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In 1978, Mel and Patricia Ziegler—young journalists with a passion for travel—stumbled upon a brilliant idea. While he was in Australia working on a story, Mel had purchased an old British military safari jacket in a surplus store. When he returned home, people were curious where he got it.

Mel and Patricia started buying and reselling exotic army surplus clothes like the "short-armed Spanish paratrooper shirt," which they bought by the pound! They sold their first item to a friend at a dinner party and other sales followed. Next they took huge risk, spending every cent they had on thousands of "Gurkha shorts." Again, the gamble paid off: Sales went through the roof, though Patricia says the shorts were "kind of outrageous in 1978."

They took yet another gamble and opened their first store in Mill Valley, California. Word got out and within two years, the Zieglers' mail-order catalog had thousands of fans. They opened a second location of their store…Banana Republic. The rest is retail history!

"We actually started the company mostly to have the ability to travel, to be free, to write our own paycheck," Mel says. "We never really had our sights beyond that."

Mel and Patricia eventually sold their company to The Gap, but Banana Republic still makes a version of those original khaki shorts and white shirt! See how another one of America's favorites got its start.
FROM: I Was the One
Published on September 12, 2005