If you can’t buy a brand, might as well join them, right?
That’s the approach Gap Inc. is taking with the introduction of its new menswear line, Hill City. Debuting online only in mid-October, the new brand is Gap’s answer to devoting a new line for men who want both clothes that can slick away sweat while also keeping them stylish.
“The most consistent request within the Gap Inc. brands is a mid-performance menswear brand,” said Noah Palmer, general manager of Hill City. “Our solution is creating this versatile apparel that can take you in and do a lot of things for you.”
Hill City will consist of 50–60 items at launch, retailing between $80 and $150, with two-thirds of the total product line costing under $100. While consumers can expect to buy all items online, 50 Athleta stores across the country will showcase a small amount of the products, where they can try on the clothing. However, consumers will still need to complete their purchase online and ship it to their home. Hill City will also function as a certified B Corporation, meaning it will use sustainable practices to create products, like using renewable and recycled fibers.
The most innovative part of the brand, however, is its reinvented influencer program called “wear testers.” Starting Sept. 20, Hill City will ask consumers to apply to become a wear tester and try out their clothes, review them and provide the brand with valuable feedback. Wear testers will communicate with Hill City via chatbots on Facebook and direct messages on Twitter. In a beta version of the program, a common piece of feedback was the tightness of the waistband in the everyday chino. Palmer said the company took that into consideration and created a more flexible, stretchier waistband.
“I think that’s an example of a wear tester program that otherwise we wouldn’t have thought of,” Palmer said. “Our call to action is going to be: help us build this brand together—sign up to be a wear tester.”
Eric Toda, director of marketing at Hill City, shared that working with consumers this way will bring them into the journey of the brand and, most importantly, create “advocates” for Hill City.
“Imagine what it would be like [if] we’re not building just for you to buy, but with you,” Toda said. “Every time you wear the product, you know you made the change.”
As a partial thank you to wear testers, Hill City lets them keep the clothes they try and will include a shout out to people who helped improve an item. However, feedback integration won’t necessarily be quick; Toda said consumers can expect to see changes from the wear tester program in the brand’s 2019 holiday season collection.
Hill City presents as a possible new era for Gap Inc., as it’s the company’s entryway into the men’s athleisure space. Gap Inc. has seen a similar success with women’s technical clothing in the Athleta brand; the latest round of quarterly earnings stated that Gap Inc. plans on focusing most of its new store openings on Athleta and Old Navy. Palmer said Hill City is a “direct response to the Gap Inc. strategy to grow its active business” and gives Hill City a chance to scale quickly using Gap Inc.’s supply chain and distribution capabilities—or do the opposite and “compartmentalize” easily.
Matt Kaden, managing director of MMG Advisors, a retail advisory firm, isn’t convinced that this will necessarily fill any gap that’s not being met in the market right now. With companies like Rhone, Ministry of Supply and Everlane, Kaden questions why Gap Inc. is creating a whole new brand instead of possibly acquiring a digitally native commerce company. This comes as Gap Inc. stock fell in August after the company missed expectations again.
“I wonder how much they’re going to have spend to build a new brand when they could’ve purchased a brand recently,” Kaden said. “I’d rather see them make [Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic] exceptional again than introduce a new brand, which is potentially going to cannibalize both customers.”
As part of Hill City’s debut, the brand will apply its marketing spend toward digital channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as sponsored Stories, Canvas, Dynamic Ads and Click-to-Messenger Ads to bring consumers to the wear tester chatbot. The marketing spend also includes a separate catalog and insert in the Athleta catalog, which will include content and be released quarterly.
“While the men’s marketplace is certainly competitive, Hill City delivers something we are not seeing: product that is versatile and that delivers on his needs across multiple activities, for all aspects of his life, whether that is training, work or the outdoors,” Palmer said.
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