On August 21, 1969, real estate developer and entrepreneur Donald Fisher and his wife Doris raised $63,000 and opened the first The Gap store, in San Francisco. The name was short for “generation gap,” which was a better name than what Don wanted to name it: Pants and Discs. What began as one store that sold jeans and records eventually ballooned into 3594 worldwide locations in 43 countries. Here are 10 fashionable facts about the iconic label.
1. DON FISHER STARTED THE Gap BECAUSE HE COULDN’T FIND A PAIR OF JEANS THAT FIT.
As the story goes, 40-year-old Don Fisher started out renovating hotels and purchased the Capitol Park Hotel in Sacramento. There, he leased showroom space to jeans retailer Levi Strauss and Co. “When Mr. Fisher tried to buy a pair for himself there, however, he could not find a pair with a 31-inch inseam,” The New York Times wrote. “Nor could he find a pair of that size in San Francisco department stores, which stocked Levi’s with 30-inch and 32-inch inseams but not 31.”
He suggested to Levi’s that they should open a place where customers could buy all sizes in one store, a sort of one-stop shop. The Fishers hadn’t worked in apparel before, but they used one of their storefronts to open the first location of The Gap. In five years the gambit paid off—sales hovered around $97 million. In 1975, Don told The San Francisco Chronicle his simple adage to sell jeans: “People wear pants, and they’re going to continue to wear pants.”
2. IN 1972, THE Fishers STARTED THEIR OWN jeans LABEL.
At first, The Gap sold Levi’s and up to 15 national brands. Three years into the business, the Fishers introduced The Gap brand of jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts and eventually phased out the other brands. By 1991, Don Fisher claimed the label was the second-best selling brand in American clothing, behind Levi’s.
3. THE FISHERS INSTIGATED A FEW RULES at The Gap.
Stores replaced stock quickly, and they kept prices affordable. They kept bestsellers on racks until they stopped selling, rather than replacing popular items with the newest thing. And they stocked a few styles and kinds of clothing at a time and offered them in different colors and sizes.
4. THE Gap started out with QUIRKY ADS.
To garner attention, The Gap placed eye-catching ads in local newspapers. One early print advertisement read “Levi’s for cats and chicks!,” accompanied by “an unnerving pencil drawing of a bird and cat wearing pants,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The company stoked controversy in 1975 when it ran a salacious ad picturing unzipped jeans with the headline, “The Gap is Open.” Fisher was happy with the hubbub that ensued. “We still run it wherever we can,” Fisher told The Chronicle. “Sometimes we run it two or three days until the newspaper gets too many calls from readers.”
5. IN THE 1980s, The GAP DID AWAY WITH “UGLY” CLOTHES.
In 1983, Mickey Drexler joined the team as president. In the next few years, he transformed the brand from catering to teenagers to generating apparel for every demographic. (During his 20-year tenure, he increased sales from $480 million to $13.6 billion.) He’s also credited for revamping the stores: getting rid of the orange walls and replacing racks with shelves under soft lighting.
In 1987, he developed separate collections for men and women and doubled the number of styles for women. “What troubled me especially,” Drexler told The New York Times in 1991, “was that the taste level of the merchandise was, well, just plain ugly. The stuff was trendy but not tasteful and the quality was not what I would have liked. The problem was that we were running a margin-driven business based on price. There was no real, bright future in that.” The changes resulted in quadrupled sales.
6. When they weren't overseeing the Gap, tHE FISHERS bought A LOT OF CONTEMPORARY FINE ART.
When Donald and Doris weren’t busy opening Gap stores, they collected a wide array of art, including works from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. They had started collecting art for their offices in the mid-1970s, and in 2009, they donated 1100 works by 185 artists to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “They agreed early on that they would never buy a work unless they both liked it, a decision that has ensured that the collection reflects their shared sensibilities,” the museum wrote.
7. THE GAP TAILORED ITS CLOTHING TO “THE MASSES.”
Even couture aficionados recognized The Gap's influence on culture. “I think to find a pair of jeans in 1969 was a different task than it is today,” Vogue editor Sally Singer told NPR. “Back then, the idea of shopping as a pursuit for the masses, that was very new and that wasn’t done." She added that the Fishers made sure that “everyone can wear a khaki and a polo shirt. Everyone can wear what looks like a college sweatshirt. That just wasn't done a long time ago.”
8. THE GAP MADE KHAKIS—AND SWING MUSIC—COOL in the 1990s.
In 1998, The Gap launched several commercials of young people dancing while wearing khakis and basic T-shirts and tanks. “This campaign is about reinventing khakis,” read the press release. The most famous of the ads, “Khaki Swing,” showed twenty-somethings doing the lindy hop to Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail" using digital photogrammetry, in which two still photographs morphed to give an effect of a freeze frame. The ad fed the 1990s revival of swing.
9. IN 2010, THE GAP CHANGED its LOGO—TEMPORARILY.
On October 4, 2010, the company quietly changed their classic logo from white lettering enclosed inside a navy blue box to blue text on a white field with a lighter blue box in the corner. But the company failed to explain the change, and the public hated the new logo. Less than a week later The Gap switched the logo back to its original one.
10. The Gap reached $1 billion in sales with diverse brands.
In 1983, The Gap acquired safari clothing company Banana Republic and transformed it into a sophisticated brand. In 1986, it opened the first GapKids, and a year later, the first Gap opened outside the U.S, in London. In 1990, the company created BabyGap. But its biggest success came from launching Old Navy in 1994, a budget-conscious casual brand: within three years, Old Navy earned $1 billion in sales. Currently, Gap Inc. owns Banana Republic, Athleta, Intermix, Janie and Jack, and Hill City, and is spinning Old Navy into an independent company.