Banana Republic bends Britain to its will

The high street may be a gloomy place right now, but Banana Republic is well-placed to expand. James Thompson reports

The US fashion retailer Banana Republic will this week unveil its fourth UK store in One New Change, London's new shopping centre in the City.

But while it is likely to be low-key opening, there has been nothing understated about the performance of Banana Republic, which is part of the same group as the clothing chain Gap, since it launched in the UK on London's Regent Street in March 2008.

Stephen Sunnucks, the president of Europe and international strategic alliances at Gap, has revealed that its UK flagship Banana Republic store has delivered soaring sales. Appearing to pave the way for a major roll-out of the chain in the UK, Mr Sunnucks said that the Regent Street store was "already one of the top three performing Banana Republic stores in the world," out of more than 500 shops stretching across the US, Canada and Japan. In terms of sales volumes, only Banana Republic's store on Grant Avenue in San Francisco and its shop in New York's Rockerfeller Center – thought to be its top performer – can rival Regent Street.

Industry experts are not surprised by the barnstorming launch of Banana Republic in the UK and were surprised it took so long to arrive. "I can well remember looking at its website about 10 years ago and thinking: 'Why on earth are they not introducing this into the UK?'," says Robert Clark, the senior partner at Retail Knowledge Bank. "It has been clear for a long time it is an appropriate format for the UK. The product offer seemed to be absolutely in tune with the UK market."

UK consumers seem to be buying into Gap Inc's original goals for Banana Republic to create an "accessible luxury brand". Banana Republic was founded by Mel and Patricia Ziegler in 1978, as a retailer of military surplus clothing and safari adventure wear. But Gap Inc – which also owns the Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta brands – acquired it in 1983 and largely consigned the travel-related theme to history.

Maureen Hinton, the lead retail analyst at Verdict, the retail consultancy, says: "The brand fits well with what consumers are demanding in the UK, which is affordable, premium ranges that stand out. Banana Republic has got its own look: it is smart, contemporary and with clean lines."

It seems to be particularly popular among a slightly older generation of customer. Ms Hinton says: "It does appeal to a sort of older man, the 40-year-old-plus man." For women, Ms Hinton says it is particularly popular among working women, "who want smart clothes and have a bit more money to spend on those clothes".

In addition to Regent Street, Banana Republic has also opened stores in north London's Brent Cross shopping centre in December 2009 and Covent Garden in April this year. But Mr Clark says that Banana Republic may find life tougher outside London.

He said: "Regent Street is a flagship destination with high footfall and affluent shoppers and it may not be able to replicate it outside the capital – that's what happened with Gap."

Gap, which has 138 stores in the UK, first launched in the UK in 1987. But Mr Clark says Gap has, over the last decade, "found it difficult to replicate the success it enjoyed in the 1990s". While its performance has improved recently, the retailer's "record has been poor in the UK," he added. Sources close to Gap said the retailer is trading robustly and has done so for the last 24 months.

But Ms Hinton believes that Banana Republic "would do well in big urban centres" in the UK.

Before any such expansion, Banana Republic – which posted flat sales in North America for the five weeks to 2 October – launched online in the UK in August. And the retailer remains tight-lipped about its UK expansion plans. A spokeswoman said: "We are always exploring new opportunities." Banana Republic will open its first store in continental Europe in Milan, Italy, in December, with additional openings to follow in cities such as Rome, next year.

While the UK retail market has been through – and looks set for – a rocky ride, there seems no shortage of retailers looking to come to the UK. The Dutch retailer The Sting opened earlier this year in London and Forever 21, the US clothing chain, will make its debut in Birmingham next month.

Some foreign chains, such as the German company Tchibo, have failed to make a success of it in the UK. But Mr Clark says: "Since the Carnaby Street days of the 1960s the UK has been willing to adopt and make room for new formats. It has been one of the most exciting markets in the world."

Certainly Banana Republic seems to have struck a chord with UK consumers. Mr Sunnucks says: "London has been a massive success for us."

Comment

By Harriet Walker

No one does preppy like the Americans, and we've seen a multi-pronged attack on our shores in recent times from brands whose USP is Wasp. But the preppiest of all is Banana Republic.

Still seen as something of a glamorous newcomer since its arrival in London in 2008, the brand has managed to corner a niche spot in the market – it is aspirational but affordable, pragmatic but progressive, universal but not ubiquitous.

While sister label Gap is known for chic, modern basics and comfortable leisurewear, Banana Republic takes a smarter, more mature approach. Tailoring is key, whether for well-cut suiting and workwear or off-duty chinos, blouses and coats; all inspired by a clean-cut, all-American way of life we Brits are keen to ape.

By appealing to "professionals", BR has garnered an economically and sartorially reliable fanbase, who are happy to spend a little more for quality and who regularly update their wardrobes. One of the problems Abercrombie & Fitch (another transatlantic purveyor of preppiness) encountered was they were trying to flog a student-inspired aesthetic at grown-up prices to teenage customers.

A combination of traditional style and modern savvy has helped Banana Republic hit the Ivy League both at home and abroad.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
News
British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
people
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence