By Allison Smith
After two years of buzz, Gap Inc.’s deal to produce apparel with Kanye West’s Yeezy brand is finally hitting the company’s stores, starting on Thursday with its flagship location in New York’s Times Square.
The in-store debut has been a long time coming. Gap’s 10-year partnership with Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, was initially met with enthusiasm when announced in June 2020 — the stock surged about 20% that day. The collaboration was supposed to push Gap into the luxury apparel space, while also piggybacking off the rapper’s popularity to attract younger shoppers to the struggling retailer.
But Gap executives grew increasingly silent on the Yeezy partnership, which has courted controversy. Product drops became few and far between and sold only online. So far, the tie-up hasn’t meaningfully helped the underperforming Gap brand. Earlier this month, the company, which also owns Old Navy and Athleta, fired Chief Executive Officer Sonia Syngal amid a sinking stock price and swelling inventory levels.
The Times Square event is promoting a product line, which included t-shirts for $140, that was already available online and is also a collaboration with luxury brand Balenciaga. More Gap locations will start carrying products soon, the company said in a press release.
Early on a sweltering Thursday morning in New York, a line stretching a block formed outside the Gap store. The Yeezy Gap brand, which the company describes as “utilitarian design,” had workers outside dressed head-to-toe in black to let in small groups. Inside on the second floor, Gap’s ordinarily bright aesthetic had been transformed into wall-to-wall black. Meanwhile, shoppers dug through piles of clothing without price tags that had been stuffed in massive bins. Downstairs, where Gap’s core products of polos and jeans are sold, the floor was nearly empty.
“Normally, I wouldn’t find myself in a Gap store,” said Leon Benjuya, an 18-year-old from New York who had his eye on a $240 Yeezy sweatshirt. He’s just the kind of shopper Gap is trying to attract with its Yeezy partnership. The company has said the majority of the brand’s customers are new and young. But when asked if this had turned him into a Gap shopper, he shrugged and said the line was “basically exclusively Kanye’s.”View this post on Instagram
In its most recent earnings call, Gap’s management said that the Yeezy brand was expected to expand later this year, but didn’t provide more details. The company now seems to be delivering on that promise. But the challenge remains whether West’s cool factor will be enough to inject some much-needed relevancy into the Gap brand.
Yeezy Gap products appear to have sold well in the past, but the company hasn’t disclosed figures. The retailer did say that a $90 dollar sweatshirt released in September generated the most single-day sales in the company’s history.
But while Yeezy Gap products have consistently sold out online, the products drops have been too small to generate meaningful results, according to analysts.
“It’s not hard to sell out when you aren’t selling much to begin with,” said David Swartz, an analyst for Morningstar.
Gap has also lacked a clear strategy on how to translate Yeezy Gap’s success to the retailer’s core brand offerings, according to Neil Saunders, an analyst for GlobalData.
“I don’t think this makes Gap cool or relevant,” Saunders said. “It’s more like an awkward teenager hanging around with the cool kids at school and hoping the coolness with rub off by association.”
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