Gap Inc. has suspended deliveries to Russia, the latest in a line of apparel and footwear companies that have halted operations amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, where civilian casualties continue to mount three weeks into the Kremlin’s invasion.
The San Francisco-headquartered retailer, which owns the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta brands, quietly announced the move Thursday in a staff memo that noted its “small franchise presence” in the Eastern European superpower. “We also have a handful of franchise locations in Ukraine, which are currently closed, and we are working through our partner to account for the safety of those employees,” it added.
A Gap Inc. spokesperson declined to specify the number of storefronts it supported in the region, though a 2011 press release for the company’s first Banana Republic store in Russia indicates at least 11 franchise stores in the market, including nine in Moscow. Fiba Holding, which manages the retailer’s franchise locations in Russia, also opened Gap’s first store in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv the same year. Since 2010, Gap Inc. has offered Ukrainian and Russian consumers both Gap and Banana Republic products through its international online shipping provider.
“Russia’s consumer base has nearly double the amount of disposable income compared with the average Western consumer,” Stefan Laban, Gap Inc.’s then-managing director of strategic alliances, said at the opening of the Banana Republic store in Moscow’s AfiMall City. “Given Russia’s high demand for retail consumption, the market presents an ideal opportunity to introduce Banana Republic’s affordable luxury offering.”
Gap Inc. also revealed in the memo, as well as more widely across social media, a collective in-kind donation of more than $1 million worth of women’s and children’s clothes to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for “communities in need.” The company said it is further encouraging employees to contribute company-matched donations to U.S.A. for UNHCR, Care and the International Rescue Committee to help with Ukranian refugee resettlement.
“It’s devastating to witness all those affected by the war in Ukraine,” CEO Sonia Syngal wrote on LinkedIn. “Seeing so many—especially women and children—leave behind their homes in search of safety, my hope is that these donations from the Gap Inc. family will lend help during this time of great need.”
With the addition of Gap Inc., all Big Four apparel retailers by sales have exited the Russian market. H&M was the first to bow out not long after the war began, followed by Zara owner Inditex. On the same day that Gap Inc. sent its memo, Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing U-turned on its decision to maintain operations in the nation. All but Inditex have stated that they are also contributing clothing.
But aid workers are now pleading with wellwishers to stop sending clothing but money and household, sanitary and medical supplies instead. Volunteers have no time to sift through truckloads of clothing, and the people fleeing the violence have no time to tarry, they say. More often than not, such donations end up abandoned in makeshift camps along the Polish-Ukrainian border.
“When they say no clothes, this is why,” Charles Hannerton, a charity worker from the United Kingdom, wrote on Instagram next to photos of toppled-over boxes spilling over with shirts and dresses. “Once refugees get to the camps, they then have to get coaches to their next destination in Europe and cannot take bags as there is little space. This is just a few piles directly outside my tent in Medyka, this is the scene in all camps.”
Then there’s the fact that transferring goods between countries is often costly, time-consuming and swaddled with red tape. When time is of the essence, aid workers say, money is the most efficient and effective way of allowing them to purchase what they need in Moldova, Poland or Romania, where most of the refugees have flocked.
“It’s usually much easier to buy items in the countries where they are needed. It’s also usually cheaper and helps local markets and economies, helping countries to get back on their feet,” Judith Escribano, director of communications at Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization, told iNews.