With more than 3,800 stories in the United States, Europe, and Japan, Gap is a specialty retailer that sells clothing, accessories, and personal-care products for men, women, and children. Gap, Inc. sells products using three brand names and stores: Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy. Based in San Francisco, Gap, Inc. was founded in 1969 by Dan and Doris Fisher. Gap went public in 1976, offering 1.2 million shares of stock to investors. In 1983, the firm purchased Banana Republic and hired Millard Drexler (1944–) as president of its Gap division. He became president of Gap, Inc. in 1987 and CEO in 1995. By 2001, the firm employed more than 166,000 people worldwide and had revenues in excess of $13 billion.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Gap, Inc. underwent expansion that established it as a significant brand name in U.S. retailing. GapKids opened its first store in 1983, and Gap Outlet (originally called Gap Warehouse) opened in 1993. Its Old Navy Brand debuted in 1994 and achieved $1 billion in annual sales within four years. The firm made a commitment to online retailing when it opened its online store in 1997, followed by Web sites for GapKids and babyGap in 1998, Banana Republic in 1999, and Old Navy in 2000.
In general, the Banana Republic stores try to convey a more sophisticated image for an upscale customer, whereas Gap stores appeal to a broader midrange of customers. The Old Navy chain is designed to appeal to younger customers by emphasizing "fun, fashion, and value" through a store experience that delivers "energy and excitement." Although Gap, along with other retail-store chains, has been criticized for blandness and uniformity in its selling environments, the firm maintains that it tailors its stores "to appeal to unique markets" by developing multiple formats and designs.
In the 1990s, Gap was one of several large retailers that came under fire by labor and human-rights organizations for selling apparel made abroad under sweatshop conditions (long hours for low wages in uncomfortable surroundings). It responded by developing a Code of Vendor Conduct that required its vendors (sellers of goods; in this case, the clothing manufacturers that sell to Gap) to abide by higher standards when dealing with its labor force. While acknowledging that some of its suppliers have factories in emerging nations that are just being to industrialize, Gap maintains that some of these jobs can offer a "coveted alternative to subsistence farming, or no work at all." The firm claims that it monitors working conditions with its network of Vendor Compliance Officers working with labor and religious organizations, and that it tries to make a positive impact "one vendor at a time, one worker at a time, one day at a time."
For More Information
Gap Inc.http://www.gap.com (accessed March 13, 2002).
Nevaer, Louis E. V. Into—and Out of—the Gap: A Cautionary Account of an American Retailer. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 2001.
Gap is a successful worldwide chain of clothing stores, with many divisions, each of which sells variations of basic casual clothes. In 1969 Donald and Doris Fisher opened a small clothing and record store in San Francisco. Seven years later the company had grown enough to begin selling its stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, and the next year it opened a charitable foundation. In 1983 Millard Drexler became the company president. One of his first acts was to buy a small travel clothing store called Banana Republic, which became a profitable division of Gap, Incorporated, selling up-scale "casual luxury" clothing. Over the next decades the company opened GapShoes, GapKids, and BabyGap. GapBody opened to sell underwear and sleepwear, and Old Navy, which opened in 1994 and is owned by Gap, sold discount casuals for the whole family.
Since the 1980s the Gap has become a multi-billion-dollar business and a household word marketing such basics as T-shirts, blue jeans, and sweaters. Gap stores are designed to be accessible to busy shoppers who want to buy fashionable clothes cheaply. The stores are easy to recognize, as every Gap store has the same basic design and layout. The stores specialize in offering a few basic designs in a wide variety of trendy colors, and they receive whole new lines of clothing seven or eight times a year, making sure that the colors and styles stay up-to-date.
Beginning in 1987 Gap began to open the first of several hundred stores around the world. Not surprisingly, a Gap store in Paris, France, looks exactly like a Gap in New York or Hong Kong. Critics of the Gap disapprove of this mass production and marketing of fashion, claiming that it damages individuality with everyone buying the exact same clothes from the exact same store everywhere in the world. Others dislike the huge stores, which often change the tone and personality of the neighborhoods in which they are located. They say that because Gap is part of a large corporation it can sell clothes at lower prices, which drives smaller, locally owned stores out of business. Still others have called on Gap to take responsibility for the poor working conditions at the clothing factories in Mexico, Asia, and Central America where the company buys the clothes it sells. Regardless of the views on the chain, Gap continued to be a success into the twenty-first century.
gap / gap/ • n. 1. a break or hole in an object or between two objects: he came through the gap in the hedge. ∎ a pass or way through a range of hills.2. an unfilled space or interval; a break in continuity: there are many gaps in our understanding of what happened. ∎ a difference, esp. an undesirable one, between two views or situations: the media were bridging the gap between government and people.DERIVATIVES: gapped adj.gap·py adj.