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Who Turns 43 Today?

CompanyCorey Lyons, Gap Inc. blogger1 Comment

Before there was a Gap, the first store was going to be named – get this – “Pants and Discs.” True story.

That was, of course, before co-founder Doris Fisher made history after she and Don mulled over various names for their first retail store, inspired by the notion of the “generation gap”. (“No, just The Gap,” Doris eventually said.)

Done. And history.

Today the company turns 43. We’ve grown a lot since that first store on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco back in ’69 – our clothes are now sold in about 90 countries around the world. (I’ve bought a lot of them myself in my own six-plus years here.)

But what the Fishers have built goes beyond sales; their legacy expands on something they promised long ago: “To do more than sell clothes.”

In the early days, though, this company didn’t have a business model until Don Fisher sat down and started pecking away at a typewriter. His document was called "Reason for Being," which was created on June 12, 1969. He outlined the business opportunity for “Pants and Discs.”

The store would be loaded with Levi’s jeans, records and tapes – all part of an effort to appeal to the 12-to-25-year-old target customer.

“There is no question,” Don wrote, “that the pants classification is the fastest growing, most exciting business in the retail field today. Yet, in shopping retail stores for this commodity, one fails to find sufficient attention and inventory dollars given to the pants classification.”

He went on to surmise about the opportunity. It was a simple idea, framed around a specific article of clothing. Two months later, the store opened. They called it The Gap.

Three years after Don passed away, his words and vision still inspire us. I used to see him often at our corporate headquarters – a tall man (a former collegiate swimmer), dressed in classic American prep, with a sweater neatly twisted over his Oxford shirt.  

He didn’t just ask questions of any of us riding with him on the elevator. He asked politely, but probingly, searching for the subtext. So if he asked, “What do you do for the company?” you heard: “What do you do to help the company succeed, and how are you going to help change the world?”

Hey, no pressure. But this was, and remains, a family with a real vision. Gap is now 43. It’s got a clear “reason for being” (if no more discs), and anyone connected with this place does, too.

So, back to my original point: Happy birthday.