Gap Inc. has long tapped celebrities — most recently Sarah Jessica Parker for a kids apparel collection — to bring glitter or edge to its basics apparel. But this summer the company turned to internet-famous advocates and artists for its latest campaign.
The international social media campaign features videos and images (also featured prominently on its website), starring artists, models, musicians, and activists including Kimberly Drew, Carlotta Kohl, Kelvin Davis, Ezinma, SuperDuperKyle and Chella Man.
The campaign is focused on diversity and features a wide set of backgrounds. Chella Man, for one, is a multi-representational artist and advocate. Being transgender, queer, deaf, Jewish and Chinese, he's particularly outspoken on topics of importance within and across several communities.
One of Chella Man's mantras is "We need you, Gen Z!" While he's talking about social change and acceptance, the same might be said of Gap's brand.
The company maintains its status as a global apparel juggernaut, but its prominence as an iconic fashion source has faded. The Gap brand in particular, though still enjoying strong sales, is treading water, and earlier this summer tapped former Billabong CEO Neil Fiske to take on the role of president and CEO of the brand (replacing Jeff Kirwan, who left in February). For steadier growth the company continues to rely on its lower-priced Old Navy brand, along with its smaller but rising Athleta athleisure brand. The company has plans to open or remodel mostly Old Navy stores and some Athleta stores worldwide as its footprint (still massive at 3,165 stores overall) otherwise shrinks.
Turning to Chella Man and similarly outspoken and, in some people's eyes, culturally daring individuals isn't without controversy — social media is largely an open forum and not all reactions to the spots have been kind. But then, it's a culturally and politically tense moment in general these days, and some customers are even looking for brands to confront issues on their terms, rather than attempt to avoid them.
Overall the response seems positive. Other artists and advocates are amplifying the Gap ads and lauding the visibility they bring to marginalized people. "[A]s a person with gender dysphoria, clothes shopping can be tough," wrote @attack_on_asher on Twitter. "[W]hile searching, an employee proceeded to misgender me. after leaving, i saw @chellamanart in the gap window ad. it reminded me that i'm not alone as a trans person and that i am valid. REPRESENTATION MATTERS."
as a person with gender dysphoria, clothes shopping can be tough. while searching, an employee proceeded to misgender me. after leaving, i saw @chellamanart in the gap window ad. it reminded me that i'm not alone as a trans person and that i am valid. REPRESENTATION MATTERS ❤ pic.twitter.com/sn1BstUm2i— asher (@attack_on_asher) August 17, 2018
Once Gap grabs young people's attention, though, the brand must keep it by delivering the goods, particularly considering the brand's higher price tag. For several years now, Gap has consistently failed at that.
"The blunt truth is that on the ground little seems to have changed at Gap," Neil Saunders told Retail Dive in May. "The product mix still consists of the same boring basics, there is an absence of fashion trends, base prices remain out of kilter, and discounting is rife. While Gap's management notes that the brand is in transition and discounting is necessary to sell down excess inventory, we are not confident that the strategy is anywhere near optimal. In short, Gap is still a brand struggling for relevance."