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Has Gap outlived the gap in the market?

Blessed to be living in a city where I can sample all of Gap Inc’s brands - Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy - and receive my weekly e-newsletter from Piperlime, its online footwear store, I do find myself passing the stores week after week, struggling to find inspirations in their windows. All of my friends with kids swear by Gap, and every time I become an honorary auntie I do find myself in there, coo-ing over the outfits. But what’s in it for me?

Yesterday when I went in to Gap I was hardly through the door before I was bombarded by jeans, different shapes and lengths but with hardly any variation in colour or texture. Racks of white shirts and then four different shirt designs all available in the colours of the rainbow. But stock was on Sale, probably because the Gap devotees and the non-believers have seen or bought a version of these items before. Pick your year, because not much has changed in product terms since Gap was founded in 1969!

The staff are always busy folding items up rather than spending time with the customers, something that if changed may aid the company to move forward. Offering iconic basics doesn’t mean using the same old pattern and simply changing the colours to suit the season. I won’t even start on the menswear. My husband, who is as a conservative dresser as they come can’t bear to see another pair of Gap chinos.

Banana Republic is celebrating three unforgettable decades this season and to be fair the menswear is perfect for the man who grew out of Gap when he was 18, and who likes decent quality but hates shopping. In contrast the womenswear is very hit and miss unless you favour a pearl necklace and your grandmother’s cardigan for a fun evening out. The centre piece or pieces in the current collection is the little black dress.

Overall, the hues of purple in store make you look more Prince than Prada and the shapes are often neither kind to the gym bunnies nor flattering for the cupcake munchers. The bags and shoes are stylish but the finish struggles to match the price tag.

Still without a shopping bag I headed to Old Navy, according to Gap Inc, the place to go to for the latest fashion at amazing prices. I can confirm that neither Forever21, H&M, Primark or Topshop have anything to worry about. The advertising campaigns on TV always look fresh and fun, but skip past the first couple of floor fixtures carrying the featured items and you have arrived in yet another world of basics.

Of course, you can pick up the odd item. Old Navy has cute pieces of underwear, decent quality jerseys and inexpensive baby clothes, but for a brand that prides itself on being a trend provider I struggle to find the inspiration in these impersonal large stores that look more like a warehouse than a serious contender for the fast fashion crown.

I returned home, the credit cards still intact and the wardrobes breathing a sigh of relief as they didn’t have to house any more clothes. Maybe this is where Gap has gone wrong? Adding more brands to its stable and diluting its core offer.

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