By  on January 29, 2009

Old Navy on Wednesday named Mark Breitbard as chief merchandising and creative officer, a new position.

The beleaguered Gap Inc. division has suffered with disappointing financial results and management changes in recent months.

Breitbard’s appointment underscores Old Navy’s urgency in turning its business around.

Breitbard will lead design and merchandising functions as well as guide product strategy for the brand, from design conception through product assortment and store presentation. An Old Navy spokeswoman said Breitbard will begin in his position in late February, reporting to Tom Wyatt, president of Old Navy.

“Mark’s role has always been a necessary role to spark our creative juices,” Wyatt said in a telephone interview. “Mark will create an even higher level of [products]” with new categories.

Gap Inc.’s net sales for the five-week period ended Jan. 3 were $1.93 billion, a 12 percent decrease compared with the five weeks ended Jan. 5, 2008. Old Navy led all Gap divisions with the sharpest declines in comparable-store sales: 16 percent in North America versus 8 percent in the previous-year period. Old Navy posted a 9 percent drop in same-store sales for the four weeks ended Nov. 29 versus a 3 percent fall in the same 2007 period. In the four weeks ended Nov. 1, Old Navy’s same-store sales declined 20 percent, versus an 11 percent fall the prior year.

Wyatt said Old Navy is no longer on a mission to attract twentysomethings with fast fashion, a course set by Dawn Robertson, who was president of Old Navy for 16 months before departing last February. Wyatt was officially named Old Navy president in August.

“I had to make strong and critical changes to strategy and who we served and get back to the Old Navy DNA of fun and family for a 25- to 35-year-old mom or non-mom on a budget,” he said. “We’re not going after that young H&M customer that at one point we were.”

Old Navy has added seasonal and permanent shop-in-shops such as a $5-$10-$15-item shop that “screams value to the customer. It’s a value journey, but also a fashion journey,” Wyatt said. “The reason Mark is coming is to take the fashion and assortment and create reasons for our customer to buy.” Goga, a new concept shop in the main aisle of the store, is an example of an idea Breitbard could develop for Old Navy. “It’s all about yoga and running,” Wyatt said. “It’s all activewear. It will be up for most of February and then we’ll go into a whole new theme. It’s in the spirit of what Mark’s role would be, devising the concept, visual presentation and product.”

Prior to joining Old Navy, Breitbard since 2007 was president of the retail division of Levi Strauss & Co., where he oversaw design, merchandising, marketing, stores and e-commerce. Before that, he was senior vice president and general manager at Abercrombie & Fitch, where he was responsible for the launch of Ruehl.

For eight years, from 1997 to 2005, Breitbard held a variety of merchandising jobs at Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic.

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