Banana Republic - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

American clothing store chain and mail order company

Founded: by Mel and Patricia Ziegler in Mill Valley, California, in 1978. Company History: First Banana Republic Travel Bookstore opened, San Francisco, 1978; Travel Bookstore Catalogue first published, 1986; quarterly travel magazine, Trips , introduced, 1987; business acquired by The Gap, Inc., 1983; founding partners Mel and Patricia Ziegler resigned from firm, 1988. Awards: Direct Mail Marketing Association Gold Echo award, 1985, 1986; American Catalogue Gold award, 1987. Company Address: 1 Harrison Street, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Company Website: .




Ziegler, Patricia, and Mel Ziegler, Banana Republic Guide to Travel and Safari Clothing , New York, 1986.


Gammon, Clive, "Banana Republic's Survival Chic is Winning Bunches of Trendy Buyers," in Sports Illustrated (New York), 19 August 1985.

Weil, Henry, "Keeping Up with the (Indiana) Joneses," in Savvy (New York), February 1986.

Grossberger, Lewis, "Yes, Do We Have Bananas!" in Esquire (New York), September 1986.

"From Jungle to Drawing Room," in the Economist (London), 14March 1987.

"Banana Republic Founders Quit Firm," in Women's Wear Daily, 22April 1988.

MacIntosh, Jeane, "Wall Street Eyes Banana Republic," Women's Wear Daily, 9 March 1989.

"Ripe Banana," in Women's Wear Daily, 17 March 1992.

Campbell, Roy H., "Banana Republic Stores Undergo a Fashion Makeover," Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, 10 December 1998.

Mullins, David Phillip, "Bananarama," Footwear News, 6 December 1999.

Tsui, Bonnie, "Banana Republic Bus Ad Campaign Shines," Crain's New York Business, 18 September 2000.

Jones, Rose Apodaca, "Messing With the Republic," Women's Wear Daily, 17 November 2000.

Articles also in Newsweek, 28 September 1987; DNR, 21 April 1988; Women's Wear Daily, 9 March 1989; and San Francisco Business Times, 18 August 2000.


Banana Republic was a creative fashion adventure in the United States that began when writer Mel Ziegler needed a new jacket. He wanted one without extraneous zippers or buttons, and not made in bright-colored polyester. While on assignment in Sydney, Australia, he bought three British Burma jackets. His wife Patricia, an artist, restyled the three jackets into one, using the various parts to make necessary repairs. She added elbow patches, horn buttons, and a wood buckle. Friends and acquaintances liked Mel's "new" jacket and inquired about purchasing one. It seems other people wanted clothing that was usable and stylish, without designer labels. Seeing a potential market, the Zieglers set off in search of army surplus and other items that could be converted into usable clothing. They traveled to South America, Africa, London, and Madrid, searching out usable goods. According to their book Banana Republic Guide to Travel and Safari Clothing , their motto became, "in surplus we trust."

Banana Republic display window featuring two ensembles, 1998. © Fashion Syndicate Press.
Banana Republic display window featuring two ensembles, 1998.
© Fashion Syndicate Press.

Display window at a Banana Republic store, 1998. © Fashion Syndicate Press.
Display window at a Banana Republic store, 1998.
© Fashion Syndicate Press.

At first they marketed their finds at flea markets, selling the surplus as it was or restyled. Basque sleeping bags became Basque sheepskin vests. Shirts with tattered collars were given new ones. Eventually the market grew so much the Zieglers moved into a storefront in Mill Valley, California. This became the second part of the Ziegler adventure in fashion and merchandising. Lacking funds for extensive decorating, they painted the walls in a zebra stripe, and added other decor to create the image of a jungle trading post. The background music was provided by their personal tapes of 1940s and 1950s jazz. The store was a dramatic, rather theatrical, setting for their surplus and redesigned articles of clothing.

The third part of this fashion adventure was the nontraditional catalogue the Zieglers developed to sell their product to both men and women. Again, due to limited funding, Patricia drew pictures of the clothes. Mel wrote text that went beyond bland descriptions of the clothes, to include their place of origin, or how to use the items.

Calling their enterprise Banana Republic to denote change, the Zieglers began a unique merchandising adventure. People liked the stylish, rugged surplus goods sold at relatively low cost. The business grew quickly, and in 1983 the Zieglers decided to sell Banana Republic to The Gap, Inc. The Gap provided the business know-how, which the Zieglers admittedly lacked, allowing the Zieglers to continue to concentrate on the creative end of the business, at which they excelled.

When demand outpaced the supply of surplus goods, Patricia designed clothing which was then manufactured for Banana Republic. The clothes and accessories were always stylish, comfortable, and high quality. The designs suggested travel, safari, and camping. The clothes were utilitarian, they could be dressed up or dressed down, and most articles were made of durable, natural, neutral-colored fabrics or fabrics that traveled well. Another likable feature of the company was customer service—free alterations were offered for much of the company's clothing. Walking into a Banana Republic store was like walking on to a movie set for a jungle outpost, an African hunting lodge, or British officers' club. Mock elephant tusks were hung and jeeps became part of the decor, as did old furniture and luggage. The Zieglers' original jazz collection was enhanced by animal sounds from the jungle.

The expanded catalogue had fashion descriptions written by a number of professional writers and journalists. The text included background stories, travel adventure vignettes, and endorsements written by famous people. Drawings were still used for the clothing but were now in color. In addition, photographs of people in various places, wearing the same or similar clothes were included. The catalogue had become an adventure to read.

Banana Republic emerged at a time when there was a general shift away from all-purpose department stores, towards smaller stores which concentrated on doing one thing well. They were one of the first stores to concentrate on clothing made of natural fabrics, in stylishly rugged designs. Catalogue selling was an integral part of their merchandising operation. Their customers were not concerned with the dictates of the fashion world. With Gap's input, sales increased dramatically and many new stores were opened. By 1986 Banana Republic was one of the hottest retail concepts, but the appeal for safari and khaki clothing was dwindling. By the end of the 1980s, new items, fabrics, and colors were introduced, but sales slowed even further and Gap announced plans to remodel and recreate all their stores. By early 1990 some of the stores were remodeled and stores were showing new merchandise. To maintain consumer traffic while changes took place, prices on remaining articles were substantially lowered and new merchandise was being introduced. New clothing, which featured brighter colors and a "cruise line" appeal were placed at the front of the store while the more traditional khaki apparel was placed in the back. Another big change was the disappearance of the theatrical props that had made the original stores unique.

With the changes, Banana Republic seemed to be back on track. The stores were less cluttered, were lighter and brighter, and the phrase, "Travel and Safari Clothing" was dropped from the name. Clothing articles included apparel for various occasions, including weekend wear, professional attire, and dressy casual items made of more luxuriant fabrics such as cashmere and suede. The change in decor, style, and fabrics was necessary given that many retailers were carrying travel-look attire such as cargo pants and Jeeps (or jeep-like vehicles) seemed to be parked in every other driveway. By the mid-1990s, following a growing trend, Banana Republic launched bath and body care products including a Banana Republic cologne and undergarments. Later, "whole concept stores" were created which included home accessories such as bedding, sofa pillows, candles, and picture frames. In 1996 Banana Republic opened stores exclusively for men and women.

In 1998 Banana Republic launched its most extensive marketing campaign, which included its first TV spots, print ads, magazine inserts, and outdoor kiosks. More interesting was the reintroduction of the catalogue—the first in over a decade. In addition to the catalogue, keeping customer service was kept in the forefront, with telephone order representatives called "style consultants." In the late 1990s, Banana Republic offered e-commerce, allowing customers to return articles at local stores rather than send them back through the post office. In 2000 Banana Republic reopened its flagship store in San Francisco on the corner of Grant Avenue and Sutter Street; this store offers valet parking, personal shoppers, and free cell-phone charging services.

Through Banana Republic, Mel and Patricia Ziegler filled a niche for comfortable, rugged, yet stylish clothes. They marketed their product through a catalogue that was interesting to read, and at stores that were an adventure to enter. Banana Republic has changed dramatically since the days when the Zieglers started the company; however, keeping with their original intent, customers are offered quality items and where customer service is still important.


updated by Christine MinerMinderovic

User Contributions:

JP Mosoff
Very interesting article. I lived in Mill Valley in the early days of the first store front.
They are wonderful people who offered me a job managing that store (which I did not accept).
They published a magazine "Trips" in the spring 1988. I wonder if there was more than just the inaugural issue released. Just wonder if this is a collectible item now?
Thanks, JP
J Earl
I have the Inaugural Issue of Trips published in Spring 1988.
I am wondering if it has a value, being the first and last.

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