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Friday
Mar062015

An American photographer and explorer, in Gap

Welcome to “After Hours," a new series showcasing the creative, passionate people that make Gap Inc. They are more than their titles; they are innovative individuals with awesome stories to share.

Scrolling through his photography portfolio, you'd never guess Ruben Hughes first picked up a camera just a little more than a year ago. Or that he's managed to succeed so spectacularly — producing portraits of places that are at once beautiful and haunting — all without any kind of formal training.

But then again, the man is motivated. The self-described American photographer and explorer — who also works as a Global Community Manager for Gap brand — is a photography addict. Whether hopping on a red-eye flight to race across the country for a single weekend, or simply dedicating time to roam through his homebase of New York with his camera, almost all of Ruben's off hours are spent chasing the perfect shot. It's fair to say that he's packed years of self-training into 15 short months.

“I think it's really important for people to find what they love," Ruben said. “At the end of the day, it's your life. You should really enjoy it."

When Ruben first became interested in photography, he asked a friend of his — a photographer — for tips on how to take better photographs. “He said 'Just put your camera on manual and go out and take photos.' And that's literally all I did," Ruben said. “I knew the type of photos I wanted to take, and I knew the way I wanted them to come out. So all it really came down to is me just going out and taking photos. I did mess up a lot, until I felt like I got it right. And it's still a learning experience."

Ruben's advice is refreshingly straightforward: Want to be good at something? Put in the hours. Interested in traveling? Plan a trip. Think you might be into weaving? Sign up for a class. “See what your threshold is for whatever you love to do," he said. “And just keep pushing yourself to see how far you can take it."

Yet despite this seemingly simple advice, Ruben knows how daunting this call to action can be.

Tuesday
Mar032015

How digital is reshaping the storefront and putting customers first

In the era of mass access to mobile technology, consumers are not only spending more time using their phones — they can't seem to put them down.

Digital influences 36 cents of every dollar spent across all categories of in-store retail sales, according to "The New Digital Divide," a report by professional services network Deloitte. Smartphones alone account for $593 billion — almost 20 percent — of those in-store sales. Few analysts, much less CEOs, could have predicted that kind of acceleration. Just three years ago, smartphone influence represented just $159 billion — or 5 percent — of those sales.

With so much unpredictability and digital transition ahead, Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck recalled in a November interview with Buzzfeed how he told a team at Banana Republic that the collision of digital and physical won't "evolve in a nice linear, sequential way, it's going to be messier than that."

The digital-savvy storefront is the new launch pad. Gap sees Internet connectivity as a critical utility for experimentation, rolling out free Wi-Fi in more than 1,000 stores. As more sophisticated apps such as in-store reserve lists and digital loyalty programs are pushed to mobile devices, a retailer's Wi-Fi network will soon be a competitive advantage.

Self-serve kiosks and digital displays are already helping scale customer service. As more retail becomes digitally integrated, smart displays will deliver interactive catalogs, manage loyalty and reward programs, and distribute relevant content including recommendations, coupons and social media.

Augmented reality and 3-D applications are already making inroads in the fashion and apparel industries. Dressing rooms can literally take on a whole new dimension, letting customers see themselves in the latest styles with a couple of screen swipes. As interfaces evolve, expect storefronts to incorporate holograms and ambient technology that responds to customers' presence.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems are going mobile, too. Sales associates armed with handhelds and real-time inventory data are already making the checkout line extinct. And those same handheld devices can help customers see product data, configuration choices and relevant promotions.

Bottom line: Digital will continue to transform the retail environment. Customers will push supply chain efficiency to the storefront, whether retailers are ready or not. The companies that thrive will balance how technology best intersects with the physical world.

"It's really hard to predict how it's all going to shake out when you're giving customers things that they never really had before," Peck said.

Friday
Feb272015

Gap employee, dancer and choreographer

Welcome to “After Hours,” a new series showcasing the creative, passionate people that make Gap Inc. They are more than their titles; they are innovative individuals with awesome stories to share.

David Brown fully admits that MTV and pop-culture played a huge role in shaping who he is today.

“There was Aaliyah, she always had great videos," he said of those he watched as a kid. “Missy Elliott, she used to use a lot of kids in her videos, so she was somebody I always wanted to dance with. Janet Jackson, absolutely — love her stuff, still do. And boy bands, boy bands, boy bands."

Rhythm has coursed through David's veins since the music video channel heyday, manifesting the moment he hit the stage at 8 years old during a local talent show with his brother and sister. “I was hooked. Dancing and choreography became like second nature to me; the stage was my second home."

Now 24, that 'second home' is close to everything David does in his life. That includes infusing that passion into his work as a social media specialist with Gap's 34th Street flagship in New York City. He's the guy behind the “New York Lives in Gap" video series that includes the holiday hit capturing the spirit of the brand's past with a refreshingly forward spin.

Without an actual budget, David relied on his own dancing and choreography skills (and crowd-sourcing) to pull off what by all accounts looks like a legit commercial. Credit his years of training — first with a local dance group in his native Boston, then later in New York.

“I have been training at Broadway Dance Center in all styles, but my specialty is commercial hip-hop," he said. “I do choreography as well. My goal is to be a creative director in the commercial industry — television as well as live entertainment."

Thanks to Store Director Sean Mills, David's been able to mix work with performance, while also achieving the store's goal of reaching young customers.

“He explained to me that we were trying to target millennials… So I did some of my own research," David said. Turns out, he fit the description. “I looked at it like, 'OK, what would make [the product] look interesting to me? How would I want to see this interpreted and come across that would make me want to buy it and wear it?'"

David's first project was a “lookbook" featuring the latest trends and collections. He crowd-sourced that whole project via the store's social media channels and was able to put together a professional-level piece.

“I felt like when I put stuff out there the way we were wearing it, it increased our sales and our following in general," he said. “We also started building relationships with customers."

Not wanting to play out the lookbook concept, David decided he was going to up his own game through the video series. “The whole campaign was created to show that Gap is for everyone," he said. “It's current and it's trendy."

The second video of the series features one of David's friends, local DJ Tiff McFIERCE, rocking Gap product in her own style for the cold weather, and a third will highlight GapFit product.

David recently signed with Bloc Agency New York to take his dance career to the next level. “Tomorrow it could be an audition for Beyoncé or for Bieber or for a Gap commercial; what's next really depends on where my life is going to take me."

As he sees it, David's future is all in his attitude.

“I'm a true believer that you really can create the life that you want. I never believed in settling," he said. “Considering where I was a year ago, to see how much things have 360'd based on my drive and passion to do what I love, I had a vision and I did it. I was able to create my job, which I love, and create the life I want and live it. I love taking risks, and that's really all there is to it."

Thursday
Feb262015

A simple scarf goes a long way

 

Editor’s Note: The following letter — transcribed from Japanese to English — comes from a Mr. Nakano of Japan. He shares a particularly heartwarming story involving Kayo Futagami, store manager for Japan’s Banana Republic Store #4030 in Nara.

I am writing to thank you for an action your employee took.

My father has been senile for some time, and yesterday he disappeared from the house. He didn't come home by midnight, and my mother and I called the police and filed for a missing person. However, after midnight, a female employee from your company brought him back to us.

My father could not articulate his home address, and although he stopped a taxi, the driver didn't know where to go. That's when your employee happened to pass by.

The only leads were the name of the apartment building and my father's name on his cane. She looked up the building on her mobile phone, got in the taxi and then checked each name on the mailbox to find our house. I insisted that we show our gratitude in some way, but she said that she just did what anyone would have done, and left while we were paying the taxi driver.

The reason we found out that she is your employee is because she wrapped a scarf around my father's neck to keep him warm.

I told her that I would clean it and deliver it to her home, but she declined, saying that she commutes to Nara and is seldom home. She added that because the scarf is from the brand that she works for, we should not bother returning it. The scarf has a BANANA REPUBLIC label.

Also, my father came home with a bandage on his arm. He said that he fell walking, and your employee treated his injury.

I cannot thank her more for doing this for my father. It was past 1 a.m. when he came home. She must have been so tired on her way back from her work ... there are no words that would be enough to express our gratitude.

I wish for your company's further prosperity.

Thank you.

 

Tuesday
Feb242015

Racked shops Gap for spring

If you’re ready for spring shopping and need help picking the season’s must haves, Racked has you covered. 

 As part of its “Hauls” video series, style, shopping and beauty site Racked picked up several women’s pieces from Gap ranging from accessories to outwear. Featured in the video are four versatile items available in stores and online now:  a water-resistant rain jacket to help get through those spring showers, a quilted top that’s both a t-shirt and statement blouse, a pair of classic leather loafers, and a leather crossbody bag to carry all of your essentials.