Banana Republic founder: "I wish they'd changed the name"

A general view of the Banana Republic Soho flagship store in New York City.

Walk by a Banana Republic store, and you're likely to see khakis, sweaters and business-appropriate attire. But it wasn't always that way. 

When Mel and Patricia Ziegler founded the company, they had recently quit their jobs. They were looking to start a business, with no plan, little cash ("$1,500 and an American Express card") and even less experience. The Zieglers began repurposing military surplus, and the look caught on.

"Our business plan was just to find more clothes like this, and sell them," says Patricia Ziegler. "That's it."

Well, not quite.

"Our business plan was to never work for anyone else again," her husband adds. 

With wacky store displays, high quality fabrics and a hand-drawn catalog, the brand caught on with consumers. 

Banana Republic also caught the attention of The Gap. Then-CEO Don Fisher bought the company and the Zieglers ran it until 1988. Now, when asked about the Banana Republic's more preppy, mainstreamed image, the Zieglers are a bit... unsure.

"I have to say when you give your baby up for adoption you can't really quibble with how it's raised," says Patricia. Her husband is less forgiving.

"I honestly don't like it," he confesses. "I wish they'd changed the name... it has nothing to do with what the original company was about."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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