These days it seems like a new fashion collaboration is announced every week. However, some have the ability to cause more of a stir than others, as what happened when The Gap announced it was teaming up with Kanye West’s Yeezy brand for a multi-year partnership that will involve collections for men, women and kids. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, mainly because the aesthetics of The Gap and Yeezy don’t seem like an obvious match. However, more mainstream, affordable brands like The Gap, H&M and Uniqlo have recently been partnering with higher-end or Hypebeast brands for capsule collections in order to "zhuzh up" their images and add more excitement around their collections.
A lot of heritage brands, which have typically been around for many decades, have also found it necessary to maintain their relevance through these partnerships. With industry stalwarts like Neiman Marcus and J. Crew filing for bankruptcy, and Barneys and Henri Bendel shutting down their businesses completely, high-profile collaborations with more cutting edge designers have become somewhat of a financial lifeline. Recently, The Gap too has experienced declining sales and critiques that their clothes do not appeal to younger customers and don’t reflect current, more popular fashion styles. No matter what you may think of Kanye West as a person, he has managed to build a billion-dollar shoe and clothing behemoth, which continues to sell out with every new drop.
While many have expressed excitement over Ye’s Gap takeover, others have been critical of the business deal, mainly because it seems another Black designer might have been ditched in the process. In January, The Gap announced a collaboration with Telfar Clemens, a fashion designer from New York who has been recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. However, The Gap recently confirmed that they would not be moving forward with the partnership. While it is unclear if The Gap terminated their partnership with Telfar because of its work with the Yeezy brand, the optics certainly are not great, specifically during a time when the need for mega-brands to support smaller, up-in-coming minority-owned businesses (which Yeezy is not) is more important than ever.
The fashion industry is under considerable strain due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, and it is understandable that brands will weigh business decisions more carefully than ever, particular when they have the chance to drastically impact their bottom-lines. However, as a modern civil rights movement, stemming from unjust killings and treatment of Black people by police and other institutions gains more traction, fashion companies will have to figure out a workable balance between business and benevolence.
The Gap and Yeezy collaboration will drop sometime in 2021, with Black designer Mowalola Ogunlesi at the helm.