NEW YORK -- Gap Inc. is a proud parent -- again.
After downscaling its trendy Gap apparel line into children's sizes, the California retailer has further miniaturized its offerings for the newborn-to-toddler set.
The first babyGap appeared about a year ago in a corner of a Gap store in San Francisco. Since then the company has spawned babyGap departments within 50 of its 150 GapKids stores that dot the nation's shopping landscape.
Though still in its infancy, industry analysts say babyGap has become a "roaring" success story based on the same formula that catapulted the company to the status of industry darling: durable clothing in comfortable, generous cuts at affordable prices.
Indeed, Gap went against the tide by selecting quality suppliers that do not normally manufacture children's clothing to create a "hybrid of better quality and fun fashion which is unique in kids' merchandising," said Thomas Tashjian, an analyst with Seidler Amdek Securities Inc. in Los Angeles.
For parents who cringe at swathing their little ones in synthetic fabrics, babyGap offerings are strictly 100 percent sturdy cotton. Banished from shelves are those pale gender-identifying pastels -- only deep, bold hues can be found on everything from rugby-striped jumpsuits to ramie V-neck pullovers and crisp embroidered blouses in tiny sizes. Where else can you find a single-pocket T-shirt in black for a 1-year-old, a Gap spokesman asked rhetorically.
The babyGap was the logical outgrowth of GapKids, which was created in 1985 out of Gap President Millard "Mickey" Drexler's search for stylish but long-lasting clothing for his own son. Drexler, who rarely speaks to the press, voiced his frustrations to staff members and realized how tired others also were of pink and blue, Gap spokesman Richard Crisman said.
Originally the kids' clothes were simply scaled-down versions of the adult line, but once executives realized what a hit they had on their hands, Gap established a team to design just the children's line.
Because the kids stores are smaller -- partially to minimize the risk in launching the line and also because the merchandise is, well, smaller -- sales per square foot outpace that of Gap stores, already among the highest in the industry. Analysts have estimated Gap sales at about $360 a square foot; babyGap at $400.
Many GapKids stores are located either within or in sight of regular Gap stores in an effort to piggyback customer traffic. "There's a benefit to both," Crisman said.