fashion

Gap at 50: How to grow from jeans and LPs to a retail behemoth

Published 21st August 2019
The first Gap store opened in 1969 in San Francisco.
Credit: Johansen Krause/GAP
Gap at 50: How to grow from jeans and LPs to a retail behemoth
Written by Allen Kim, CNN
Gap, the clothing retailer that has become one of the biggest names in American casual fashion, turns 50 years old today.
Doris and Don Fisher, the founders of the company, opened the first store of the retail behemoth in San Francisco in 1969 on Ocean Avenue and named it The Gap, in reference to the generation gap.
The reason for opening up the store was simple: Don was unable to find a pair of jeans that fit.
A Gap store in San Francisco from 1987.
A Gap store in San Francisco from 1987. Credit: Tom Riggs/AP
The store originally sold jeans from Levi Strauss & Co. and records, appealing to the counterculture movement going on in the city at the time. However, in 1974, the company decided to release its own private label clothing, which would change retail fashion in the United States.
The company went public as Gap Inc. on May 19, 1976, offering 1.2 million shares of stock at $18 a share.
The Gap store in New York City from 1992.
The Gap store in New York City from 1992. Credit: Evan Agostini/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Gap continued to expand, opening up the first East Coast Gap store in Voorhees, New Jersey, in 1978. By March of the following year, there were 375 Gap stores in the US. A little more than two years later, the brand expanded to 500 stores.
In 1986, the first GapKids store opened in San Mateo, California.
The first location outside of the US was in London in 1987, and its international expansion didn't stop there. It opened up the first Gap in Canada in Vancouver in 1989, and a decade later, its first French flagship store opened on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The first Gap store to open in Paris.
The first Gap store to open in Paris. Credit: Bernard Annebicque/Sygma/Getty Images
Gap now has around 135,000 employees, 3,100 company-operated stores and close to 400 franchise stores around the world. Its online presence reaches around 70 countries.
Over the years, Gap created and acquired several brands. In 1983, it acquired Banana Republic. In 2008, it acquired Athleta, and the company bought Intermix five years later. Gap recently launched Hill City in 2018, and it acquired Janie & Jack from Gymboree earlier this year.
Out of all the brands in its portfolio, one stands above the rest: Old Navy. The first Old Navy store opened in 1994 in Colma, California. Originally created as a cheaper version of the Gap, Old Navy has since become the more profitable brand and was spun off in February, making it an independent company.