Gap fires chief designer, fashions fail to inspire

Some problems are so stubborn they seem hopeless: The Arab- Israeli Conflict, getting cling wrap to stick to the rim of a bowl, and fixing the fashion problem at Gap stores. In the latest of many attempts to get its fashion house in order, Gap yesterday fired its star designer Patrick Robinson (read here). Robinson joined Gap in 2007 (read here) promising to make its clothing more relevant to consumers. If by relevant he meant making apparel people want to buy, he failed.

Same-store sales (considered the best indicator of a retailer’s performance) at Gap North America (GNA) have been negative every year since 2005. In 2010, GNA posted a 1% drop in same-store sales, while its sister chains Banana Republic and Old Navy logged gains at their stores open at least one year.

I’ve asked this question before: “When was the last time you walked into a Gap store and saw something you just had to have?” For me the answer is years. Indeed, fashionistas agree that the company’s namesake brand peaked in the mid-1990s and has been on the decline ever since. While Robinson deserves credit for some successes — skinny cargo pants and better denim — yesterday’s firing shows he failed to take the brand where it needs to go. Gap’s list of fashion misses is long and it continues to lose sales to rivals including American Eagle Outfitters, J. Crew (led by Gap-alum Mickey Drexler), and the fast fashion chains Zara and H&M, which all manage to deliver more compelling fashion to their stores.

In February, the company fired the president of Gap North America, Marka Hansen, and announced other management and organizational changes at its Gap brand signaling that the division’s problems were on the business and merchandising side of the operation. Now, with the dismissal of Robinson the chain is admitting it has a design problem.

While the retailer searches for his successor, the design head for GapKids will oversee the adult line. That may seem like a strange fit, but at least GapKids makes clothing children and their parents want to buy.

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Photo by Dominic Alves, used under a Creative Commons license.
Alexandra Biesada

Alexandra Biesada shops everyday, whether she wants to or not, and pines for the days when it was strictly a recreational activity. She has covered the retail beat for Hoover’s since 2001. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more articles by Alexandra Biesada.

Comments

  1. I have been a long term GAP shopper. I almsot worked there while in high school. The quality has gone down hill in the last 10 years, steadily. While GAP has become more gray, certain good things have come about. Their 70% off sales (yes you have to wait very patiently for them) is a plus for those on a budget, the shimmer sweaters which are of high quality boost uniqueness that you’d find in a higher brand name, and their real leather shoes are something that even oldnavy can’t boast. While the color selection has become bland certain things did keep me returning (if at times reluctantly) to the GAP. I hope that these positive notes above won’t go unnoticed as times change in design.

  2. alex biesada says:

    Mrs. T — You’re absolutely right about the great sales. In fact, it seems like GAP runs sales constantly (although not all at 70%). Still, I don’t often find anything I’m dying to buy, except basic items, such as jeans (they still have great denim ,but it can be pricey) and tees. The color palette is bland: mostly blue, grey, and black. Where they seem to consistently miss is with the higher-end apparel, like seasonal dresses. I too am a long-time GAP shopper. I find myself returning, out of habit perhaps, and the hope that one day soon I’ll find something I really want. You can’t beat GAP for location. They have the convenience factor covered!

  3. Laura H. says:

    I’m also a big Gap shopper. The main draw for me is their Tall sizes and Long length jeans! Also, last year during pregnancy I basically got all of my clothes from them. However, I’ve left the shop empty handed on many occasions recently because I just am not finding pieces that I can’t live without. Dare I say they’ve become too trendy? Gap used to be the go to place for basics… now all I find are shapeless, flowy tanks and cropped, skinny cargo pants… GapKids gets it right… fun, basic clothing, with a touch of whimsy and style. I’ll always get my jeans from Gap… but please give me something else to love.

  4. alex biesada says:

    Laura H. — GAP does not do trendy well. That’s where the competition is beating them hands down. Maybe the next designer will have more success. I certainly hope so. I agree GAP Kids is great and I like a lot of what I see at Banana Republic. So why can’t the main chain get its fashion act together?

  5. You know what the GAP needs now? A little love….sweet love.

    http://imeanwhat.com/youcallthisfashion/what-the-gap-needs-now-is-love-sweet-love

  6. I’ve shopped GAP since the 70s…they always, most years, had such attention to detail in stitching, seams, buttons, etc. All that is gone. So is COLOR! And everything, including the new and severely marked down, looks like rags. I am so over the shirt/top “tissue” fabric. It’s just plain CHEAP. So has the denim become thinner, and “mushier.” It’s also CHEAP. I tried hemming a pair recently and it the edges shred right in my hands. I couldn’t sew up the edges fast enough. I’ll shop elsewhere. They’re plain BORING and overpriced.

  7. alex biesada says:

    Sasha — GAP’s quality may have suffered but have you ever shopped Forever 21? I have recently with my 12 year old and the quality is awful. Pathetic! Yet the store here in Austin was packed and the check out and fitting room lines stretch across the store. I fear the fast-fashion craze has spawned a whole generation of shoppers who either know nothing or care nothing about quality. Great for retailers who can get it made super cheap over seas, and then the clothes fall apart leading to frequent shopping trips. It’s really sad.

  8. Jon Sadler says:

    Was this person also the designer for Banana Republic? If so, that would explain why all the fits horribly changed within the past couple of years.

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