Banana Republic started as a safari-themed store in San Francisco in the 1970s. A decade later, Gap bought it and transformed it into its more upscale brand. Today Banana Republic looks nothing like its earlier self; the in-store Jeeps have been replaced by shiny baubles, cashmere sweaters and monochromatic collections. Yet Banana Republic, despite the visible differences, still has roots in its past and still guides its customers on a journey, contends Global CMO Catherine Sadler: You used to shop for safari; now you shop to ready yourself for a promotion or a new love, for example, she told me in a recent interview in the retailer’s flagship Rockefeller Center store.
We met during the lull before the (hoped for) crush of holiday shopping, amid the announcement of Banana Republic’s latest limited-edition holiday line created by celebrity designer L’Wren Scott. The collection is featured in Banana Republic’s December ad campaign, appearing in print, online, in-store and direct mail. The collaboration with a famed designer, making accessible styles usually left only to the rich and famous, is not new for Banana Republic, of course; it has in the past worked with the likes of Trina Turk, Milly NY and Issa London to create its “capsule collections.”
They, like the “Mad Men” line tied to the hit AMC show, enable Banana Republic to stay current in pop culture, she told me. Indeed, the quest to stay relevant is a constant push for the brand, which contends not only with other brands in the crowded, price-competitive retail space, but also with tech brands, travel brands–anything else vying for consumers’ discretionary dollars.
That’s been a challenge for all retail brands, including Gap’s. But Sadler–a veteran of Ann Taylor, Coach and Conran’s, as well as her own agency with clients like Donna Karan, Tiffany & Co. and Montblanc–is determined to keep Banana Republic’s brand authenticity high and its product selection enticing, while customer demographics change and digital shopping upends the customer relationship.
Watch our full interview here.