Gap is a successful worldwide chain of clothing stores, with many divisions, each of which sells variations of basic casual clothes. In 1969 Donald and Doris Fisher opened a small clothing and record store in San Francisco. Seven years later the company had grown enough to begin selling its stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, and the next year it opened a charitable foundation. In 1983 Millard Drexler became the company president. One of his first acts was to buy a small travel clothing store called Banana Republic, which became a profitable division of Gap, Incorporated, selling up-scale "casual luxury" clothing. Over the next decades the company opened GapShoes, GapKids, and BabyGap. GapBody opened to sell underwear and sleepwear, and Old Navy, which opened in 1994 and is owned by Gap, sold discount casuals for the whole family.
Since the 1980s the Gap has become a multi-billion-dollar business and a household word marketing such basics as T-shirts, blue jeans, and sweaters. Gap stores are designed to be accessible to busy shoppers who want to buy fashionable clothes cheaply. The stores are easy to recognize, as every Gap store has the same basic design and layout. The stores specialize in offering a few basic designs in a wide variety of trendy colors, and they receive whole new lines of clothing seven or eight times a year, making sure that the colors and styles stay up-to-date.
Beginning in 1987 Gap began to open the first of several hundred stores around the world. Not surprisingly, a Gap store in Paris, France, looks exactly like a Gap in New York or Hong Kong. Critics of the Gap disapprove of this mass production and marketing of fashion, claiming that it damages individuality with everyone buying the exact same clothes from the exact same store everywhere in the world. Others dislike the huge stores, which often change the tone and personality of the neighborhoods in which they are located. They say that because Gap is part of a large corporation it can sell clothes at lower prices, which drives smaller, locally owned stores out of business. Still others have called on Gap to take responsibility for the poor working conditions at the clothing factories in Mexico, Asia, and Central America where the company buys the clothes it sells. Regardless of the views on the chain, Gap continued to be a success into the twenty-first century.