means, presumably, that they should fall at the ankle of whatever Amazons Gap uses for their fittings). Well, I’m a not-freakishly-short 5’2″, & the “ankle” pants I tried on extended past my feet, I shit you not, a good 6-8 inches. Apparently, in the Gap unverse, everyone is at least 5’8″ and constantly wearing massive heels.

    Also, their white stuff is way too sheer. Their “built-in bra” white tank tops do a lovely job of showcasing one’s nipples, thereby requiring a redundant bra. And on their button-down shirts, the placket, pocket, and any other part where the fabric is doubled is a notably different color than the rest of the shirt. If I’m paying $40 for a “businessy” shirt, I expect that people shouldn’t be able to view my freckles through the material.

    Um, okay, apparently I’m REALLY PASSIONATE re: my hatred of the Gap. I’ll stop ranting now. For the record, they still do make pretty cute jean jackets, which is what I ended up using the gift card on.

  3. ben says:

    It’s hard. I worked for the company for just over 5 years (evenly split between Gap and Banana Republic). The trouble started, at least to me, when Gap tried to go uber-trendy in 2001 (the initial collection, which was good, was badly timed… it hit the floors in September 01). However, the quality of that product went way down after the initial trendy collections, and many of the older, ’90s standby customers felt the need to move on. 2002 was a bit better, the CEO was replaced with someone more business-minded, but the damage had been done.

    I’m not entirely sure about the choice to fire their latest design VP (who had some good fashion-world cred) and replace her with someone who worked for New York & Company (talk about out of touch). We’ll see how that pans out, but it could possibly mean a renewed focus on updated, yet classic basics.

    Banana has done a good job of keeping up its trend-right, affordable image, but even some of their designs and merchandising choices have gotten out of hand. Spring 06 was and presumably Fall 06 will be better, with a much more brand-right ad campaign (and new ad agency). The price point is hard, and a lot of people I know will only buy there if there’s a sale or promotion, regardless of brand loyalty. Sizing and fit has always been an issue, as well, especially in men’s. Their premium denim efforts have been lackluster at best.

    Forth & Towne was a good idea in theory. People are disappointed with the product quality (more Gap than Banana) and its lack of focus and point of view.

    Again, it’s hard. It always seemed odd to me that each brand, while I worked there, would consistently try for these odd brand repositioning strategies that alienated current customers and never really reached out for the ones they desired. There’s a link missing between brand strategy and design somewhere. There were continual promises to have a great, new collection next season… but that never panned out. And customers notice these things. It was only a matter of time.

  4. Paul D says:

    but considering that they’re the SAME COMPANY

    Not only that, but they are likely the same jeans with a different label. No kidding. The whole reason the parent company owns both Gap and Old Navy is so that they can price identical products differently for different “markets”.

    I say buy them wherever they’re cheaper. The label and sizing differences are meaningless since the jeans all come from the same place (usually a sweatshop). And if you really care about which label is on your jeans, you’ve got bigger problems than just size discrepancies. I suggest therapy.

  5. The Unicorn says:

    Well, the pants in question were “dressy” pants — one of the few categories in which Gap can still be distinguished from Old Navy (they have some business-casual clothes, but the selection’s pretty limited). And also, there was the gift card issue at hand.

    And I wasn’t necessarily boo-hooing about the size discrepancy in a “woe is me, I was size X and now must buy size X+2, the indignity” way — more of a, “I should be able to take fewer than 3 different sizes of pants into the fitting room with me, and then at least one of them should fit, for chrissakes” way.

    In general, I think that Old Navy has far cuter stuff than the Gap, plus more reasonable prices. Although anyone who’s *really* label-conscious (especially when it comes to jeans) probably wouldn’t shop at either store.

  6. ben says:

    It’s called “optimistic sizing,” and yes, it’s pretty stupid. But for some reason, retailers (not just Gap Inc) think that making sizes bigger will influence purchase. Most people just come out of the fitting room going “WTF?! I’m not a size 2! I’m an 8!”

    I can’t say I agree with the observation that ON, Gap, and BR rebadge items that are of the same quality and fabrication. Having worked at two divisions, there’s a pretty distinct difference in fabric quality and cut between each store. They may all come from the same factories, but there is a difference. And no, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. I’m definitely a disgruntled ex-employee.

  7. Anabelle says:

    Gap lost some of us “older” (i.e., Baby Boomer) customers when they went trendy about 6 or so years ago, and started making shrunken tops, etc. that are suitable for juniors but not the majority of misses’ sizes. They lost the trendy customers, especially teens, when they stopped creating new trends.

    My own teenaged kids stick with Banana Republic, American Eagle, and the terribly overpriced Abercrombie. Gap never really decided who they were going to be and what customers they wanted to please, and have ended up pleasing no one.

    Also, I have been sending Gap angry e-mails since early last fall when they redesigned their website and made it incompatible with many versions of the Safari browser preferred on newer Macintosh operating systems. Hey, Mac owners buy clothes, too. Duh!

  8. Bubba Barney says:

    Have they done in other states what they did here in Colorado? They closed all of their stores to re-design and re-package them to be in a ‘Colorado Aesthetic’.

    I went to check them out after they re-opened [I am obsessed with market branding and design], and all they basically did was throw in wood floors, and slightly re-arrange the layout.

    Same color palette, everything.

    As for the clothes, it looked like they just copied Express. This is when stripey button down shirts were trendy.

    Overall, I don’t see how any of it ‘spoke’ of a Colorado aesthetic. Not that we’re all cowboys and extreme sport health nuts, but it was just regular every day clothes.

  9. etinterrapax says:

    I’m with Anabelle, though younger (31). There’s something missing between “basic” and “trendy” in there that now hits neither. Because I’m hidebound or lazy or busy or broke or tomboyish, I don’t want froufrou; I want the same shit I was buying post-high school and the occasional fabulous coat/bag/sweater/scarf to wear with. If the Gap doesn’t have the good basics and its fabulous accessories and toppers are terrible, they’re useless to me. I doubt I’m alone. Old Navy at least has the advantage of being so cheap as to be essentially disposable. But the quality of their goods–or lack thereof–is badly betrayed in the poor fit of anything more complicated than a T-shirt. Pants that don’t fit well–a road the Gap is also traveling right now–are death for a women’s retailer.