Gap’s continual decline

From Slate, two stories on notorious push-manufacturer Gap‘s continual decline:

The Shrinking Gap

The ultimate ’90s brand slides toward the murky middle.
…the numbers for Gap stores are ugly: down 12 percent in 2001, down 7 percent in 2002, and off 5 percent in 2005…And the trend is continuing. In February, same-store sales for the Gap North America unit fell 7 percent. “In February, traffic worsened versus fourth-quarter trends, which caused lower unit sales velocity. This led to significantly lower merchandise margins,” as executive Sabrina Simmons put it. (Translation: People avoided our stores the way Republican politicians are avoiding Jack Abramoff, so we had to mark stuff down or eat the inventory.)

Never Mind the Gap, How the retailer’s clothes got so dreadful.

These items point up the Gap’s two underlying problems. For starters, the brand is still aligned in the public imagination with the back-to-basic ethos of the ’90s. Which is to say, T-shirts and jeans. As such, it can’t begin to compete with the knock-off meccas (H&M, Zara, Club Monaco, etc.) that have become popular in the froufrou-mad ’00s. These days, it seems, we want our mall stores to be ripping off high-fashion houses, not mass-producing sweat pants…

It would appear that fit is still a problem or rather, communicating fitting differences is a problem. A word to the wise:

…Mimicking luxury retailers like Barneys New York, Gap stores now feature “jeans bars” with a dedicated salesperson. And the company is cutting jeans for all kinds of bodies-a noble concept. But the Gap has made the process so complicated that it takes an advanced degree to figure out which pants to try on. I fingered one seemingly promising pair on the shelf only to find them marked “original” “boy cut” “left weave” “ankle.” Huh? Hoping to master the categorization system, I consulted but only grew more confused. What is the difference, for example, between “straight boy cut” and “original long & lean”?

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  1. Bill says:

    Kathleen, I am surprised that an open minded, tolerant individual such as you would ask such a question. Had you seen ‘Brokeback Mountain” you would know that ‘long and lean’ boys are oftentimes different from ‘straight boys’. Two market segments – two styles.

  2. Christy B. says:

    Could someone please tell me what “left weave” means? I looked hard at a pair of jeans last time I was in the Gap and could not figure out what the difference is… Just a marketing gimmick?

  3. christy fisher says:

    It’s a twill weave (that has been done for years by many other companies). Gap is just ‘smart enough’ to use it as a marketing ploy.
    Here’s the techno scoop:
    In yarn you have an ‘S’ twist and a ‘Z’ twist.. One is twisted from right to left, one is twisted from left to right. When you weave a twill that is left on left, it has a softer hand because you are working the weave in the same twist direction as the thread.
    They’ll probably push chambray as being a “new weave” next season.. LOL..

  4. Christy B. says:

    Okay I get it… no wonder I couldn’t tell by looking! It looks like a regular twill weave. Gap has had such horrible quality control and really inconsistent products lately that I can’t understand why anyone is shopping there. Every boatneck tee I tried on my last visit had an improperly sewn neck and a couple had holes in the side seams. Do they even look at the clothes before shipping them to stores?

  5. Josh says:

    You know who I’m liking right now? American Eagle. I know nothing about them but I recently bought some jeans and a button up the front shirt there and it fits so nice. The jeans hug me perfectly. Was it just a pair of lucky jeans and shirt or is everything they make so nice? Not sure.

  6. Esther says:

    I haven’t been in a Gap or Old Navy in five years. Their clothes don’t fit their aging customer. The last time I went to a Gap, I had to try on five different pairs of pants and none of them fit. Plus, Old Navy’s quality is very poor. The clothing looks great in the store, but wash it once and the clothes fall apart.

    I do like Gap kids. They do have cute things. But I don’t think they can compete with the hot brands of Gymboree and Children’s Place (or does Gap own Children’s Place). Anyway…. Interesting article.

  7. Irv says:

    I used to like Gap’s khakis. They were part of my daily uniform. What perplexes me is why dont they have any uniformity in sizing. I would usually purchase 3 pairs or more at once. At closer inspection , I find that some pairs are made in different countries. The disparity was very evident. Some identically sized pairs fitted very differently. I thought Tommy was famous for their whacky inconsistent sizing. Guess not.
    I do agree as well with Esther on Old Navy quality . Sure, they have attractive pricing. I consider their clothing as “throw away”, as any continued washing of the product will start the deterioration process.
    I really want to get my hands on a pair Will’s Pennsylvania khakis though.

  8. Kathleen says:

    What perplexes me is why dont they have any uniformity in sizing…At closer inspection , I find that some pairs are made in different countries. The disparity was very evident. Some identically sized pairs fitted very differently.

    So many push manufacturers do this! They’re outsourcing the product development (pattern work) to the contractor so of course they’ll all end up differently. Not all inches are created equal (evidently). I hate this practice, it’s stupid. Levi’s has been doing it for years. The thing they should be doing is to develop one pattern of which they like the fit and then send that pattern to *every* contractor they use. I mean, it’s so obvious. I’ve noticed that retailer-“manufacturers” use this strategy a lot because they don’t apply sufficient value and weight to the importance of pattern making. Doing it their way (each contractor making their own pattern) means they’ll waste a lot more time and money because they have to ship protos and samples back and forth repeatedly. It’s such a waste of time and money. I don’t feel sorry for them. Having one pattern they use across contractors is such an obvious solution and I don’t see how the need of it could be made any plainer. This is why I keep saying that just because somebody is “successful” doesn’t mean somebody actually knows what they’re doing. They’re making their margins on marketing strategies rather than product integrity. No wonder they have problems.

  9. It’s so funny that Gap’s branding is coming back to bite them in the ass…They are so tightly associated with the the jeans and kakis and tee shirts in half a dozen colors paradigm, it’ll be hard to convince people to let them sell them other stuff, especially with the problems outlined here.

    Live by the clever marketing campaign…

  10. The lesson everyone should take from The Gap is that brand management must be a reflection of reality, rather than illusion. Gap’s cornerstone brand – Levi’s- learned this lesson very painfully. They tried to sell their product for $50-60 a pair by creating the illusion that they somehow had superior value that simply did not exist. They were slaughtered in Walmart stores when customers could look at Levi’s for $55, and Old Glory right next to them for $15. It was patently obvious to everyone that Old Glory was a far better value for the money.

    Gap is learning the same lesson the hard way when their store is in any proximity to Old Navy. The relative value is simply not there.

    Brand management should be built on solid value – make a superior quality product, then build a brand image that communicates and re-enforces that reality. Too many companies make a run of the mill product, then try to pawn it off as superior through clever advertising and ‘brand management’. Consumers simply will not fall for it.

    So the lesson from Gap for Kathleen’s readers must be to honestly appraise your product relative to the competition, identify the features that make it truly a better buy, then build a brand image around that value. The alternative – to make a product that is no better than anyone else’s, but try to command superior prices or establish customer loyalty trhough illusion – clever wording, headgames or artwork – is a recipe for failure.

  11. christy fisher says:

    Well put, Bill.. THANK YOU..
    I am so tired of “hot shot startups” who are tagging themselves as a “premium” “luxury” or some other hyped up, “exclusive” brand, when their merchandise doesn’t back up the lip.
    This drives home that point quite well.

  12. another wish says:

    Bill, I totally agree.

    I think that we, as buyers, buyers are much more intelligent than the manufacturers make us out to be. I noticed the left weave (smooth any way or some bs like that) in the store the other day. I wasn’t fooled. why pay $60 for jeans, when you need to try on 20 pair to POSSIBLY find a nice fit when target sells jeans for $24.99 that will do me just fine.

  13. jinjer says:

    ” They’re outsourcing the product development (pattern work) to the contractor so of course they’ll all end up differently. Not all inches are created equal (evidently). I hate this practice, it’s stupid. Levi’s has been doing it for years.”

    I have no idea if this is the problem Levi’s and Gap etc. have, but apparently, some contractors in China refuse to work with provided patterns: they’ll only use patterns they’ve developed themselves. Another reason to avoid China: not only does this cost more, but it inhibits improvement of the product based on customer feedback.

  14. Irv says:

    I have no idea if this is the problem Levi’s and Gap etc. have, but apparently, some contractors in China refuse to work with provided patterns: they’ll only use patterns they’ve developed themselves.

    This is not true at all. In fact, it is the opposite. Most contractors worldwide would prefer to have patterns supplied. It greatly reduces liaility when these sizing issues eventually surface.
    It all comes down to cost. Levi’s, GAP, Tommy etc.. dont want to have several hundred patterns/gradings done at the same patternmaker and sent to all offshore destinations. Geez , they couldn’t even provide a marker, let alone a pattern.
    They send you a sample piece, along with a tech pack, and let you go from there. They do not care who does the pattern. Get it done, and they don’t want to pay any extra for it.
    “Pigeonholing” the Chinese over this perception of not wanting to work with provided patterns is unfair.

  15. Mike C says:

    How does a store like GAP turn itself around? Can a brand like that reinvent itself, or are they better off creating new retail concepts that follow the market?

    The GAP is part of GAP brands, which includes Old Navy, Banana Republic and Forth & Towne. Their strategy has been to create brands to go after specific market segments.

  16. Kathleen says:

    How does a store like GAP turn itself around? Can a brand like that reinvent itself, or are they better off creating new retail concepts that follow the market?

    I don’t think Gap can turn itself around unless it can continually (and successfully) reinvent itself. Personally, I think they’re taking the wrong tack. The key to turn around is redesigning their manufacturing process, not their marketing one.

  17. Privado Gumabay says:

    I believe GAP has to do both: reivent itself (marketing-wise) and improve its manufacturing. It has to improve its marketing because in its heyday, which any company will always be compared to, the brand was actually hip to wear, to the young and old alike. I believe that one of the reasons it invented Old Navy (besides wanting to sell at a lower price-point) was that it was aware that its cool-factor was waning. But even now, Old Navy is loosing its hipness. That’s why young folks are willing to pay more for the hip brands, despite the fact that their quality isn’t necessarily any better.

    Yes, quality does matter, but so does identity. After all, clothing is fashion, and fashion is identity, and especially to the young, clothing-identity is almost everything.

  18. southpick says:

    This comment is to the founder of this blog site, which I believe is Ms.Kathleen ( if not, I apologize). I really enjoy the participations of all the writers regarding the ideas and categories provided. I recently bumped into this website when I was Googling for sleeve cap ease. I would like to comment on all, but time issues. Regarding this particular issue, I was hired as a freelance designer when Gap Inc was in the top of its game. Its game was basics. Basics of khakis and tees. Denim came later in the stage. To keep my comment short, when a company does well, and it becomes a public company the priority is in making money. Period. Stockholders, board members, thats all they want. So to do that, you open up tons of stores, everywhere. And to open all over the world you need products, and fast. As most of the you know in this site, that means the cheapest and fastest way possible. In this case China, cause they are a billion strong. Most of the comments I’ve read in this website, all cry “Quality.” You all know to get quality you need time and to spend the money to buy quality fabrics, notions, most of you are home sewers. Because I too am, a Parsons alumni, past mass market freelance designer, a manager for an expensive european brand store and now a shop owner/ deisgner so in terms all the dilemmas in this blog site I completely agree with most comments. (Especially, regarding a section on going to a prestigious ” Project Runway” schools. Really, does not matter in terms of education where you go. I especially enjoyed the “attitude” comments) But to to sell good quality pieces, it costs. Hence, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, etc. Good pieces need time, correct? …. to be continued

  19. Big Irv says:

    Why would you think most of us are home sewers ?
    Keep reading some more. You will see that the participants of this blog have varying degrees of expertise from every sector of the sewn products industries.
    I would love to hear more from you. You have tantalized us with a bit of your background, and I am always eager to learn more from people of your ilk. ….Please continue.

  20. Jeff says:

    Hi Southpick
    I too am not a home sewer per se but a manufacturer and marketer of specialty mens products made in the USA, just getting underway after a few years of preperation. Qualtiy and not cheap by offshore standards. I think the Gap model has become tired due to the very reasons you mention, i.e., the shareholders become who the entity serves rather than the fans of the product. This I know from 15 sickening years of life at the top of the souless corporate world. I feel that most of us identify tremendous opportunity out there in the marketplace, due to the obvious fixation on profits from the major corporate players. We are merely entrepreneurs investing our energies and resources to respond to this. Anyway, I am so glad you chimed in. Like Big Irv, I’d like to hear more from you. By all means, please continue to share your insights and observations. Where is your shop? What do you like to buy?

  21. southpick says:

    Didnt mean to offend anyone. Like I mentioned, I would have loved to read every bit of the categories in here, since I learned alot from different view points. Maybe I took it as everyone was a home sewer since I was in the sewing portion.. my fault..
    I’m in the mens market as well, streetwear side. But since streetwear deals more with graphics and such,( image image image, but no genuine ideas in terms of the clothing design work.) Jeans and tees.. selvedge this selvedge that..
    I took it upon myself to do everything in house, since education wasn’t cheap( neither is the rent here in NYC) So, from designing/patternmaking/sewing protypes/graphics/running the shop/and visiting factories here in the city, I became a student of the fashion-incubator per se. Yohji, Commes Des, Vionnet, Supreme, Woolrich, Alpha, Levi’s, Nike, Burton, Scotty Cameron, Mdme Gres, love em all for their marketing, design, longevity, etc..

  22. LizPf says:

    This all reminds me of the only time I tried on jeans at Old Navy.

    I pulled out the size 12 and 14, regular and relaxed fit. [I’ve been buying relaxed fit for years, to fit my curves.] The 12 relaxed and 14 regular fit well enough to examine further … when I held the pants next to each other, they were the exact same size! Waist, hip and thighs were identical. As they also had skimpy pockets (I *use* my pockets!), I walked away, laughing.

    Now, I buy my jeans from L.L. Bean. They have sizes cut to fit real women, the sewing quality is pretty good (no camel toe!), and the price is reasonable. Yes, they are “mom” jeans, but I *am* a middle aged mom. They’ve introduced a curvy fit, intended to fit women with a lower waist-hip ratio, and I’m eager to try those on.

  23. Kathleen says:

    Hey Liz, you’re making good progress. I see you’re up to entry #464, tunneling right through 2006. I think I’m going to call people who decide to start reading all the entries from the beginning, “trekkers” (or maybe masochists?) and give out prizes in a random drawing. heh

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