On Sept. 6, Gap will debut a small capsule collection with a big message.
The San Francisco-based brand has collaborated with L.A. upcycling shop Atelier & Repairs to reimagine 500 Gap heritage garments from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties — including color-blocked anoraks, logo Ts, rugby shirts, carpenter pants, denim jackets and jeans — in a step toward resetting the brand as a fashion leader with a focus on sustainability.
“It’s not one shot, it’s part of a long-term program for the brand of which Atelier & Repairs is the pinnacle,” said Alegra O’Hare, who started in February as Gap’s new chief marketing officer, and previously was with Adidas. “We want to connect with unique product going forward that’s more for the top-tier, fashion-forward consumer.”
Atelier & Repairs’ founder Maurizio Donadi has emerged as an eco-guru of sorts for heritage brands looking to reclaim their cool, working with both Candiani Denim and Levi’s Dockers in recent months on capsule collections using selvedge denim, chemical and water-reducing production methods, and artful chambray patch details. For Gap, he personally scoured the company archives, eBay and flea markets for pieces that would resonate with vintage collectors, and that could be embellished, repaired, restitched or reinforced.
“Old Gap clothes, generally speaking, are a really good match for what we do giving clothes a second life,” said Donadi, a veteran of Benetton and Levi’s who started his L.A-based upcycled brand in 2015 on the idea of circularity instead of disposing of old clothes. “They deliver an excellent price point for the quality of production they have. The pieces last…and they give an interesting window through the decades into Gap heritage,” he said, spotlighting color-blocked cotton smock jackets with marsupial pockets, women’s high-waist harem pants and first-generation Gap jeans made from Cone or Burlington denim as being among the most highly collectible pieces in the capsule.
John Caruso, head of men’s and women’s design at Gap, had been following the work of Atelier & Repairs for over a year before contacting Donadi. “We wanted to start this in a smaller way but our intention as a brand is to continue this movement and create a bigger impact. It’s the idea of collecting Gap vintage, or extra stock samples or colorways we create, and breathing new life into those pieces to sell them, all in an effort to not put more things into the world…Atelier is a glimpse into how we are going to be incorporating sustainability into the design process going forward, and how we can use collaborators, give them a platform as a global brand and give them a voice,” Caruso said, noting that Gap will be building a separate platform for collaborations next year.
Gap Inc. has been more vocal about promoting its sustainability efforts since president and chief executive officer Art Peck suggested in an earnings call in February that Gap brand could be working toward becoming a B Corporation.
“I don’t have any comments on that beyond Art’s,” said Michele Sizemore, senior vice president of production at Gap. But she did underscore the design team’s commitment to making best choices: “When a designer or an R&D team is designing a product, they can choose a virgin or recycled fiber and when you are using a recycling fiber, how do you design into that?…There’s an example of our women’s puffer coat for holiday where the team designed into the [idea of sustainability] using internal components and fibers, and that is something the team will be sharing out as we get closer…We’ve been working on a lot of these sustainability programs for a long time. With our scale and size we have the responsibility and accountability to do this work and we need to start telling our story.”
The Atelier & Repairs capsule collection will be available in three markets, and just a handful of stores, including the newly redesigned Flatiron boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York, locations in Ginza and Osaka in Japan and Oxford Street and Brewer Street in London. It follows the brand’s 50th anniversary Denim Through the Decades kickoff in July, and another challenging financial quarter ending Aug. 3, when the $16 billion brand reported that earnings declined to $168 million from $297 million in the year-ago period, while comparable-store sales fell 4 percent.
On the earnings call Peck said he was optimistic about Gap zeroing in on its heritage and making “a vintage play,” telling investors, “I’m not sure there is a big resale market opportunity for us, but our eyes are wide open and so we’re looking at it. Clearly, sustainability is a huge issue and we’re increasingly seeing that as we talk to our customers. We think we have an excellent sustainability record and we know we can do a lot more and we intend to do a lot more.”