Gap Inc. on Wednesday said that Neil Fiske will take on the role of president and CEO of its Gap brand June 20, reporting to CEO Art Peck and replacing Jeff Kirwan, who left in February.
Fiske has 20 years of brand-building and turnaround experience in specialty retailing, according to a company press release. Most recently, he was CEO of Billabong International, where he led a turnaround, and before that was president and CEO of Eddie Bauer.
The Gap brand has struggled to regain its top place in American fashion, and Gap Inc. last year announced a growth strategy centered on the company's lower-priced Old Navy brand.
Over the last several years, the Gap brand has attempted several fashion reboots, but misfired a number of times, bringing in and firing a series of designers and creative directors. That all culminated in an attempt four years ago to double down on essentially style-less "normcore" at a time when fast fashion was cleaning up by knocking off ideas from the haute couture runway.
Meanwhile, Old Navy continues ringing up sales, consistently outpacing the company's flagship Gap and Banana Republic banners. That was true even in its most recent quarter, when Old Navy had more subdued results. Comparable sales at Old Navy Global rose 3% in the first quarter, far short of last year's 8% increase, but Gap Global same-store sales fell 4%, equal to a 4% decline last year, and Banana Republic Global comparable sales rose 3% versus a 4% decline last year.
Gap still does a big business — the brand had $ 5.5 billion in net sales globally last year — but, once an influential force in American casual fashion, it's now reticent about attempting noteworthy style moves, according to GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders. "It is still a very big company in terms of volume of sales, the problem is that it's a very unambitious company," Saunders said in an interview. "Gap always says 'We're making changes' — but sorry i can't see any difference from five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago."
While Gap has brought in a number of high-profile style mavens over the years, including Danish branding guru Rebekka Bay and Pashko founder Patrick Robinson, they were dismissed before their revival attempts could gain traction, Saunders said.
It's possible that Fiske knows the dangers of being overly risk-averse in fashion, having learned it the hard way two years ago when style misses sank Billabong sales in some markets. "I think we played it too safe, frankly," he said at the time, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Billabong as of April is part of Boardriders, Inc.'s stable, which also includes Roxy, DC Shoes and former surf rival Quiksilver.