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.