Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Banana Republic in T-America

Earlier I wrote about Banana Republic as it rose and fell in L-America. This got me thinking about why and how it succeeded in T-America, well enough to retain its original focus. The article raised some valid points about potential flaws and challenges. So let's take a look at some interesting solutions ...

* The original store focused very strongly on Africa, though of course you could wear the clothes pretty much anywhere hot. Among the first things Banana Republic did in T-America was expand their inspiration. They brought in new garment styles, fabric designs, and colors from places like Central and South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, and the island regions such as Melanesia. In addition to the basic garments (mostly in plain cloth or simple patterns like stripes) it became common for the store to feature one or two specific countries each season, creating an ever-changing array of interesting options.

* This expansion of inspiration went a long way toward solving one of the main limitations of the safari line: its color palette. The original offerings clustered tightly in earth tones and muted colors: fine for people with soft, warm coloring but not as flattering for those with cool tones and/or high contrast. The basics expanded slightly to offer each garment in a range of neutrals (typically black, white, gray, brown, khaki, cream) plus an accent color or two that looks good on most people. Navy and olive are "near neutrals" and sometimes appear in a neutral palette, especially for safari wear. Here's a good example of a travel palette. Accent garments added colorful flashes from palettes for places such as Mexico, Australia, India, or Hawaii.

* While the store always carried a few options for colder weather, it wasn't much. Later on, they expanded their cold-weather options somewhat, especially for fall and winter. It got to where there was always something for each season, even if it was just a rack or two of basics, so that travelers to far-flung places could find suitable clothes for conditions where they were going.

* As a few fashion designers added a cruise/resort season between the traditional spring/summer and fall/winter (or spring, summer, fall, winter) seasons, Banana Republic quickly picked up on that to cater to their widely traveling customer base. This allowed them to add a genuinely fashionable line of clothes that would travel well but not be subjected to the stricter durability requirements of their basic and safari lines.

* Fairly early, they began to hire immigrants from tropical places as a way of adding verisimilitude. This quickly hooked into the Sankofa movement in T-America, thus making Banana Republic a favorite stop for cosmopolitan folks to hang out with staff who weren't American, white, and ignorant of how to pack for Zaire or Borneo. From floor staff they went to models, then designers and other influential roles as early hires gained experience and promotions within the company. In this way, the store helped raise inclusivity and visibility.

* That inclusivity led to a fair trade movement in which Banana Republic sought to source materials and crafters from developing nations in ways that would improve conditions there. This quickly raised a new issue in pricing. Fair trade practices make things more expensive, and the company was unwilling to price its basics out of reach or even leave its poorer customers stuck with only the boring clothes. It was fine if some people couldn't afford frills like the cruise clothes, but not if the store in general got too costly. So they began to seek out subsidies from environmental organizations, foreign aid, travel companies, and so on. They also added donation options for their wealthier customers. For a while they tried a sliding scale, which didn't work out; but the other stuff stuck around.

* When body scanners came out, Banana Republic hired people to create patches, adapters, and translators so that a bodyscan file from their store could be used in foreign stores and vice versa. This very expensive but very popular executive decision influenced the development of the nascent industry to make scanners more compatible with each other's data, even though the equipment and features still offered a diversity of options (which is why some high-end stores stock more than one). Banana Republic itself uses whichever is currently the most popular worldwide, updating that whenever their scanners wear out and need replacement.

* The store began to offer educational activities as a way of attracting customers and encouraging diversity. They offered handouts and classes on how to dress for different environments, and how to mix-and-match Banana Republic clothes with other fashions so you wouldn't always look like you were going on safari or going native. Some stores also host classes in foreign languages and cultures, although which ones vary based on available staff. Bigger stores may have their own classroom; others just borrow a multipurpose space at the mall or wherever. They added a newsletter, Banana Rap, full of world news, activist campaigns, and photo-essays about their suppliers. They also put out Colorful Republic, a kidzine with newsclips, photos, short stories, activities, and coloring pages about different cultures.  These are now available online as well as hardcopy.

* As people with disabilities became more active and visible, Banana Republic introduced some adaptive clothing with features like alternative fasteners and openings or sensory-friendly construction.  Because adaptive clothing counts as medical equipment with a prescription, it can be tax-free, reduced cost, or covered entirely by insurance.  Some of it is also subsidized by healthcare providers, disability organizations, and so on.  This has made travel more accessible for everyone.

* Accessibility improvements led to Banana Republic becoming one of the few mainstream stores to accommodate superpowers in any meaningful way. It's not a lot, but they hire a few primal soups -- usually ones with traits from tropical animals -- as models or floor staff. They also have several garments that can be adjusted to accommodate extra body features, as shown in some pictures. A back-fastening skirt may effectively have a tail hole, and a criss-cross wrap top may allow for wings. Some classic tropical garments, such as a sari, can fit darn near any body shape. Naturally they get a lot of soup traffic due to scarcity of other options for those shoppers.
Tags: fantasy, history, reading, weblit, writing
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