To learn about Banana Republic and its history, you need to understand its interesting yet humble beginnings. Mel and Patricia Ziegler founded the company in 1978. According to Mel, the idea for the store came about in a very innocuous way. Mel wanted to replace his old and tattered military surplus jacket. It was an impossible item to find, and after much searching Mel purchased a British Burma jacket in a second-hand store. Patricia made some alterations to the jacket, creating a less-military look, and a more comfortable, sensible garment. It wasn’t long before the Ziegler’s friends, quite taken with the look and style of Mel’s jacket, gave the couple the impetus they needed to create Banana Republic in Mill Valley, California.
Banana Republic, from 1978 to 1983, was one of the most successful outfitters of travel and safari clothing. The company caught the eye of the then-struggling Gap, who purchased Banana Republic, and immediately enjoyed a boon in sales. New stores opened with exciting interior decorating, designed to mimic the outback. Planes hung from the ceilings, and jeeps and safari animals were scattered throughout the stores. It was as much a treat to visit a Banana Republic store as it was to purchase their clothing.
But alas, all good things must come to an end. By 1988 Banana Republic sales had dropped off significantly. The safari look lost its appeal, and the floundering store recognized a need to diversify or die. The company added sleepwear and accessories to its product line. They focused on the urban lifestyle, completely phasing out the safari image. Clothing became more colorful, and cruise line apparel made its debut. A line of clothing targeted the gay community, as well.
In the late nineties Banana Republic had plans to open forty new stores a year, a growth plan of 20%. By the early 2000s the company diversified to e-commerce, and added bath and body care products, and lingerie to its line. Today Banana Republic remains aggressive in its marketing techniques, sensitive to the fickle whims of fashion, and a strong contender in the casual wear market.