Per the New York Times, Kanye West has inked a 10-year deal with Gap to create an iteration of his Yeezy branded clothing line for the retailer. And anybody who is (or has been a fan of Kanye) knows about his relationship with the store. Specifically because the entire first verse of classic record “Spaceship”—it is indisputably a classic record—from his debut record, The College Dropout, was about being the token black employee at a Gap, presumably in Chicago. He apparently also hit that motherfucker up for an assortment of blazers, jeans and button ups. I wish I knew him back then (I don’t know him now, either). According to the song, he quit. Eventually Kanye bought himself a spaceship and flied….paassssst the sky. (I know it’s wrong; I’m singing.)
Well, there’s one hell of a fortuitous line in that song, too: “Oh now they love Kanye, let’s put him all in the front of the store.”
And well, I imagine that from here on out, if you step foot inside a Gap (starting in 2021), you will absolutely see the Yeezy line in the front of the store. There are people who are going to criticize this but I actually think this is a brilliant move for Gap, and this is somewhat of a seeing through of a dream for Kanye.
Several years ago, Kanye signed what is effectively a licensing deal with Adidas that would turn him into a billionaire and put Adidas in the running with Nike for shoe company dominance. He owns his line—Yeezy—and makes a percentage off of sales of his shoes that fly off shelves, and next to Nike Air Jordan 1s are the most re-sellable shoes in the aftermarket. To drive that point home, in March, Adidas Yeezy did a restock of his oddly shaped Yeezy Slides. I was able to buy two pairs (it’s harder to do than it sounds) for $55 a piece and recently sold one pair for $285 and another for $225, on sneaker resale site, GOAT. Let that sink in: I made $400 on two pairs of slides. This week. Yeezys, at this point, are basically the equivalent of the housing market—the prices may fluctuate but they’re always worth more than you spent for them.
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Well, in 2015, two years after Kanye signed with adidas, he pointed out that, eventually, he wanted everybody who wanted a pair of Yeezys to be able to get a pair of Yeezys. That was on the heels of the fact that, initially, all of the drops (releases of shoes) were done in limited quantities which drove up the demand, had the resale market looking stupid—I remember at one point, copping a pair of semi-frozen 350s on the resale market would cost you upwards of $600, now you can get them for $350, still expensive as hell, but not quite Balenciaga levels. Kanye realized that exclusivity would create all types of issues, and eventually, starting around 2018, his shoes would release in mass quantities. Hell, with some releases, you can cop them at Foot Locker and other brick-and-mortar shoe retailers. This is how Kanye became the go-to sneaker salesman. His shoes are still must-haves (his 350s are basically becoming the equivalent of Jordan 1s in the sneaker world, except a thousand times more comfortable) even though more and more people have them. No matter where you go, you are guaranteed to see somebody wearing Yeezys at this point, even at price points that start at $220 for his 350 line.
Kanye’s clothing line, however, hasn’t been so...sticky. Sure, every now and then you’ll see a shirt or something of his that becomes a must have item, but whereas I think Kanye believed his clothes would become hypebeast staples, like say, Supreme, on occasion only his tour merch really resonates. Which makes sense: his clothing line looks like the most expensive bullshit of all time. Every clothing drop looks like “why would you do this?” mixed with “WHAT ARE THOSE???” Plus, his insistence on staying within like a 6-colorway palette that oscillates between mud and butter is also off-putting. At the core, nobody wants to pay $250 for a white tee either. If I’m paying $250 for a shirt, I might as well get a Commes des Garcons joint that has a heart that folks love on it.
Nobody gives a shit about Yeezy fashion is what I’m getting at. Gap could change that though. See, I’m not paying $200 for a mud-colored tee-shirt, but Gap ain’t selling a $250 mud-colored tee-shirt. They might sell it for $60 and if it’s comfortable enough or looks cool enough, I might be willing to do that. And partnering with Gap effectively for Yeezy apparel basically does what he did with Adidas: he can put his name and cool on a line of clothing and Gap can do all the manufacturing and marketing. It’s quite brilliant actually. Gap has a history of working with rappers. LL Cool J’s famous Gap commercial where he both wore a FUBU hat and rapped “for us, by us” in the commercial is still a watershed moment in hip hop’s move to commercial viability. Plus, back then, Gap was actually a cool place to shop. I can’t remember the last time I went into Gap...and I have children.
But a Yeezy branded GAP hoodie would fly off shelves. Or Yeezy branded shirts. Or whatever basics they drop. I do think that it might kill some of the aura that makes Yeezy clothing hypebeast-like, but the truth is, his clothing never reached the hypebeast resonance of high end brands like Gucci, Balenciaga or YSL nor the street level brands like Supreme, BAPE or Anti-Social Social Club, etc.
I think both brands benefit here. Gap needs it. According to that same New York Times article, they’re struggling, which makes sense. Gap was dope in the late 90s, but everybody caught up and got cooler; H&M basically came through and crushed the buildings by being cooler and cheaper. Even Old Navy, which is owned by Gap, Inc. has cooler offerings than Gap, and is cheaper.
I know Kanye is up and down in terms of our feelings for him, especially in the Black community. But the business community has to pay attention to him. His albums still resonate. A Kanye interview is still must-see or must-read. His shoes STILL sell like gangbusters. The remainder of the 2020-calender Yeezy releases features several shoes that I’d love to have and are guaranteed to impact in the marketplace. The cross-promotion Adidas, Yeezy and Gap will undoubtedly do will be insane. Whole ass hype-beast looking mannequins rocking Yeezy Gap with Yeezy Slides on. Who knows, maybe Gap will become an unintentional Yeezy shoe outlet.
Love or hate him politically, as a business-person, he’s killing the game in ways that others wish they could do. What other rapper sells a shoe that rivals the biggest shoe name in history?
Kanye has taken the line, “let’s go back, back to the Gap,” to a whole new place. That spaceship has flown high.