Gap Inc.’s Richard Dickson’s Rite of Spring and His Playbook for the Portfolio

Gap’s spring 2024 campaign spotlights linen, music, dance and South African singing star Tyla, in what amounts to an early yet consequential test for Gap Inc.‘s president and chief executive officer Richard Dickson and his playbook for invigorating the brand.

“We are reigniting Gap,” Dickson claimed in an exclusive interview.

He said the spring campaign, which launched Tuesday themed “Linen Moves,” reflects what made Gap successful years ago and into a household brand name — distinctive products and storytelling driving cultural conversations.

The impression Dickson conveys is of a spring campaign that doesn’t mark a sharp departure from the past. Rather, it represents Gap’s return to “championing” originality, self-expression and developing creative, jaunty campaigns that Gap had been known for connecting with customers. He cited the 2003 song and dance duet with Madonna and Missy Elliott, and the 2007 white shirt campaign collaborating with designers. There have been other standout Gap campaigns, like “Individuals of Style” in 1989 utilizing Patrick Demarchelier and Annie Leibovitz to photograph celebrities such as Lenny Kravitz and Bob Dylan, and the 1993 “Who Wore Khakis” campaign with vintage photos of Ernest Hemingway, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalî and other cultural icons.

The spring 2024 campaign features 22-year-old Grammy winner Tyla in song and dance demonstrating ease of movement in Gap’s new linen collection, as well as choreography by Shay Latukolan, and direction by J Lloyd and Charlie Di Placido from the U.K. band Jungle. Gap plans to collaborate with Jungle and Tyla on an in-store playlist that will be available on Spotify.

“Gap was the original pop brand that did more than sell clothes,” Dickson said. “We are leveraging music to drive relevance and fashion.” The spring 2024 campaign, Dickson said, “tells a story, has inclusivity, diversity, emotion, anticipation. It’s happy and optimistic. It’s a true expression of originality. It will speak to people in a variety of different ways.”

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Tyla in Gap spring 2024.

Gap already sells linen but, effective Tuesday, “We’ve got a big product story in linen. We’re making this our big idea,” said Mark Breitbard, Gap brand’s president and CEO.

Breitbard said Gap’s spring line offers “effortless, everyday essentials” and reinvented “icon” styles like the drawstring cargo, the pleated wide-legged trouser, and woven shirts. “This is part one. You will certainly see a continued roll out of new product. Linen is going to grow into summer,” Breitbard said.

Linen is lightweight, comfortable particularly in warmer weather, and has some stretch characteristics for movement, though it has a tendency to wrinkle. It does provide a degree of freedom of movement that today’s on-the-go consumer requires, Breitbard said. “Consumers are busy. Linen is a fabrication that can move with them. It’s versatile. It can look casual but you can quickly change your shoes and throw on a layer and you’re ready for the evening.”

“Directionally, the collection feels fresh, and elevated,” Dickson added. “Gap definitely had a great linen business before, but we saw the trend get a lot bigger last year.”

Asked if since becoming Gap Inc. CEO the Gap brand has been his top priority, Dickson replied, “I’ve been spending a lot of times with our brands, starting to frame up a new architecture that draws from the past and inspires the future. There is a lot going on here, a lot of exciting things, and I’ve definitely been spending time developing what we call the playbook.”

While there have been some sparks of life depending on the season’s collection and campaign, Gap’s performance over the last two decades has generally bee lackluster in terms of sales growth and resonating with consumers. As Dickson said, “We lost our edge. We evolved from pop culture brand to a retail brand. We just have not lived up to our potential. But today we are really moving again and we are guided by a new playbook.”

Structured around five key tenets applicable to all Gap Inc. banners — Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and Gap — the playbook, Dickson said, is a call for “always championing original, trend-right products and ensuring they’re the season’s canvas for self expression, and linking the product story with popular culture to drive relevance and demand.” It’s about “creating at the speed of culture which is a high performance endeavor,” Dickson said.

The playbook also calls for “true influencer strategies to further drive relevance; connecting with customers in experiential ways across digital channels, online and in stores, and executing with higher standards.”

Gap’s spring 2024, Dickson said, represents the first expression of the playbook. “This is a new chapter for the brand,” he said. “We are really just getting started.”

Actually, turnaround efforts at Gap brand were in motion before Dickson became Gap Inc. CEO and even before his joining the company’s board in November 2022. Prior to becoming Gap Inc. CEO, he was president and chief operating officer of Mattel and was among the executives who helped strategize the craze around the 50th anniversary of Barbie and the blockbuster “Barbie” movie. 

“Over the past few years, there’s been a pretty heavy lift [at the Gap brand],” Breitbard explained, citing an “operational clean-up” involving stores, products and styling, i.e., introducing the “Cashsoft” loungey knitwear line that feels soft like cashmere but isn’t cashmere.

In the third quarter of 2023, Gap brand reported net sales of $887 million, down 15 percent compared to the year ago period; comparable sales slipped 1 percent. Excluding the estimated negative impact from the sale of Gap China and the shutdown of the failed Yeezy Gap program, net sales were down about 6 percent.

However, Gap stock has been on the rise in recent months, with investors reacting favorably to strategic initiatives, including streamlining Gap and Banana Republic store networks, expense controls, demonstrating greater agility on capturing trends, and the presence of Dickson. Prior to his arrival, Gap Inc. stock ranged from $9 to $10. It’s currently hovering around $20. Dickson is the first merchant to head up Gap Inc. in two decades. The previous four CEOs were not considered merchants or fashion executives, with their expertise largely in non-merchandise areas. The last true merchant running Gap was Millard “Mickey” Drexler, who changed the way Americans dressed by masterminding the retailer’s growth and the launch of Old Navy.

With certain building blocks in place, Breitbard said the team is “feeling very good” about the business, and prepared to move forward in a concerted way, he suggested. “We are more responsive and fluid than we’ve ever been. We have plans to deliver product every month and have small drops in between that.” He said Gap will “move with the consumer” and is poised to “chase styles.…We will flow product when we need to be flowing product.”

Regarding the marketing for spring, “It’s a comprehensive, 360-degree launch championing originality and serving it up in a very relevant way with outstanding creatives — Jungle and Tyla. We’re using streaming, YouTube, content creators, digital expression, a look book with models that move, and getting that movement across at many stores, which will have video screens. There’s a cast of dancers, each with incredible followings,” Breitbard said. They’re wearing loose-fitting linen items in neutral and tonal styles; Tyla wears a linen cargo pant and crop top.

“Working with talent who embody the spirit of originality is not just a choice, but a commitment to our brand’s heritage,” said Breitbard, who is now in his fourth year running Gap. “This campaign pays homage to Gap’s iconic musical ads of the past while embracing the diverse voices and talents that shape our present and future. This is progress. We expect this to be a beginning. We will continue to have big statements.”


From Gap’s 2024 spring campaign.

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