The History of Budget Fashion is a series of articles that explores the evolution of fashion on a budget.
Forth and Towne was a concept store developed by Gap, Inc in the early 2000s to be a direct competitor to Ann Taylor. The concept of the store was to offer stylish fashions for working women over 30 in what was perhaps the best store design ever (nice soft amber lighting, fluffy chairs, a couch pit for the fellas). The pricing was competitive, with most items in the $80-$100 dollar range, but with details like lining and quality cotton that meant the cost per wear would be killer on the items (and this is true- three years after the store closed, I still have several pieces in my closet).
Women loved the store and it was doing well, so what happened?
Forth and Towne: Too Good to Be True
The recession, financial crisis, and the over zealous merchandising of stores by retailers meant the retail industry was experiencing quite a bit turmoil (like Saks Fifth Avenue turning into a “budget-shopping-free-for-all-ala-Filene’s-Basement” turmoil) in the mid to late 2000s. Retailers, were trying to keep their flagship brands alive and didn’t have the money (or time) to develop new concepts. Which meant the working chick’s potential wardrobe savior, Forth & Towne was in jeopardy.
By all accounts the Forth and Towne concept was crashed not because it didn’t well, but because the main brands like Gap and Banana Republic couldn’t give away their clothes.
Gap Inc. is closing the Forth & Towne chain that was supposed to help the struggling retailer sell more clothes to older women, aborting the 18-month expansion so management can concentrate on reviving the company’s more established brands.
Gap, Inc choose to focus on shoring up their existing brands (Old Navy, Gap). This made sense in the short term (Gap is a major brand and HAD been around for a bazillion years), but shortsighted in the long term (but remember this was 2007 and the world was starting to go wacky crazy, hard to think about what you’re going to eat next week, when you need to figure out what to eat today), since demographic trends indicate that those over 40 are one of the fastest growing age groups in America. This was Gap’s opportunity to truly become a “life cycle” brand, meaning retaining customers from birth- senior years. In fact the $40 million total invested in Forth and Towne by Gap, Inc was less than 1/4th what the store spent on ads for Old Navy stores, yet the stores were performing much better than the other Gap brands.
The interesting thing is that the press (read here and here) pens the failure of the store as not appealing to women over 35, which according to Gap is not the reason they shuttered the store. That’s an easy perspective when you’re a 20 year old woman or hipster marketing guy writing for a cool magazine. However the women we’ve talked to (and our readers) expressed that the main problem was not one of merchandise, but of marketing.
No one knew about Forth and Towne and those that did know about the stores found the locations to be very hard to reach. The nearest store to New York City, where a lot of potential customers live, was in Nyack, NY- about 1 hour drive away from the city. The arguments against Forth and Towne remind me of the circular argument used for the reason why stores don’t carry plus size bridge and better sportswear lines- because plus size women don’t shop. Well, yeah, plus size women aren’t going to shop your store/brand if they don’t know (or if you don’t want them to know) it exists. The same with the over 35 year old set. People do need to know your offerings before they can buy from you.
For those of you hoping that Forth and Towne will make a come back, don’t hold your breathe. The url www.forthandtowne.com is now up for sale.