Almost anyone who’s been to a shopping mall in America has heard of Gap. While this homegrown success story has its own particular style now, it wasn’t always so individualistic, and this darling of the West Coast may never have existed at all if good jeans were easier to come by. 

The Global Force of Gap

The days of mom and pop shops have gone, and in their wake has risen a sort of shared global culture. Much of the world can shop at the same stores, and one of those stores is Gap. The company states that they want to create emotional connections with customers through their designs, store experiences, and marketing. 

Though Gap started out as an independent company, they have since acquired a number of major brands, like Banana Republic, Athletica, and Old Navy. With a diversified apparel portfolio, and a drive to make an impact on the industry, Gap may well continue to build upon their trend of success. 

Hunting for Jeans, Thirsting for Success

In the ‘60s, a San Francisco couple named Donald and Doris Fisher were struggling to find jeans that they felt fit properly. Assuming that this struggle was shared by other consumers, they raised more than $60,000 and opened their first Gap store in 1969 in San Francisco. 

Initially, the store primarily sold Levi’s and records; the Fishers’ hunch paid off, as they earned $2 million in just their second year of operation. The next year, they opened their second location in San Jose, and established corporate headquarters a year after that. 

By 1973 (less than five years after opening their first store) the Fishers had opened 25 different Gap locations across the country, and had even begun selling their private label clothing. Since their meteoric rise, Gap has faced a few rebranding efforts, as well as periods of growth and decline. Now the company seems to have found its groove, with a handful of distinct brands each having their own character and impacting the apparel industry in unique ways.

Competition in Clothing

The entire world loves to shop, and there are enough different demographics (from age groups to socioeconomic standing) that the industry can support a wide range of stores. This means that Gap has their work cut out for them in terms of competitors

Since Gap itself is a relatively mid-level store, they compete quite directly with H&M and even Macy’s. Their high-level brand, Banana Republic, comes into competition with the similarly upscale Nordstrom. Of course, it’s difficult to compare department stores with private label retailers, and Gap is at least 20 years younger than any of its competitors, so it hasn’t had the same time to mature. 

Reaching Younger Audiences

Part of Gap’s mission is to create strong marketing, and they have a history of doing just that. Most recently, the company has begun working with artists, musicians, and activists to create an inclusive campaign that features a sense of realness and representation rather than the more curated vibe of ordinary ads. 

Concerns Over Labor Conditions

Like many global apparel brands, Gap has suffered some missteps when stories about unsavory working conditions in their factories have come to light. In 2007, they were accused of using child labor unfairly, and more recently, it came to light that conditions haven’t improved much as factory workers face daily abuse. Gap, of course, condemned any such behavior and vowed to investigate. 

Whether these issues or something else are the cause, Gap fell 5 spots to 186 on the 2019 Fortune 500. Regardless, the company is obviously still not hurting, as they earned more than $1,000 million in 2018. 

With new, younger marketing approaches in play, Gap may just find a way to make a comeback in the 21st century and regain their former glory.