Following Mango's return, Gap becomes the second re-entry of SA's revolving door of clothing outlets

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A woman walks past a 70% sale sign outside a branch of Gap in Oxford Street, London. (Photo by Vickie Flores/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
A woman walks past a 70% sale sign outside a branch of Gap in Oxford Street, London. (Photo by Vickie Flores/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)
  • Gap, the casual clothing and accessories brand known for its modern approach to American optimism, announced its re-entry into the South African market through a distribution partnership with Hyvec Group, last week.
  • The partnership will introduce the brand to customers through Gap-branded stores in South Africa and Mauritius, beginning with the launch of Gap’s first freestanding store in Johannesburg this month.
  • Gap now becomes the second international clothing brand to return to the country after MANGO this year. 

Launching in the country’s largest shopping center, Gap opened its doors on 26 November 2020 at the Mall of Africa with the brand’s Summer and Fall collections for men, women, kids, toddlers, and infants.

The store will offer a wide variety of elevated essentials including denim, T-shirts, and hoodies as well as the brand’s signature logo products for the whole family.

“Since we exited the market in 2017, it has been a priority to evaluate future partnerships for Gap in South Africa and to restore confidence in our loyal Gap customer base. By partnering with Hyvec Group, we are opening an exciting chapter in our growth strategy and are incredibly energised about what the future holds,” said Roy Hunt, SVP of Inc. Franchise & Strategic Alliances.

READ MORE: SA welcomes a new online fashion portal as brick-and-mortar retail ebbs and eCommerce flows     

After the store opening in Mall of Africa, the Hyvec Group plans to carry out a sustained national growth plan with additional store openings in South Africa, as well as the Bagatelle Mall in Mauritius. 

Yogesh Soowamber, Regional Manager for Africa (Fashion Division), expressed that they "are beyond excited to bring in a brand that takes pride in creating products our customers love while doing right by our customers, community and planet."

"Gap is not only the embodiment of youthful energy, but is also a range of denim led- and responsibly produced essentials. And we are bursting to return this family brand to Mzansi." 

GAP returns to South africa
Image supplied by Styling Concepts 

To mark the launch, the store will offer special promotions and discounts to consumers including, 30 percent off on all products in-store plus an additional 10 percent off on 5 December for the customer launch event.

In a statement, Gap reassures that the health of employees and customers remains a top priority, as the teams have implemented safety measures to protect the Gap community against risk from the novel coronavirus.

In addition to staff and customers being required to wear masks at all times, a limited number of consumers will be allowed in the store at a time whilst adhering to social distancing rules.

The launch reinforces the brand's commitment to meeting the customer where they are, while also implementing health and safety measures to make the store a trusted place for customers to shop as the world continues to navigate the global pandemic. 

READ MORE: Secondhand clothing sales are booming – and may help solve the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry

Gap follows in the footsteps of Mango in its enthusiastic return to South Africa, becoming the second international fashion outlet to do so in 2020.

Welcome back, MANGO 

While South Africa has been lamenting a potential retail apocalypse since the likes of Stuttafords, River Island, Nine West, Topshop, and the Platinum Group stores all shut their doors for good and left our malls, it would appear Spanish retailer, MANGO, had been doing some work to cement a return to SA.  

In 2017, Fin24 reported on the closure of all standalone MANGO and Nine West stores, whose licenses were both held by The House of Busby. The brands reportedly contributed less than 5% to The House of Busby’s turnover.

In that same year, Edcon announced that it would no longer be stocking certain international brands (including MANGO) in their Edgars stores, as the "international brands' profit margins were not as big as the group’s own brands." 

Since then, SA shoppers have been able to get their hands on MANGO threads via online shopping site, Superbalist.

Fast forward some three years later, and MANGO is a standalone store on our shores once again. 

While it's unclear as to why exactly the fashion retailer is back in Mzansi, with this new opening, the brand is consolidating its presence in Africa, where MANGO is present with 52 retail outlets, four of which are megastores.

Located in one of South Africa's elite shopping centres, Sandton City, the store stands alongside its recently opened Spanish counterpart, Desigual.

READ MORE: Spanish fashion retailer MANGO is officially ripe and ready for SA shoppers as it continues its international expansion in Africa

Welcome, Desigual

Founded in Barcelona, Spain in 1984, Desigual - in a rather optimistic move - opened its doors in Sandton City for the very first time in SA, in September 2020.

Desigual’s first store in South Africa carries collections from the Woman, Accessories and Shoes categories. As has been the norm since the launch of the new brand image in 2019, Desigual is using this store to showcase its new corporate identity and shopping experience. 

As the Spanish fashion brand's Channels Director Jordi Balsells explains; “The South African market has an intriguing potential for growth. The qualities of our collections, such as the vibrant colours, the diversity of the materials and the uniqueness of the designs, match a style that will resonate with local consumers and which, combined with the Desigual DNA, has the potential to build a very strong connection with customers.

”With this establishment in the South African market, Desigual is targeting a consumer profile aged 25 to 45 – albeit not exclusively – who like daring, bold proposals and following trends, whilst remaining an individual. They are also seeking sophisticated and personalised in-store experiences.

“The opening of this first store will allow us to test the acceptance of the brand with our sights firmly set on future openings in other locations like Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban,” adds Jordi.  

Desigual was created with the aim of “dressing people, not bodies”. This retailer is famous for the individuality and unique character of its creations, which aim to bring authenticity to those who want to be 100% themselves and express their most creative side.  

It currently has a presence in 92 countries with a network of close to 500 stores.

READ MORE: Desigual, the optimistic brand we need right now, opens its first store in South Africa 

ZARA says 'be right back'?

The news of Zara-owner Inditex's plans to close more than 1000 stores around the world, caused much panic on the internet earlier this year. Not to mention, the thought of threatened livelihoods of Zara employees. However, there was more to the story than meets the headline. 

Reuters reported that Inditex booked its first quarterly loss as the coronavirus crisis forced it to shut most shops, but its shares rose after it unveiled a 2.7-billion-euro plan to accelerate its focus on large stores and online sales. This is after the Spanish company was forced to shut almost 90 percent of its stores from February to April.

Inditex aims to focus on its online business and large stores in prime shopping areas while closing around 1000 of its smaller stores. It reportedly expects virtual sales to account for more than a quarter (25 percent) of business by 2022, compared to their current 14 percent. Larger stores will therefore act as distribution hubs for online sales.

Retail rivals H&M and GAP have all reported a drop in sales as global lockdowns have kept stores shut and shoppers at home.

So what does this mean for you and your Zara moodboard right now? 

Well, it was hardly a year ago when we eagerly downloaded the Zara app when they finally launched online shopping in South Africa, eight years after entering the country's malls in 2011. And we immediately adjusted pretty seamlessly to their new e-commerce offering. So much so that instead of rushing to the likes of Sandton City and V&A Waterfront in our masks, we simply grabbed our phones to add this season's must-have items to our carts.

The point is, if it does happen that a large number of SA's Zara stores shut down by 2022, you - the customer - would still have the option of shopping their threads online and you'll be fine for the most part.

Additionally, The Guardian noted that "closures are expected to be concentrated in Asia and Europe," which inspires a small degree of optimism for us.  

Zara is just one of the symptoms of the pandemic facing the retail industry; the impending brick-and-mortar famine. According to The Guardian, brick-and-mortar retailers around the world have been "forced to re-evaluate their business models during the pandemic, amid expectations of lower footfall in stores for a significant amount of time." 

READ MORE: Why we shouldn't panic about the planned closure of 1 000 Zara stores over the next 2 years 

Hi there to you too, StyleMode

But the need to reconsider outdated business models had made itself evident in retail long before Covid-19, which is probably why StyleMode considered 2020 a time ripe as any to open up (virtual) shop in SA this October.  

Powered by - SA's new fashion e-tailer StyleMode – instead of dipping a toe in, is taking a dive into waters that are already warm, given the stats of our bubbling online retail industry. They entered the market with a range of brands across apparel, footwear, accessories and a plus-size range – all at a price point that will suit most pockets in our country's economy.

With all that said, let's take a retrospective look at South Africa's revolving door of international retail outlets:  

Hello & Goodbye

Prada, the Italian luxury label owned by the Prada Group, announced its departure from Africa's richest square mile in May, expressing these neatly packed words; "We are writing to inform you that the Prada store at Johannesburg Sandton Mall is now permanently closed." 

They concluded their very brief letter to the Prada community in SA by saying "Don't forget to visit our website an social media channels every now and then for some inspiration too."  

The year 2015 saw the coup de grâce of the 30-year-old Platinum Group which had Aca Joe, Urban, Hilton Wiener, Jenni Button, and Vertigo in its stable, after having furnished the wardrobes of middle class black South African consumers for all occasions season after season. 

In 2017, Stuttafords stores then finally left our malls for good after 159 years of selling coveted (and overpriced) European and American brands (including the recently reopened GAP brand) to local fashion enthusiasts. In the same year, all standalone Mango, River Island and Nine West stores also packed their paper bags and left SA retail centers hollow. 

And then we were down to a handful of fast fashion options including Zara, H&M, Cotton On, and Topshop; just to name a few. 

That was until Topshop left us too in 2018, but not without a bang of a sale.

Not too long after officially closing its doors in South Africa, Topshop then resolved to close all 11 of their U.S. stores earlier in 2019 as the brand continued to battle. 

W24 article detailing the reasons behind these closures referenced Business Insider, saying that Topshop's parent company Arcadia Group proposed these closures as part of a restructuring deal amid financial difficulty. It was also stated that Topshop will, however, continue to sell its clothing online through its wholesale partners. 

Topshop follows its fellow beleaguered Victoria’s Secret, which shared its plans to close 53 stores in the U.S. – and, according to CNN, was due to more women deserting the brand for lingerie startups and big retailers. Both Topshop and Victoria’s Secret have been previously accused of not keeping up with the times when it comes to fashion. 

And therein lies the retail dilemma - the struggle to keep up with the times not only in terms of fashion, but with regards to business trends and changing consumer habits too. 

Nevertheless, we're always happy to see lost retail loves on our shores again should they return, which is why Gap's comeback is news worth announcing. 

South African shoppers can engage with the brand on Facebook at Gap.SouthAfrica and on Instagram @Gap.SouthAfrica

Additional information supplied by Styling Concepts on behalf of the Gap brand.

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