Closing the culture gap: Gap China finally opens
Gap China rolled out the blue carpet on Thursday with its first store in the Middle Kingdom.
Located just behind the fluorescent lights of the Apple store at Shanghai’s Hong Kong Plaza, Gap’s two-story, 1,040 square-meter flagship store looks, unsurprisingly, very much like it does everywhere else in the world.
Gap China’s new customers
Local photographer Henry Sha came to the opening to see what all the hype was about.
“I didn't really know anything about it but my friend said, ‘We have to go it’s so famous in America!’ After taking a look around, I think the clothes really suit me.”
Hao might be one of the few 20-somethings in Shanghai who hasn’t heard of the company.
Knockoffs and factory seconds of the made-in-China brand can be found in boutiques across Shanghai alongside cousins Banana Republic and Old Navy.
So what’s different about Gap China?
Not much. Although the merchandise has been tailored for “Asian fit," the clothes are easily recognizable as Gap -- complete with the retailer’s signature staples of denim and khaki and cotton in neutral tones.
I didn't really know anything about it but my friend said, ‘We have to go it’s so famous in America!’ After taking a look around, I think the clothes really suit me.— Henry Sha, Gap Shanghai customer
While less colorful than some of its competitors, Gap is confident that the Chinese are ready to embrace their product as they have other mid-priced clothiers like Zara, H&M and UNIQLO.
Bill Chandler, vice president of global communications and public affairs for Gap Inc. says, “Our target customer in China wants modern, clean and versatile designs that they can dress up or down according to their own individual expression.”
Closing the culture gap
From the ad campaign titled “Let’s Gap Together," it seems they are also keen on closing the gap (pardon the pun) between the East and West.
Photos by Annie Leibovitz feature model pairings of slightly unrecognizable Chinese and U.S citizens who share common interests such as song spinners DJ Diplo and Wordy and bloggers Julia Frakes and Wang Momo.
Behind the scenes
The “Let’s Gap Together” theme plays into the inner workings of the store as well.
Store managers were flown to San Francisco and Japan to be indoctrinated into Gap’s ways months before the store opened.
Additionally, U.S. managers were brought in to serve alongside their Chinese counterparts and will spend up to a year making sure the service is up to Gap’s standards.
Janet Zhong, senior HR director for Gap Greater China says, “We invest a lot in our people -- training them and teaching them the Gap culture.”
Shop assistant Rumi Lu agrees, “We trained for more than two months. It was very focused on people.”
Coming to a province near you
With two stores opening in Beijing later this week and another on Nanjing Xi Lu this year, Gap is banking on China’s fashionable young professionals.
They are also looking to tap the online market with the simultaneous launch of gap.cn that will give 420 million-plus Internet users access to the brand.
Now the question is, whether or not the crowds will show up.
But unless Gap rolls out another abominable logo, it’s hard to imagine Shanghai’s hipsters turning their noses up at the United States' most iconic brand.
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