2020 looks to be a critical year for Gap. As it rails against plummeting sales and store closures, the once emblematic American brand is looking to reinvent itself after struggling to find its place within the apparel industry in recent years.
Gap's newly installed chief marketing officer talks The Drum through its plans to find the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist once again through its 10-year collaboration with the king of culture himself, Kanye West, on why it's going back to its activist roots, and the decision to bring its marketing in-house.
When considering the ‘Gap’ brand, the mind naturally floats to its trademark hoodie, laid back basics, and classic denim. Gap was once one of America’s most beloved apparel retailers, and an era-defining brand of the 90s, when every kid on the block wanted to be seen with Gap’s name sprawled across their chest.
2020 tells a different tale.
For years, Gap has struggled to stem the steady drip of falling sales as it comes to terms with an identity crisis. Badly hit by the pandemic, back in June it reported a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion, with sales revenue down 18%. Further, Gap Inc. has announced that its namesake brand and Banana Republic are closing more than 225 stores this year, almost three times more than previously announced.
Now or never, and with a new chief marketing officer (CMO) in tow, Gap is looking to re-emerge as a cultural brand once again. “I say this with a lot of humility,” says Gap's new CMO, Mary Alderete. “We're trying to restore Gap, which is the namesake of our company's portfolio, back into an iconic global brand status.”
Alderete joined Gap just before the pandemic hit in March, replacing Alegra O’Hare who left the business after less than a year. Her exit coincided with the brand’s decision to “redefine” the role after Gap announced plans to shutter a number of stores, after finding itself outpaced by sister brands Old Navy and Banana Republic. Hailing from the latter (where she held the same role) Alderete felt like the right person to sail Gap out of choppy waters.
Since moving into the role in February, Alderate's marketing strategy has been to refocus the brand by starting with the product. “We’ve had a design team really focus in on elevating our product," Alderete explains. "Gap is a personal style brand with a sense of individualism. So we considered what are the product improvements we can make to our products to make them as relevant as they could be.”
Part of this refocus has seen Gap announce a 10-year partnership with creative entrepreneur and rapper Kanye West and his distinctive fashion line, Yeezy, with the intention of creating a line of products appropriately named ‘Yeezy Gap.’
A past Gap employee, West expressed as far back as 2015 his willingness to work with the brand. Aligning itself with the king of modern culture, and his solely owned brand valued at almost $3 billion, feels like a smart fit as Gap looks to revive its fortunes.
With plans to introduce the line at the start of 2021, Yeezy’s design studio under West’s creative direction intends to create a line of clothing that is modern, elevated basics at an accessible price point. “After announcing the partnership in June, we are now working on product design and development,” Alderete divulges, adding: “its more than a collaboration, its a business venture.”
Beyond elevating the look and feel of the brand, Alderete explains that the marketing wing is pivoting Gap to brand-led values, brought into focus around its brand platform - 'modern American optimism'.
Last week, it unveiled ‘Stand United,’ a call for unity at a decisive moment in US history - the presidential elections. Beyond a limited-edition collection of voting merchandise, the campaign aims to amplify civic engagement through voter registration and includes a program of live talks with ‘When We All Vote Ambassadors.’ Not shying away from the upcoming election, Gap joins a list of brands that are eschewing neutrality around the election, with brands such as American Eagle, Le Ligne, and its sister brand Old Navy entering into the territory.
Marking her first campaign since taking on the role as CMO, Alderete explains how that its a homage to the brand's activist-style roots. Founded in 1969, a defining moment of American optimism for change, Gap feels the current state of 2020 echos a similar sense of activism in light of the Black Lives Matter protests and incoming US presidential elections.
“If you look back to the original founding mission for Don and Doris Fischer, they established the company with a vision that they could do more than just sell clothes,” she explains. “1969 was another time of high civic engagement and what we call American optimism.”
Another decisive move by Alderete during her short tenure is ‘Stand United,’ Gap's first campaign where every aspect of its creation came from the marketing team, meaning no agency was involved in the campaign from start to finish.
Alderete explains that she brought her creative director along with her from Banana Republic, and because of their unique partnership and background, there were able to do all the work together in our own company. With an ad agency background, this is something she also did during her three years at Gaps sister brand. “We don't need to rely on an outside ad agency," she explains. “We create the concept, direct and produce all the assets ourselves which is quite invigorating for the team because everyone is a maker.”
While Alderete has encouraged Gap to make the leap into in-housing, she admits that this doesn't necessarily mean that it won't work with agencies ever again. "It's certainly an option," she admits. “But it depends on what the project is. It's about getting the best talent and completing the job at hand.”
Whether you're a fan of Kanye West or not, the world now awaits the Gap Yeezy line with bated breath – only time will tell whether it's enough to elevate Gap back into culture once more.