Image: Yeezy

Kanye West is bringing his fashion brand to the Gap by way of an impending new collaboration. The American mall-based retailer is teaming up with the fashion arm of rapper-slash-designer Kanye West’s multi-billion dollar Yeezy empire on a collection called Yeezy Gap, which will make its formal debut in 2021. “Yeezy’s design studio, under West’s creative direction, plans to create ‘modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points,’” the parties revealed, noting that West’s “design vision” will extend beyond the garments, themselves, “to how the line will be showcased in Gap’s stores” across the United States, as well as online.

Speaking about the newly-announced partnership with Yeezy, which is separate from West’s enduring collaboration with German sportswear giant adidas (which is slated to continue through 2026), and which will similarly exist separately from West’s high fashion collection, Mark Breitbard, Global Head of Gap Brand, said, “We are excited to welcome Kanye back to the Gap family as a creative visionary, building on the aesthetic and success of his Yeezy brand and together defining a next-level retail partnership.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Gap said the deal and the impending wares is an example of leveraging the brand power that Gap has and thinking in a new way about how we can introduce the brand to new customers, new audiences.”

Reflecting on the headline-making partnership, the New York Times’ Sapna Maheshwari states that “Gap is making a far bigger bet on Yeezy and Mr. West, a celebrity, creative entrepreneur, rapper and designer, than a typical designer collaboration.” Unlike the traditional one-off or short-term, multi-season collaboration, the Gap and West have agreed “to a 10-year deal starting this month, with the option to renew after five years.” As for who Mr. West is betting on, that would be Mowalola Ogunlesi, the 25-year old Nigeria-born, London-based designer, who will serve as design director for the Yeezy Gap venture.

A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Ogunlesi debuted her eponymous label during the school’s Press Show in May 2017, and thereafter, showed her menswear collection in London by way of the Fashion East organization in 2019, swiftly building up big-name fans, such as Naomi Campbell, Drake, Septa, Solange, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and fashion industry praise in the process. Vogue has described her designs, which are often dominated by eye-popping colors, treated leathers, and spray-painted patterns, as the type of “vibrant menswear that defies conventions,” saying that her “magpie eye combines the very best parts of nightlife culture across both London and her hometown” of Lagos, Nigeria.

As for her design mentality, Ogunlesi summed it up nicely in an interview late last year, saying, “I don’t see ‘fashion,’ which is just making things to sell – I’m actually translating how I feel into to my clothes. I don’t want to see so much shit in the world. I want to see shit that has a purpose, to make people feel some way, so that’s what I do with my work. So you would never see any work for me that I haven’t applied myself into. Otherwise, I’m not going to do it.”

In furtherance of the deal, the parties confirm that West – who maintains sole ownership of his Yeezy fashion company and the related intellectual property (as distinct from the deal with adidas, as the sportswear giant maintains rights in the relevant footwear creations, as evidenced by a number of Yeezy sneaker-centric patents and copyright registrations) – will receive “royalties and potential equity related to sales achievement.” At the five-year point, “Gap is hoping that Yeezy Gap will be generating $1 billion in annual sales,” per Maheshwari, who states that “for context, Gap’s brand brought in $4.6 billion in global revenue last year.”

The already heavily-hyped collab comes as Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Athleta and Old Navy, as well as its namesake company, aims to bounce back from the significant, negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a report early this month, the 51-year old retailer reported that first-quarter sales fell by 43 percent, largely due to the fact that its stores were closed for the majority of the period as a result of the coronavirus. The group’s CEO Sonia Syngal said in a corresponding statement that its online sales grew by more than 100 percent in May, and that as of this month, more than 1,500 of its stores in North America have reopened and are averaging sales of only 30 percent less than normal levels, with Old Navy brand “driving the rebound.”