Banana Republic Retreats Back to Basics After Rocky Attempt to Go Fashion-Forward

Models wearing Banana Republic’s Spring 2016 looks at New York Fashion Week, September 12, 2015. (Photo by Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images)
Models wearing Banana Republic’s Spring 2016 looks at New York Fashion Week, September 12, 2015. (Photo by Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images)

After attempting to go boldly fashion-forward and promptly driving off the road and into a ditch, Banana Republic is beating a retreat back into the arms of quality cardigans and chipper colors and tasteful trousers.


Racked recaps the last couple years at the brand. They were marching along dependably and profitably, but not flashily, and Banana Republic just wasn’t getting much attention even within Gap Inc, which created a tried-and-true recipe for some good, old-fashioned acting out. So they brought on Marissa Webb, formerly of J.Crew, to jazz things up; she told Racked at the time that her motto was “Don’t be so dull.”

But, well, that’s a risky strategy when you’re dealing a mall brand famous for its reliable work basics:

Webb’s first collection for Banana hit stores in April 2015 and almost immediately, reliable Banana customers revolted. The brand that they loved, despite — or perhaps because of — its dullness, had changed drastically. Black, grey, and neutral tones dominated the new collections. The skirts got shorter, and the fits got less forgiving.The clothes were simply hard for the average American woman to pull off, and when Gap Inc. reported April sales a month later, Banana Republic’s comparable store sales (a metric that tracks sales from stores that have been open for a year or more) had plummeted by 15%.

Now Webb is gone and the colors are back, but you can’t snap your fingers and automatically reassemble customers who’ve wandered off:

“I think the style and fashion direction they went in communicated to their consumer that, ‘Hey, maybe this store isn’t really for you anymore,’” says Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors. “Now it’s up to them to communicate to their customer, get them back in the front door and say, ‘Hey, now we’re back, we’re all about you, and we’re sorry.’”

Well, at least J.Crew isn’t in the position to hoover up all those disaffected customers looking for work-friendly skirts.

Photo via Getty Images.

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Banana Republic has the same problem that J. Crew has. Part fit/style issues, but the main problem is that the quality has been steadily declining for over a decade and price points have stayed steady or increased (beyond normal inflation). No one wants to remain loyal to a store that keeps throwing crappily made items at you for absurd prices.