Kanye West’s explosion is a painful lesson for Gap

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Bloomberg News reported that Gap’s Instagram posts were filled with comments imploring the retailer to end its partnership, followed by a counter-effort from Ye fans calling on the company to keep it going.

Last week, Ye was suspended for 24 hours from Instagram after directing a racial slur at “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah. Noah had used part of his show to express his concern over Ye’s treatment of his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, comedian Pete Davidson. Several news outlets have reported that due to his behavior, Ye will not be appearing at the Grammy Awards early next month. And a Change.org petition calling on Coachella to remove him as a headliner has garnered more than 40,000 signatures. Gap and Ye did not return requests for comment.

A high-level collaborator using social media to target a woman and her partner puts the Gap brand at risk. The company was founded in San Francisco in 1969 by husband and wife duo Don and Doris Fisher, and currently has a female CEO, Sonia Syngal. The scandal also sits uneasily between the values ​​of fitness apparel brand Athleta of Gap, which positions itself as a women’s champion, and those of the Old Navy family. These divisions are the growth engines of the group.

But moving away from Yeezy Gap would be a serious setback to the group’s turnaround plans. (Yeezy is Ye’s extension into fashion and also encompasses its footwear partnership with Adidas AG. Yeezy recently announced a new head of design, perhaps looking to distance itself from its founder.)

The retailer pinned its hopes on Ye to bring freshness to the Gap brand. It brings a connection to streetwear and also has links to haute couture – which paved the way for Kering SA’s recent innovative three-way alliance with Balenciaga.

Bloomberg News reported that Gap envisions the Yeezy line to become a billion-dollar brand within eight years. For context, the Gap division generated sales of $4 billion in the year through January 2022. But given the limited scope of the Yeezy offering so far – early releases have been immediately sold out – it’s hard to determine how much Gap is benefiting from it. What is clear is that revitalizing the retailer will be much more difficult without the partnership. Stocks are down around 9% over the past week, underperforming the consumer sector.

The Gap brand operates in the mid-market apparel segment, which is a tough place as consumer incomes are squeezed by inflation.

If the group were to part ways with Ye, it would be difficult to find a replacement who would bring the same broad appeal. But a few possibilities come to mind:

Last year, rapper Lil Nas X teamed up with Brooklyn-based art collective MSCHF on the now infamous “Satan Shoes,” which prompted a lawsuit from Nike Inc. — but also generated a ton of hype. Tyler the Creator’s fashion lines collaborated with VF Corp’s Vans. and Converse from Nike, and it recently unveiled a high-end range.

Another possibility would be to register A$AP Rocky and Rihanna. The rapper has a string of ties under his belt, and until last year Rihanna had her own clothing line with the world’s biggest luxury group, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE. The couple are expecting their first child, so there would also be plenty of Baby Gap opportunities.

A truly controversial choice would be to ditch Ye for Kim Kardashian and Davidson, a move guaranteed to make Gap a trend on social media. Let’s not forget that Kardashian created a successful underwear brand, Skims, valued at $ 3.2 billion, which would go well with Athleta. Skims also unveiled a collection with LVMH’s Fendi that generated over $3 million in sales in 10 minutes.

The best outcome for all concerned would be for Ye to rein in his behavior, apologize, and draw a line under recent events. Yet even under these circumstances, Gap should learn from the episode: he needs more than Ye for his reinvention. It needs to inject more style into the Gap lines outside of the Yeezy line, and not let up on operational issues. It still needs to manage supply chain constraints and avoid going overboard with markdowns (as it has done in the past).

Otherwise, a Gap-Ye breakup could prove publicly as painful as the Kimye split.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

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• Unilever should know that the goal is not the strategy: Chris Hughes

• Victoria’s Secret bets $5 billion on a future without angels: Andrea Felsted

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail sectors. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

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