Banana Republic is pursuing its comeback by looking back.
The Gap Inc. division, finally showing signs of improvement after losing cachet and market share for years, has dug into its archives to inspire its fall campaign, launching today.
With a theme revolving around styles “designed for a life with no boundaries,” the campaign celebrates Banana Republic’s 40 years in business and its signature items through the decades. Trench coats and trench dresses, traveler pants, olive military-style suits, men’s chinos, cargo pants, cable sweaters and graphic T-shirts are among the Banana Republic classics that have been brought to the fore and updated with new fits, utilitarian details and fabric innovations such as stain resistance, stretch and wrinkle-free.
Two weeks ago, Banana Republic reported margin improvement and its third consecutive quarter of comparable sales gains. There was a plus 2 percent comp gain in the quarter against last year’s negative 5 percent; total sales reached $604 million, up from $579 million, and there was a mid-single-digit improvement in the average unit retail price.
While the gains, to some degree, were spurred by easy comparisons and the nation’s healthy economy and heady consumer spending, Banana Republic executives tell WWD that their turnaround efforts are taking hold, that the upscale specialty division is rebounding, and that the essence or “soul” of the brand is being recaptured.
“We’re encouraged the things we are doing are resonating with customers,” Mark Breitbard, Banana Republic’s president and chief executive officer, said in an exclusive interview. “We don’t feel the results are entirely due to forces beyond our control. We’ve got a cohesive point of view. It’s dead-on, hitting the sweet spot of the brand. The entrepreneurial and explorer spirit of the brand continues to fuel our creativity and innovation today. The team is aligned. We’re focused on consistent execution, and the assortment is more edited. We’re more confident in our point of view.”
“We feel it’s a seminal moment,” added Mary Alderete, Banana Republic’s chief marketing officer. “The team has gelled, there’s an energy and it’s coming together for fall.”
Banana Republic was founded in 1978 by Mel and Patricia Ziegler. Originally, it was a catalogue called “Banana Republic Travel & Safari Clothing Company” filled with products the Zieglers bought from around the world. They opened the first Banana Republic store in Mill Valley, Calif. In 1983, Gap Inc. purchased the company, simplified the name to Banana Republic, and started rolling out stores and perpetuating the safari-themed merchandising, even famously putting Jeeps on top of some store ceilings. Eventually, the safari theme played out and Banana morphed into a more upscale. fashionable offering, but in more recent times it became overly workwear-oriented and has struggled with its identity.
In May 2017, Breitbard joined Banana Republic after running Gymboree Corp. for five years and earlier holding top jobs at Gap North America and Old Navy. Since joining Banana Republic, he’s installed new management, including Alderete, and last spring moved the product development, production and design team in New York (about 200 employees) to the San Francisco headquarters. “In some cases [the organization] is a little flatter,” Breitbard said. “Teams can move faster. There’s better teamwork. We can react and be responsive to the customer. We are testing faster and becoming more innovative.”
He’s also bringing best practices of Old Navy and other Gap Inc. divisions to Banana Republic. “We’re working closely with brand leaders” on technology, product cycle processes and platforming fabric, he said. The Gap division, for example, recently deployed an “in-stock, on-shelf” app which informs store associates on their mobile device when items need replenishing, and reduces instances where items were in the store but not on the selling floor. The app will be rolled out to the Athleta and Banana Republic divisions this year.
Banana Republic continues to pare down its store fleet, which includes 600 owned stores and 100 franchises globally, and optimize locations. Breitbard cited the 34th Street location, which was recently converted to an outlet to better fit the demographics of those shopping the area, though a regular Banana Republic store will open next year in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards mall. “We are figuring out how customers are shopping and how they want to shop our brand,” Breitbard said.
The fall 2018 advertising campaign, which includes direct mail, digital marketing, videos and social media, was conceived in-house by Banana Republic creative director Len Peltier and was shot by Zoey Grossman in New York and Los Angeles. The campaign focuses on updated silhouettes, fabrics and details “that define iconic Banana Republic.” A short film, directed by Keenan Newman in San Francisco and Tokyo, augments the brand’s positioning.
“We really wanted to capture the spirit of being curious, connected, and out in the world,” said Alderete. “We’re taking the concept to social media, to windows, in-store, to digital marketing.” Compared to past campaigns, “There’s a much richer brand experience with richer content tailored to each different platform. We’re not just pushing an ad campaign.”
The Banana Republic flagship in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood is hosting a Bumble Hive meet-up Thursday evening through Sept. 12, coinciding with New York Fashion Week. There will be a panel, presented by PopSugar, on Thursday with Bumble creative heads Erin and Sara Foster discussing their personal and professional experiences. In addition, PopSugar, in conjunction with Banana Republic, will show videos on the Fosters to further Banana’s narrative of “living a life with no boundaries.” The videos will be on PopSugar and BananaRepublic.com.
“In the past, the pendulum swung too much to dressing for work,” Alderete acknowledged. Now it’s about “clothes that fit a life in motion,” Alderete said. “We know our customers are busy by design.”