GAP ATTACK: Gap is back in Germany. On line, that is.

The American casual clothing brand has partnered with German fashion e-commerce platform Zalando, which is now carrying part of the Gap collection.

To celebrate, Zalando and Gap on Thursday night took over an abandoned 19th-century carpet factory at the border of Berlin’s Spree river, an unlikely setting for an American barbeque — signaling Gap’s new direction.

Breaking with the label’s traditional monobrand brick-and-mortar store strategy, the company is collaborating for the first time with a multibrand online operator to re-enter Europe’s economically strongest, but also most notoriously difficult market. After two attempts — and retreats — to conquer Germany via classic retail in the Eighties and Nineties, withdrawing last in 2004, Gap Inc. is again venturing a comeback.

Starting May 18, selections from the Gap collections, GapKids and babyGap became available online in the 14 European countries served by Zalando.

“We had fantastic stores in Germany that did extremely well, but we expanded too fast and the new chief executive officer at the time decided to sell the fleet. This partnership has little to do with what we learned from brick and mortar. We have a lot of franchise partners around the world, and this is like a virtual franchise,” Stefan Laban, senior vice president of Gap International, told WWD.

“Zalando is the e-commerce key player in Europe, and right now it feels right to start a co-operation with them,” he continued. “Besides our own stores and own Web site, we need to be where the customers are. And we like that they present us with other brands. It’s a way to reach out to Zalando customers who may not know Gap so well.”

The collaboration reflects Zalando’s stepped-up strategy to sharpen the company’s fashion profile, which includes a recently launched Topshop @ Zalando campaign, the curated shopping platform Zalon and the upcoming launch of Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic brand for summer.

“We want to work with the best brands around the world to be the best fashion destination,” stated David Schneider, co-founder and board member at Zalando. “Gap was a logical step, and it has a great story to tell.”

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