How to resurrect a brand like Old Navy

JStone /
Old Navy is back and better than ever. How did the brand become relevant again? (JStone /

Old Navy has completely reinvented itself. From the foam flip-flops and Fourth of July shirts to the perfect fitted pant and wearable dresses, the mass retailer is no longer just mom’s favorite store.

How did this brand, formerly on life support, transform into the go-to shop for young, modern affordable fashion?

A crash landing

Between 2006 and 2008, Gap Inc. lost $1 billion. With the recession and the takeover of H&M, Old Navy (a Gap Inc. subsidiary) could not keep up.

But in 2014, Old Navy had $6 billion in sales and almost more revenue than Banana Republic and Gap combined.

So how does a brand stay afloat on the ever-changing tide of millennial trends?

Look at the competition

The New York Times tells the tale of Old Navy’s saving grace — Stefan Larsson. Larsson was on the opposing team, as he led H&M to smashing stateside success.

Gap Inc. recruited Larsson to work for the Old Navy brand in October 2012. Now, three years later, he is leaving Old Navy as the leader of the Gap brands with $1 billion more in profits.

A company might not need to do something as drastic as choosing a new CEO, but a brand’s trajectory needs to change. There’s a time for switching things up.

If a brand is struggling to attract the millennial generation, try taking a new angle. Getting a fresh face and a new set of eyes can shed light on hidden solutions. Sometimes competitors are a saving grace.

Perfect a modern trend

Brands can appeal to a variety of customers. All it takes is some ingenuity. (Dmitry Kalinovsky)

“One of Old Navy’s biggest triumphs has been its Pixie pants,” Hiroko Tabuchi said in a New York Times article in May 2015. “The design team “obsessed over every detail” — the fit, the cut just above the ankle — and quickly tested different prints and colors in stores. The pants were a hit.”

The Pixie pant gave Old Navy something new, but not so new at the same time. A brand needs to latch on to what’s happening now. Reinvent what’s currently in the market, or even better — start an original trend.

Get to know customers again

How do you capture the interest of all demographics?
Millennials are ready to share what they love. Are products Instagram worthy? (BigLike Images)

Old Navy began as a more affordable version of The Gap. With its mass-produced, basic styles, Old Navy was known for utility, not luxury. Moms loved it.

After the recession, Old Navy was still struggling. The cash-strapped millennial generation was not interested in shopping at a generic and dated store. Larsson decided to get Old Navy reacquainted with its customer.

“(Larsson) realized that people who were buying cheap clothes still wanted to look good,” retail analyst Bridget Weishaar told the New York Times.

The new Old Navy team recognized that customers with a small budget still wanted to wear current trends. The team took cheap fashion, focused on the design, and produced products worthy of any type of customer.

No customers are off limits. Take a closer look at their self-interests. What do they aspire to be? How can brands appeal to those interests?

Look closely at social media. Brands need to adjust to changing trends yearly, since customers in 2015 are changing faster than ever. (Check out this infographic by Sarah Snow on Social Media Today.)

Brand champions are up for grabs

Any brand can reinvent itself. It takes dedicated vision, innovation and a fresh perspective. Old Navy is no overnight success; the company recently celebrated its 20th year.

A brand can attract any demographic with the right hook or standout product. Look outside what’s been done before and create something better. With innovation, any brand should be able to stay afloat.

What else can be learned from Old Navy’s rebirth and revival?

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