Gap Follows J. Crew in Exiting Challenging Bridal-Wear Industry

(Bloomberg) -- Another major apparel retailer is giving up on a potentially lucrative but challenging clothing category: bridal wear.

Gap Inc.’s Weddington Way brand, which has operated shops within Banana Republic stores, announced plans to close down within the next few months. Though the company hopes to continuing serving customers online, it will only guarantee orders through June 11.

The demise of the brand, which focused on bridesmaid dresses, follows J. Crew Group Inc.’s decision to shutter its wedding-dress business in 2016. David’s Bridal Inc., a chain that sells gowns and accessories, also has struggled -- another sign of how perilous the market has become.

Though the amount Americans typically spend on weddings has grown over the years, competition and shifting fashion tastes have brought uncertainty to the industry. Worse, marriage rates have fallen since the 1980s. That means everyone is chasing a shrinking pie.

With Weddington Way, which started in 2011, Gap had sought to fix a famously painful experience: buying a bridesmaid dress. Though the company attracted half a million brides and bridesmaids, the business ultimately didn’t gain enough traction to be worth the trouble. It doesn’t help that Banana Republic’s overall store traffic has dwindled over the years. Same-store sales at the chain fell 2 percent in fiscal 2017 and 7 percent the prior year.

Shedding Weddington Way may help Gap focus on the healthier parts of its business, including Old Navy. That chain’s comparable-store handily beat analysts’ expectations in the latest quarter and outpaced the company’s other brands.

David’s Bridal, meanwhile, is still plodding along in a difficult environment. The company was downgraded in February by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited a lack of meaningful improvement in operating performance last year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.