What the Liberals have in common with the Gap - Macleans.ca

What the Liberals have in common with the Gap

Once upon a time, they were classic and iconic


Yesterday, struggling clothing retailer the Gap fired its star designer, Patrick Robinson.  In his failure, we might find some sense of just how big a struggle lies ahead for the Liberal Party of Canada.

First, let’s look at the Gap, whose problems don’t seem to have much to do with the talent it is throwing at the problem. Robinson is a huge talent, one of the most respected in the business. But here’s how the Times outlines his challenge:

Beyond the buzz, Mr. Robinson had a difficult job: trying to figure out what Gap should sell. After pretty much defining American basics in the ’80s and ’90s , the chain had floundered. Competitors like Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew, and fast-fashion brands like H&M and Zara, were offering sharper takes on trends.

This has been the Gap’s problem for ages: It is caught between higher-end competitors on one side, and fast-fashion or mass-market brands on the other. Nothing more perfectly captures the Gap’s problems than its standing in its own company, where it is being squeezed between the more successful Banana Republic and Old Navy.

As James Twitchell argued in his book Branded Nation, this dynamic is at work in a number of industries and disciplines, including religion (niche worship versus megachurch) and higher education (mass state schools versus high end private colleges). In each case, one might well assume that “most customers are in the middle”, and that there is room for a big-tent centrist retailer or service provider that gives a bit of class and a bit of mass. But that’s a mistake. Ultimately, customers are pushed in one direction or the other, while those trying to work the middle are left without any firm identity or direction. Here’s more from the Times:

Introducing one of his first Gap collections, Mr. Robinson said he wanted to “take the classic, iconic heritage of the company and make it relevant.” His Gap designs produced some popular items, particularly skinny cargo pants and a revamp of denim. But tops never seemed to go with bottoms, and dresses and outerwear were puzzling, too. Gap’s merchandise today is an unlikely mix of pants in khaki and olive green, and floaty, ruffly tops in peach and beige.

Does this sound familiar? It’s pretty much the conundrum of the Liberal Party of Canada. Once upon a time, it was classic and iconic, but lately nothing seems to fit properly. Its policies are an unlikely mix, the top never seems to go with the bottom. The problem isn’t with leadership or talent, it’s with positioning.

In a related post, colleague Geddes wonders if the new parliament means that Canadian politics is about to become more polarized. John notes that the NDP and Conservatives each succeeded by largely tempering its ideology. But if that is right, it means that there is no middle of the road for the party to occupy. Like the Gap’s ongoing failures, the noises the Liberals are making about attempting to recapture the middle might be totally misguided. The party tried to win the last election by making itself look like the NDP. Perhaps it should have instead tried to discredit it.


What the Liberals have in common with the Gap

  1. Hey, look, another article about the Liberals!

    If the media spent the same amount of time scrutinizing the Conservative Government as they do the Liberals I'm willing to bet $1000.00 that the Conservatives would not have a majority right now.

    • That's not really fair.

      I'd say the media has done it's job in looking into the Conservative minority's misteps and abuses of our parliamentary system. In the end, people didn't care so much about it.

      • I have to politely disagree with you.

        However, it was a poor attempt to express my concern about the media's fixation with the Liberal party, my bad.

    • Hey that. Excuse # 117 from Liberal supporter, blaming somebody else (not the Liberals, of course) for why the Liberals got their butts handed to them in this election. Keep that kind of denial and projection up, and you'll keep on losing.

    • It's fun pretending to be brave and betting money on a bet that could never ever be proven…

      And really…I think its unfair to criticize the media for a job the Liberals failed to do ever since becoming an opposition party in 2008. Invisible leaders, abstaining from votes, and weak platform issues do not win you an election. The reason even Liberals didn't vote Liberal is because they have done little to show the Canadian public that they stood for anything in the past 3 years.

      • 2006

    • Yup. All of your problems with our political system can be summed up as “its the media’s fault.” People don’t know enough about Conservative abuses of power? – that’s the media’s fault.

      As if we don’t live in an age when there is more information, available to more people, and more easily accessible, than at any point in history.

  2. Discredit the NDP because they are the weaker of the two? Why the NDP and not the CPC?

  3. Could the disappearance of the Liberal Party of Canada be the retiring of a name only, with the essence of what they are available under another name? Just like the provincial Manitoba NDP governments are essentially Liberal governments wearing NDP clothes. Or is the word "liberal" essential to what they do and represent?

    • Exactly. Just like the BC Liberal Party is really a Big-Tent Progressive Conservative party.

    • When you look at how thoroughly displaced the MB and SK and AB Liberals are, you have to think that it is only a matter of time before the same happens nationally.

      • It needs to happen in Ontario. So far, there doesn't seem to be any sign of NDP revival in Ontario after in imploded.

        • And interestingly enough, some Liberals look to the man who made the NDP disappear in Ontario as their potential saviour. What a disaster that would be. Fortunately, I think enough Liberals would recoil at the very thought. If you read Wells' entire synopsis of the campaign, it seems Bob Rae was responsible for many of the strategic blunders made by the Liberals in the past 3 years. In fact, it almost seems like he carries more responsibility than Ignatieff for the current state of the Liberals.

          I really liked Justin Trudeau's comments today. He said the Liberals need to stop looking for saviours and do some serious soul-searching and rebuilding. I'm not a fan, but the kid is smart. And his assessment of the Liberals' current situation sounds bang on to me.

          • He should (and possibly does) know that he can never be leader, or PM, precisely because his name is Trudeau.

          • I don't know about that. I think Canadians are reasonable enough to judge him on his own merits. I also don't believe a Conservative effort to smear him by bringing up the spectre of his old man would play well outside Alberta, and perhaps certain sovereignist bastions in Quebec. I think it would backfire spectacularly in 95% of the country. The cynical would point to how well smear campaigns have worked thus far. But everything has its limits. Attacking one's long-dead father comes pretty close to that limit.

          • The Conservatives wouldn't have to say a word, at least in public.

            Robocalls could be used to deliver a message in stealth, but even then, it wouldn't be necessary. I mean, you just have to look at this board to see how much seething hatred there is of the guy in some quarters. I even read here someone accusing him of using the eulogy of his father as a way of launching his political career. Yikes.

          • His dad, much like Harper, triggered vastly different reactions in different people. Hate in some quarters, fanatical loyalty in others. Most strong leaders provoke those same reactions. Haters exist. They aren't a majority. Nor are the fanatical fan-boys. The majority could give a crap who his dad was. Hell, I am a PET disliker (I've discovered some grudging respect for him in recent years, thus I won't say hater) but I would not hold that against Justin. Not saying I'm sold on him, I'm just sayin'…. if I a crusty conservative like me can have an open mind about the kid, a lot of others can too.

          • Same here. I had a huge problem with Pierre Trudeau's statist economic policies, reckless fiscal policies and contempt for the West, but I'm willing to keep an open mind about Justin. Justin's not his dad, he's his own man. Justin also lived and worked outside of Quebec, including in Vancouver for a while. I personally think that should mean that he wouldn't have the same geographical narrow-mindedness (i.e., obsession with Quebec) that his dad had, which is a good thing. I also have tremendous respect for the considerable charisma and star power that Justin has.

  4. Proof that the Gap brand name has sunk to new lows. They are now being compared with Liberals.

  5. If we are using shop analogies, Cons and NDP seem to understand fundamentally that customer is always right. Libs, on the other hand, come across as snooty sales assistant who tells you 'yes, in fact, your arse does look big in that dress'.

    I believe centre is still here in Canada and they are just waiting for leader who doesn't think olive green pants are terrific when teamed with a puffy peach blouse.

    • …they are just waiting for leader who doesn't think olive green pants are terrific when teamed with a puffy peach blouse.

      In all fairness, Ignatieff wore that particular ensemble only a handful of times.

      • Should've stuck with sweater vests, or the gay urban cowboy look that are hallmarks of the Harper brand.

        • Did you find it attractive?

  6. This attitude is why Canada is going to go down the drain. If we only elect people who tell us what we want to hear (We're the best) how will we ever be able to do better? Our political parties should rightly be trying to point out what's wrong and more importantly what their idea is to fix it. Society will never be perfect so why should we expect our leaders to think it is?

  7. CONs are Walmart, NDP is trying really hard to be Urban Outfitters. I think Liberals are more like Banana Republic than Gap, classy and comfortable.

    • No wonder they become majority; Walmart is practical, useful (it provides choices for daily needs), realist, and very smartly thought out and run. While the rest are just elective/optional and most of the time impractical and waste of money.

      • Have I forgotten to mention that walmart is profitable?

    • Classy and comfortable with an 18% market share.

  8. Although I got a part of the thought, but its funny comparing a party to fashion/clothing retailer. Should Liberal have won, they will stamped the country with their brand:

    1) Canada a Gap! (Baaad!)
    2) Canada a Banana Republic! (Baaad A*s bad!)

  9. Settle down dude, no one's making a move on your man….

  10. But wait….haven't the conservatives simply become the Liberals, compelled to the centre to gain power? Same franchise, different management, with an emphasis on plus sizes and polyester?

  11. Nobody is surprised that Patrick Robinson was fired last week. What The Gap Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love…check out steps for its revitalization here: http://bit.ly/mLjUem