Gap Co-Founder Don Fisher Passes Away

Sep 29, 2009

By George Anderson

Donald Fisher, who along with his wife Doris started Gap Inc.
with a single denim store in San Francisco in 1969, has passed away at the
age of 81.

Glenn Murphy, CEO and chairman of the board of Gap Inc., said
in a press release, “Don and Doris took a simple idea and turned it into
a brand recognized as a cultural icon throughout the world and changed the
face of retail forever.”

Among Mr. Fisher’s best moves in running the business was
his decision to hire Millard (Mickey) Drexler as the company’s president
in 1983. Mr. Drexler, current chief at J. Crew, took the company from primarily
selling Levis jeans to creating its own branded casual fashions.

“They were one of
the first to treat basics as fashion,” Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic
Mindshare, told the San
Francisco Chronicle
. “Gap was the first to realize
that everybody needs a good pair of khakis, everyone needs jeans and a good
quality white T-shirt.”

Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said
in a press release, “Donald Fisher was a brilliant and
generous force, blending a tremendous passion for his work and a fierce commitment
to humanity… He will be deeply missed and his countless achievements never

Fisher stepped down as CEO of the Gap Inc. in 1995 and as chairman in 2004.
He continued to serve as Chairman Emeritus up until his death.

Discussion Questions: What do you
see as Donald Fisher’s contributions to the retail industry? What are
your thoughts on the past and future of the company he founded?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "Gap Co-Founder Don Fisher Passes Away"

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Dick Seesel
12 years 7 months ago

While it’s apparent that Mickey Drexler took The Gap to a new level, Donald Fisher deserves an enormous amount of credit for having the vision in the first place. He saw an opportunity to develop a business model tailored to fit the rapid expansion of regional malls during the ’70s and ’80s. He created one of the first specialty retailers, filling a niche (or “gap”) that was being neglected by traditional department stores; in a very real way, The Gap was one of the earliest “power retailers” although not in a big-box format. And, finally, he understood the strength of branding: Even though The Gap began as a Levi’s “headquarters,” eventually the brand image of the store became bigger than the sum of its parts.

Bill Robinson
Bill Robinson
12 years 7 months ago

Donald Fisher had much to do with the current retail landscape.

He saw the potential of the regional malls to build retail brands such as Gap and Banana Republic.

He saw how to vertically integrate a retailer, first with Levi’s and then with private label.

He recognized that accounting for the inventory with the retail method would divert merchants’ attention into markdown management, not profitability.

He was one of the first to target unique demographics and lifestyles with different brands.

He was one of the best at shifting his message as his baby-boomer target began to age and raise families (Gap Kids).

Marge Laney
12 years 7 months ago

Donald Fisher was a legendary entrepreneur with the vision to elevate an ordinary pair of blue jeans to symbolic status and the intelligence to employ a retail genius who used them to build an iconic brand.

Jonathan Marek
12 years 7 months ago

Donald Fisher not only created an enduring retail legacy, but he was an important force in changing the way America dresses. The San Francisco Chronicle had a great editorial today–well worth reading–that talked about his/Gap’s role in moving us to a “business casual” world. It also discussed his retail innovation, selling what were considered uninteresting “workman-like” product in a retail environment that connected with the consumer emotionally. This remains one of the most fundamental ideas in modern US retailing.

Roger Saunders
12 years 7 months ago

Donald Fisher seemed to have the ability to “Learn,” Labor,” “Laugh,” “Love,” and effectively “Leave”–traits that we all have to have in guiding organizations. I’m sure, like all of us, “Leaving” might have at times given him pause in terms of frustration and disappointment that he had to move on. But, move on, he did, to other phases of his life.

He facilitated bringing in a wealth of talent to the GAP over the years. And, as a result, if they step up and do the job, the GAP future will continue to be promising.

Cathy Hotka
12 years 7 months ago

I think Bill Robinson nailed it. Don Fisher’s impact goes way beyond Gap itself, to the structure of current-day retail. Gap brought huge energy to the concept of chain specialty, and brought about a fundamental shift in the way customers purchase apparel. And by all accounts, he was a lovely man. He’ll be missed!

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
12 years 7 months ago

Gap was one of the original, own lifestyle brands and it set a standard for vertical retailing that wasn’t usurped for a couple of decades. Quite a feat!

I like where Patrick Robinson is taking Gap’s premium denim program (the “Fit Spotlight” feature just added to Gap’s website is awesome, complete with commentary from Mr. Robinson); however, I’m not wowed by the still neither-here-nor-there styling in other categories.

American Apparel, Walmart, Target, H&M, Zara, Uniqlo…The world is not hurting for basics and Gap needs to get a non-denim and non-basic point of view. Some speculation out there as to who Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) may have on its acquisition list. I’d like to see what Uniqlo’s genius get, Jil Sander, and Gap’s Patrick Robinson would whip up together. Talk about a design fantasy pairing!

Phil Rubin
Phil Rubin
12 years 7 months ago

There is no way to do justice to what Don Fisher contributed in this short space. The Fishers, both with and without Drexler, led an organization that built one of the most dominant brands ever in specialty retail. The power of the Gap brand was a major driver of some of the changes noted above in terms of retail, and how people dress and even how many successful apparel and retail brands market themselves.

Gap actually created some of the best apparel advertising ever, and the fact that it was broadcast made it even more spectacular.

It’s always sad to see great people go, especially those with missions greater than themselves.


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