When we think about fast-fashion, there’s no shortage of names: H&M, Zara, Topshop… But until the 1990’s, when the term didn’t even exist, Gap was ‘the’ place to find good quality pieces with very reasonable prices. The American company established in San Francisco, in 1969, by Donald and Doris Fischer, as a multibrand store that sold jeans, LPs and accessories, was cool as the town kids. By 1974, there were 25 shops across the country and Gap became a monobrand loved by its smart basics.
The biggest hits came in the 90’s, thanks to CEO Millard (Mickey) Drexler, who knew exactly how to work Gap’s essence and transform it into a symbol of Generation X. The focus was selling basics like jeans, T-shirts and the iconic khaki trousers aligned with fun and cheerful campaigns showing groups of models or celebrities in approachable situations. His secret was capturing the Everyperson archetype and bring this universal desire to ‘fit in’ into the brand identity. All communication, marketing strategies, and retail experience were directed to reveal this accessible, familiar feeling, which turned Gap into a global success.
Everything was fine until the turn of the millennium and the arrival of new competitors, with new market dynamics, leading to Drexler’s dismissal in 2002 (he is at J.Crew now) and a series of misleading actions. By leaving the Everyperson archetype behind, the brand lost its focus and, consequently, the consumer’s identification. Campaigns with mixed messages, the lack of creative direction (Patrick Robison and Rebekka Bay, ex-H&M, were the last high profile names that failed to bring back the good times) and a perennial discount policy are some of the issues that only contribute to lacklustre performances. New CEO Art Peck is trying to solve problems in logistics and distribution by reducing the number of stores, but so far didn’t do anything to touch the branding side.
The attempt to change the logo in 2010 was a disaster and the old one was brought back in a matter of days, after an intense public backlash. In past years, partnerships with renowned designers (Stella McCartney for childrenswear, Diane von Furstenberg, Pierre Hardy) and a great investment in the 1969 jeans line were able to generate some buzz, but far from the heydays and nothing compared to H&M collaborations, for example. Unfortunately, the dissolution of the brand’s essence may have reached a point where there is no turn back. If only the company acknowledges this and focus on rekindle the connection with consumers instead of just copying what others do, there would be a brighter horizon. However, it looks like this Gap can’t be amended.
All videos above are from 90’s TV ads, where we can clearly see the Everyperson archetype in action.