Only a day after reporting miserable August sales results, Gap Inc chief executive Millard Drexler admitted the retailer had made mistakes with autumn merchandise.

But he promised that he and his senior officers were now getting their mitts more firmly around delegated merchandise responsibilities, with top executives going back to examining all new designs by category, style and even colour.

"We changed too much, too quickly, in ways that weren't consistent with our brands," he told a retail conference in New York on Friday. Gap, the nation's top apparel retailer, operates the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains.

Gap, San Francisco, had hoped that new merchandise - especially denim in its Gap stores - would spark back-to-school sales. But on Thursday, the company announced August sales fell 17 per cent for stores open at least a year. That decline came on top of a 14 per cent drop last year.

Mr Drexler conceded that Gap stores had become unfocused, trying to attract too many different customers. The brand is targeting 20-30-year-old customers and working to improve its store layouts and focus on the "updated, classic" styles that are selling better than older, more basic designs.

The Old Navy chain had the opposite problem as it  attracted a lot of teenage shoppers with trendy items such as miniskirts, but older customers were turned off.

At Banana Republic, Mr Drexler blamed slumping same-store sales on clothes that had become too modern and too form-fitting. He added that the chain has improved its women's clothing but called the men's business "a work in progress".

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