Cultural Revolution Chic, American Style

[UPDATE 12/3: Somehow I missed my friend Rob Schmitz’s excellent October 14 piece for NPR’s Marketplace regarding Gap’s entry into the China market. It touches on the question of localization, and whether or not Gap has made sufficient efforts to do so in China. It also touches on what happens when companies don’t localize in China. Highly recommended.]

American retailer Gap opened its first China-based store in Shanghai a few weeks ago. I didn’t go. Maybe I should have because I’m sure I would’ve immediately been struck by all of the bright red branding, yellow stars, and “1969” – a sorry year at the very heart of China’s decade-long tragedy, the Cultural Revolution – all over the store. Now, I’m quite aware that “1969” is a signature brand for Gap (which was founded in 1969), but I’m also aware that smart companies know when to alter their means of operation, product mix, and marketing when they enter a new county (see: McDonald’s and the lack of beef in India). And this strikes me as the work of a company that’s either a) clueless about China; or b) is sticking to its campaigns and brands (and damn the local sensitivities, they’ll learn to like them). Historically speaking, neither approach has been terribly successful.

Anyway, I’d given absolutely no thought to this matter until this morning, when Sky Canaves, a Hong Kong-based self-described truant journalist, runaway lawyer, and new academic (blog here, twitter here), tweeted news of the limited edition 1969 jean for China, released in honor of the retailer’s recent entry into the market. I had a meeting across the street from the shop later in the afternoon, so I figured I stop in and get a look afterward. Continue reading