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Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic Hardcover – 2 Oct 2012
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"Surprising and inspiring."--"Publishers Weekly"
"Remarkable tale of creating one of the most cutting-edge fashion businesses in the world... a pleasure to read."
"The warmly inspiring account of how a journalist and an artist stumbled into business and founded Banana Republic, one of the most successful clothing chains in retail history... Told as a dual-voiced narrative that alternates between Mel's and Patricia's points of view and illustrated throughout with sketches and images featured in the early catalogs, the story offers refreshing insight into the possibilities of achieving success and maintaining personal integrity in a hyperformulaic world. An unabashedly free-spirited celebration of the power of outside-the-box thinking."
"["Wild Company"] uncovers an entertaining and enlightening history that provides a new understanding of what has now become a ubiquitous brand.... "Wild Company" gives us a reminder regarding the fickle nature of success in the world of entrepreneurs, and it does so with a friendly narrative that's difficult to set aside....You most certainly don't have to be a patron of the current Banana Republic to enjoy reading "Wild Company"."
"This inspiring history offers a good reminder that the invention and dedication apparent in current tech start-ups is nothing new... Highly recommended."
"This is a wonderful book, a book about joy and guts and art. Mel and Patricia understand that a store is far more than just a place to buy stuff and that a business is far more than a way to make a living."--Seth Godin, author of Linchpin --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
Mel Ziegler is a founder of Banana Republic and The Republic of Tea. He lives outside of San Francisco.
Patricia Ziegler is a founder of Banana Republic and The Republic of Tea. She lives outside of San Francisco. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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with a magical plot: Sympathetic characters (two talented, attractive young journalists) struggle against great odds (no money or business experience) to achieve a worthwhile goal (creative and financial independence). The result, readers know going in, is an against-the-grain company called--in one of many inspired moments--"Banana Republic," iconic in its heyday for outfitting a youthful generation in creative style for vicarious safaris. Just how audacious, shaky and danger-filled this sartorial adventure was will entertain readers, ranging from those nostalgic for a rapidly receding era to the newest business school student seeking inspiration for the future.
Considering that Mel and Patricia Ziegler quit dream jobs to go into business with no idea what that business might be, "Wild Company" is an aptly titled tale that asks: just how many obstacles can mere love, determination and talent overcome? And on this safari the endless obstacles are as real and dangerous as Serengeti tigers or crocodiles: floods, deadlines, shysters, burglars, robbers, bank turndowns--all the perils and predators of commerce lined up and waiting. But as in magic fiction, the heroes are given special powers: she is an artist whose eye for fashion is backed by talent with needle and thread as well as pen, capable of re-fashioning short-sleeve Spanish army shirts into must-have haberdashery. His quirky writer's mind thinks outside boxes not yet invented, soaring to dizzying heights in telling catalog readers just how Spain (and other countries) could so err in labeling such treasures "surplus." And of course there's an Open Seseme moment: Mel, on assignment in a far-off land happens to buy a disarded army jacket which Patricia, on seeing a "new Mel" at San Francisco's airport, instantly identifies as the key to their quest.
Great read, I loved it--comes at a time when inspiration is needed. #
First off major kudos to both Marlyn Dantes for her clean and enticing cover design, mirroring what could be a modern minimalist version of a Banana Republic catalog, and Ruth Lee-Mui for the book design. The use of 2 different fonts in the copy, serif for Mel's words and sans-serif for Patricia's, worked beautifully and allowed for a fun and enticing read.
As a an avid reader of each catalogue that came into my mailbox, the stories and art took me to imaginary but real places at a time when I had just returned from a stint in the Peace Corps in West Africa. Interestingly enough, the only way to get clothing there was to have it made. My good buddy, Lambo brought a pair of surplus cargo shorts that we gave to a tailor along with a few yards of British khaki from the market and voila, we had an endless supply of the coolest shorts we could imagine.
I “got” Banana Republic from day one and still have those catalogues as well as the inaugural issue of Trips. Remember that?? I had forgotten about it myself until Mel’s story on page 171. I’l search for it in the garage this afternoon and cherish it once again.
Truth is, I venture into the BR store at the local mall about once a year, somehow hoping to find something, anything that speaks to the real past. I am sure I am not the only one, just give me a simple die cast Jeep with the BR logo on the door for sale, if not, then a Safari Coat if you please. If you do, I may have a look at your merchandise, but alas the time for Mel and Patricia’s Banana Republic is past and I thank them for all they did to bring it to us.
As I was reaching the end of Wild Company, the sun was setting and the orange glow on the final pages was in synch with first Mel, and then Patricia’s denouement. I almost wanted to read the book all over again, just to relive their adventure one more time.
“Choices are hidden in the pace of the day. Intentions are hidden in choices” - Patricia Ziegler.
Read this book, if you loved Banana Republic, you will love Wild Company.
Wild Company gets the coveted “Boomer Bert Award of Excellence”, a true work of art, just as Banana Republic once was...
The Ziegler's both worked in journalism but were unsatisfied with their jobs. They stumbled into running a clothing chain due to a combination of luck, skill (art and writing, as well as an excellent eye for design) and serendipity. The book tells of many highs (finding bargains, excellent sales, extreme customer loyalty) and lows (they seemed to blindingly trust people and hire on a whim at times, which lead—in one case—to the loss of an very productive day's receipts due to a dishonest employee, and—in another case—to tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise being lost to another dishonest employee).
I was actually surprised how early on in the chain's story they were acquired by The Gap. That acquisition gave them the capital to expand, add more things to the store and even (eventually) design their own clothing rather than sell (mostly) military surplus. But it also eventually doomed Banana Republic as it was. The earliest sign of this was the clash between the lawyer the Ziegler's had for the deal and The Gap's corporate counsel. Then came three family member's from The Gap's founder to work in Banana Republic. Two of the three seemed to fit in, but the third was an ongoing exhaustion to Patricia Ziegler with weekly and daily clashes over materials, clothing lines, new product launches, the way stores looked, etc.
Eventually the Ziegler's left Banana Republic in what amounts to a coup by people within The Gap. The Ziegler's spent some time resting, launched a few efforts (some, like The Republic of Tea—subject of another co-written book—succeeded, whiles others did not) and watched while Banana Republic became what it is today: no different from The Gap or Old Navy, just a variant upon the same bland theme.
Who is blame? The Ziegler's? The Gap? Mel and Patricia had (still have, I'm sure) plenty of talent when it came to writing, design and the like. Not so much when it came to managing the business. Maybe things would have been better if they had found a good partner early on who could manage things while they concentrated on their talents? The Gap initially acquired Banana Republic both for the growth and the culture. Maybe if they had allowed more of that culture to flow up into the larger entity rather than fight the smaller entity they would be more than a bland mall store today?
It's really a shame, I think. Banana Republic succeeded because it was quirky. They had excellent merchandise (I believe I still have several of their shirts in my closet) and led the way in bringing us several design trends that we still see (the para-military or adventurer look is still with us) today. The catalogs and stores had a unique identity that set them apart from other Main Street or faceless mall storefronts. All gone, alas.
Is it possible to have quality, growth, quirkiness all in one? Is it possible keep what made a company great over the life of a company? I don't know, but I eagerly await the next Banana Republic. I need some new shirts.
After its purchase and re-invention by Gap, I couldn't believe it was the same store and even asked the sales assistants (they only new the present situation). A complete travesty to what the Republic was founded on.
I am thankful for Ziegler in writing this book (a quick read) as it gives a blow by blow of this and his wife's struggle to found a company out of almost nothing and to see it grow, like Topsy.
I miss the Banana Republic of days past.
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