Gap opens first store in S.Africa, plans two more

JOHANNESBURG - U.S. clothing retailer Gap Inc will open its first standalone franchise store in South Africa this week, it said on Monday, the second major apparel merchant to enter the sub-Saharan African country in less than six months.

"South African is the natural next step for expanding our store footprint on the continent," said Stefan Laban, Gap's managing director of strategic alliances.

The company first offered its namesake brand and Banana Republic in South Africa through a wholesale agreement with domestic department store group Stuttafords.

Stuttafords would operate Gap's free-standing stores in the country, the two companies said in a joint statement.

Gap, which plans to open two more stores in Africa's top apparel retail market, follows Europe's biggest clothing retailer Zara, which entered the country with one store in November last year.

The expansion of Gap and Zara, the flagship label of Spain's Inditex, in Africa pit them against established retailers such Truworths International, The Foschni Group and Woolworths.

The San Fransisco-based company already has stores on the continent where consumer spending is expected to double to $1.4 trillion by 2020. Gap entered Morocco and Egypt late last year.

Africa's strong consumption prospects were highlighted in 2010 when Wal-Mart bid $2.4 billion for control of South African retailer Massmart. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by James Jukwey)

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