Gant is gearing up to celebrate its 70th anniversary, but the festivities will be centered around its strongest markets in Europe and Asia rather than where it all started: Connecticut.
The brand traces its roots to 1949 when Bernard Gantmacher, an immigrant from the Netherlands, and his two sons, Marty and Elliot, opened a shirt factory in New Haven, Conn., and began selling a button-down shirt to the broader American market. It was embraced early on by the Ivy League students at the East Coast universities and soon became a key part of the preppy uniform.
But for the last decade, the brand has been owned by the family-owned Swiss company Maus Frères, which also owns Lacoste and Aigle. Its net sales in 2014 were $1 billion. And while it has a presence in 70 countries and operates 93 stores, its U.S. distribution is limited to mainly e-commerce, and four full-price stores and two outlets.
Under former chief executive officer Patrik Nilsson, the brand three years ago set into motion a plan to reintroduce Gant to its home country. But those efforts largely failed and the company is retrenching and refocusing its energies internationally.
Nilsson exited the brand last June and Brian Grevy, the chief marketing officer, was elevated to ceo.
Grevy said reentering the American market is not a priority for Gant at this time and the company is “investing in other areas where we see more potential.” So in 2019, rather than spending money to move back into the U.S., the focus will be on the anniversary instead.
“We say Gant was born on the East Coast of the U.S. but raised in Europe,” he said, adding that the campaign is “about strengthening the market globally.”
Grevy said Gant is strongest in Europe and Asia, particularly China, adding that Gant will be adding more Asian markets in the future.
There has also been a change in the brand offering. Until last year, Gant operated three different subbrands: Gant Originals, Gant Rugger and Gant Diamond G. But Grevy said the separate brands were “dismantled” to create less confusion and a centralized communication strategy. “We feel for Gant that one brand is strongest,” he said.
Karen Vogele, executive vice president of product and design, said the company instead is focusing on its heritage.” So the 70th anniversary campaign is being called “Seven Decades Seven Icons.” It will kick off with a look at Gant’s hero product: the shirt.
Before the Gantmachers started producing button-down shirts for the masses, they could only be custom ordered. In addition to that, Gant is credited with a number of other innovations centered around the shirt including loops on the backs so they could hang on hooks; box pleats to allow for more range of motion; back-of-the-collar buttons to hold the collar and tie in place; dress shirts that wick sweat, and shirts made from recycled ocean plastic.
For the rest of the year, Gant will then shift the focus of the campaign to other products for which it has become known: the club blazer, the chino pant, the pique polo, the heavy rugger, the varsity jacket and the cable knit.
Each month will also celebrate a particular decade in the company’s history, starting with the Fifties for the shirts, the Sixties for the club blazer, and so on, up to the present.
A shoppable digital museum will also go live today.
“We’re looking back at our heritage to build the future,” Grevy said.
He said the shirt remains the brand’s best-selling product, although jerseys, chinos and outerwear are also seen as opportunities for growth.
And it may not be long before Gant turns its attention back to the U.S. Grevy said the company is preparing a 10-year plan to present to its owners in May, which will include a strategy to reenter the American market.