Is Kanye’s New Gap Collaboration Dead on Arrival?

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It’s supposed to be the collaboration of the decade. Right when Kanye West’s Yeezy brand launched its interactive 3D website, Mr. West announced a new ongoing collaboration with Gap. Kanye will remodel a Gap outlet downtown Chicago as part of the deal. It seems like a good idea, right? The Yeezy/Adidas sneaker collab was hugely successful and Yeezy brought in $1.3 billion last year alone. But this doesn’t mean that Yeezy would also bring new life to the ailing mall-based retailer.

There are five reasons why the Gap collaboration won’t match the success of Kanye’s Adidas partnership:

  1. Gap and Yeezy have very different customer demographics
  2. Kanye is a loose cannon
  3. Gap has become essentially an off-price store
  4. Yeezy has a subpar apparel offering
  5. Gap and Yeezy have conflicting sales strategies

Let’s discuss each of these in a bit more detail.

Gap and Yeezy Customer Demographics

In the 90s, Gap nailed it as a preppy teen retailer. But the Gap customer grew up. Instead of following its core customer into young adulthood or marketing to next-gen teens, Gap launched a “For Every Generation” campaign in 2002 that attempted to bring consumers of all ages back to the struggling retailer. Thing is, most teens don’t want to cough up $65 to wear the same jeans as their grandma. Gap has struggled to find a niche since the campaign. Similar to Abercrombie, The Limited and J. Crew, Gap has been going downhill since. Robin Lewis calls this phenomenon “positioning drift.” Gap’s core customer? A bored mallgoer without the fashion sense to realize they’re buying from a brand well past its glory days.

[callout]Next-gen customers––who are highly attuned to the ethics of the brands they patronize––may be slow to grab their wallets for a mass produced Yeezy collab in light of Kanye’s unreliability as a spokesperson.[/callout]

Enter the Yeezy customer. Yeezy is hypebeast sneaker brand that was founded in 2007. Yeezy customers are trend-savvy and entrepreneurial, waiting in line for hours to purchase sneakers that have a much higher resale value than their ticket price. Wearing Yeezy is what we millennials call a ‘flex,’ showing the that the wearer has the disposable income, contacts and fashion acumen to get their hands on this limited-edition product. 

Wondering how these very different customer demographics are going to combine to make the Gap/Kanye collab a success? So are we.

Kanye is a Loose Cannon

West himself has been a hard one to pin down lately. From his vocal support of the Trump campaign and racially divisive remarks, to his silent donations to the families of victims of police brutality and marching alongside Black Lives Matter protesters in Chicago. Kanye knows how to keep fans guessing, which may help keep his personal brand in the limelight, but it also makes him an unreliable spokesperson. What does Kanye stand for? And is this a code of ethics that Gap customers can get behind?

Next-gen customers––who are highly attuned to the ethics of the brands they patronize––may be slow to grab their wallets for a mass-produced Yeezy collab in light of Kanye’s unreliability as a spokesperson. Many of his statements won’t resonate with the demographic Gap is trying to attract.

Gap Has Been Transitioning to an Off-Price Model

Gap’s investor shares may be surging in light of the Yeezy announcement, but it’s sales… not so much. Two months ago, I wrote about the fact that Gap is essentially an off-price retailer. The quality apparel the company made its name on is a thing of the past. Old Navy is the only thing keeping Gap alive and its sales model is rooted in offering low-cost basics to the masses. Gap just reported $1 million in coronavirus sales loss.

Let’s be real: Gap’s a mall-based retailer trying to survive in a time when no one can go to the mall. How is bringing in the most controversial rapper of our time who has no experience designing on a budget going to salvage the brand?

Yeezy’s Subpar Apparel Offerings

Oh man. Let’s talk about Yeezy apparel. Yeezy’s fashion line is rooted in nude, apocalyptic-looking basics that are the wrong shade to be truly nude on the models that wear them. His coats look like spacesuits. Sneakers have always been the saving grace for the Yeezy brand. The Adidas partnership was in line with this. The question, now is: will the Gap collaboration dilute the value of Yeezy sneaker drops the same way that Gap slowly wore away at the value of its own name brand merchandise with manufacturing shortcuts and discounting?

It’s also worth noting that marketing apparel to all generations at once doesn’t work. This isn’t the Dove Real Beauty campaign––there’s no cause or rallying cry for consumers to get behind. Gap’s Yeezy collab will feature clothing marketed to teens. If all goes well, Yeezy will become synonymous with mid-tier price-point goods for young consumers (which we should hope to Yeezus aren’t made in off-color nude tones).

Best case scenario: Kanye elevates Gap’s offerings for a year or two while his own brand goes downhill. Worst case: the clothes look like Yeezy’s existing merchandise and Gap becomes more abandoned mall real estate.

Gap and Yeezy’s Conflicting Sales Strategies

Yeezy sales depend on hype best limited-edition product drops with high resale value. These aren’t shoes made for the masses––they’re built to be distinctive. So how is a retailer that’s known for mass market sales going to peddle this line properly? Where’s the draw? The resale value on Yeezy for Gap is going to be negligible unless they try to implement scarcity into their sales strategy, but all signs point to the fact that they won’t. Barring some sort of innovative sales strategy, this collaboration lacks staying power.

Although Yeezy reps shot down rumors that the contract was signed for a decade-long collaboration (at the end of which Mr. West himself would be the prime young age of 53), it looks like they are signed on for the long haul. So, let’s see how well the generation that hates authority and mass-produced goods responds to the conservative songster’s line of buttoned-up basics.

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