Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeStRETAIL.com, launching Oct. 7.

SAN FRANCISCO-Gap Inc. is launching a new chain next year. Following months of speculation about what the company has been working on, the locally based apparel retailer now says it will open up to 10 new stores in two geographic regions that are aimed at the over-35 female. Gap says its new brand concept “is based on extensive consumer insight work done by the company over the past two years across the $174-billion US apparel market.” The company is holding back additional details until the launch date draws closer. The move comes amid the launch of new concepts by other high-profile apparel retailers. In the last month, Chico’s FAS opened three Soma by Chico’s lingerie stores targeting women over the age of 35, and Abercrombie & Fitch is launching Reuhl, which will try to attract young professionals as opposed to its current audience of consumers in their teens and early 20′s.”It’s a validation that this is where there’s still competitive activity,” says Christine de Marval, a retail research analyst with New York City-based Sidoti & Co. In the US there is 3.6 sf of retail per capita for teenagers, while women over 35 only have 0.7 sf but spend more per person, she says.Gap’s competitors in the sector include Ann Taylor, Chico’s and Christopher and Banks, but the market is so underserved that there is room for more chains, de Marval says. “There’s still a lot of room for competition, so it’s not a zero-sum game,” she says. “I’m not concerned this will increase rivalry among the specialty players.”But one retail analyst who asked not to be identified says Gap is targeting the success of the 450-store Chico’s chain, which consistently posts double-digit, month-over-month same-store sales gains. “It’s hard if you’re in specialty retail to not notice how successful Chico’s has been,” the analyst says. “I think [Chico's] makes everyone jealous.”Gap currently operates three chains. Its namesake chain is the largest, with about 1,700 units in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Japan. Old Navy operates just over 850 units in the US and Canada. Its Banana Republic chain has about 450 stores in the US and Canada.

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