Banana Republic and pro basketball player Kevin Love on Tuesday launched the "BR/K.LOVE-18" collection, a limited-edition men's capsule that the Gap Inc. banner said is "inspired by Banana Republic's heritage of utility and reflective of Love's personal style."
BR/K.LOVE-18 is priced starting at $14.50 for accessories and up to $548 for a leather biker jacket, and includes other pieces like a varsity jacket, motion-stretch suit separates, fitted corduroy trousers, topcoats, sweaters and camo designs. The collection is available now in select U.S. stores and on the brand's website.
Accompanying the launch is an advertising campaign dubbed "Who is Kevin Love?" featuring The Roots drummer Questlove, Olympic gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn and award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson, according to a company press release. In the spots, Love gets dressed in BR/K.LOVE-18 apparel while he listens to voicemails left by those stars.
For a while it seemed like Banana Republic was the banner in Gap Inc.'s stable that might fade away, but this collection demonstrates that the company hasn't yet given up on the brand.
Last year the apparel retailer was in freefall, with U.S. sales falling 16% over the previous three years. The year before the company shuttered all of its U.K. stores and longtime chief Andi Owen left. Under Gap Inc.'s new growth strategy unveiled last year, the plan is to shutter about 200 underperforming Gap and Banana Republic stores over the next three years, and that pull-back has begun. The brand still racks up plenty of sales, but its downturn has some observers wondering if it should become a sub-brand of the flagship, or be left to die altogether.
But things have perked up in recent quarters, and executives last month told analysts not to count it out. "I believe Banana has growth that nobody really appreciates, because Banana plays as a specialty brand," Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck said during a conference call, noting that that label competes mostly with premium department store apparel. "I think we have a good share opportunity right now, it's not like the entire department store sector is driving at the moment."
On the same call, Chief Financial Officer Teri List-Stoll suggested that Banana Republic could eventually even be counted on for growth. "I wouldn't downplay the benefit of Banana on a rebound," she said.
Three straight quarters of rising sales is "a nice start," RetailNext marketing director Ray Hartjen told Retail Dive in an email. "Banana Republic's turnaround is presenting evidence that it has some stick-to-itiveness about it," he said. "And, they still have opportunities, I think, with margins. They're unnecessarily tight given the competition outside of the Gap brands. That remains a bit of a stickler: What's the strategy to compete with higher-priced competition without losing sales to lower cost alternative within the Gap brand portfolio. It lies in product, of course, and that brings us to the big merchandising challenge, and that's the vast breadth of product offering at Banana Republic."
That breadth may be too vast, according to Hartjen. The new BR/K.LOVE-18 may help bring a welcome narrower focus.