Donald G Fisher, unquestionably one of the biggest influences on global fashion retail, passed away on Sunday, September 27, forty years after he co-founded The Gap, Inc. with his wife Doris. He was 81. Indiaretailing pays tribute to an exceptional retailer who revolutionised the way middle class America sought and bought trendy-but-affordable apparel.
“We lost a friend, a mentor and a great visionary,” said Glenn Murphy, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Gap Inc. “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. We will miss him deeply, and our thoughts and prayers are with Doris and the entire Fisher family during this time.”
Mr. and Mrs. Fisher founded Gap Inc. on August 21, 1969 after a frustrating experience exchanging a pair of jeans that didn’t fit. Leaving behind a career in real estate development, the then 41-year-old Fisher and his wife Doris believed that opportunities existed for a retail company that could provide consumers with a variety of fit and style options. That year, the Fishers raised $63,000 to launch a single jeans and music store called The Gap (named for “the generation gap”) in San Francisco.
A nearly $15 billion company, The Gap has five primary brands: the namesake Gap banner, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta. As of September 2008, Gap, Inc. had approximately 150,000 employees and operated 3,465 stores worldwide. Gap, Inc. remains the largest speciality apparel retailer in the U.S., though it has recently been surpassed by the Spain-based Inditex Group as the world’s largest apparel retailer.
Although The Gap has had its share of troubles in the past few years, it remains a pioneer of speciality private label fashion retail. “What many of us currently enveloped in the world of spending money – whether through journalism, consulting or entrepreneurship – don’t consider is that, before Gap, speciality retail as we know it did not exist. There was no American Eagle Outfitters, no Victoria’s Secret, no J.Crew. Mall culture, which drove U.S. consumerism in the 1980s and 1990s (and continues to aggressively drive it abroad in this decade), is a direct effect of speciality retail,” writes reporter Lauren Sherman in Forbes.
Don Fisher, as he was more popularly referred to, was born in Cutsdean, California to Sydney Fisher, a businessman, and Aileen Fisher, a cabinetmaker. He spent his childhood in the then-middle-class Sea Cliff neighborhood of San Francisco. He graduated from Lowell High School in 1946, and then matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the both the Swimming and Water Polo Teams. He is an alumnus of the Theta Zeta chapter of the national fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. He earned a BS degree from the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Berkeley in 1951.
According to Forbes magazine, Fisher’s net worth was estimated to be US$3.3 billion.
In addition to his wife, Doris, Fisher is survived by his sons and their wives, Bill and Sako, John and Laura and Bob and Randi, and ten grandchildren. He is also survived by two brothers and their wives, Jim and Diane Fisher and Bob and Ann Fisher. His son, Bob, is a 30 year veteran of Gap Inc. and continues to serve on the company’s Board of Directors. His wife, Doris, serves as an honorary lifetime member of the Board.
—By Nupur Chakraborty