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Dive Brief:

  • Gap on Thursday told employees the brand is wrapping up its collaboration with Ye (also known as Kanye West), according to an internal memo to employees from brand chief Mark Breitbard, obtained by Retail Dive.

  • Gap’s move follows Ye’s announcement the same day that he will exit the partnership due to what his lawyer said was “substantial noncompliance with its contractual obligations.”

  • In his memo, Breitbard said, “Important to know is that throughout this partnership, we have upheld our commitments.” Upcoming Yeezy Gap drops already in the pipeline will launch as planned, he also said.

Dive Insight:

The Yeezy Gap partnership, announced in June 2020, was reportedly intended to last a decade, though at the time Gap Inc. disputed that. Just two years in, Gap appears to be taking the demise of its most high-profile merchandising endeavor in stride. In his memo Thursday, Breitbard chalked it up to a difference in process rather than of philosophy. 

“Simply put…while we share a vision of bringing high-quality, trend-forward, utilitarian design to all people through unique omni experiences with Yeezy Gap, how we work together to deliver this vision is not aligned,” he said. “And we are deciding to wind down the partnership.”

In interviews and via a letter posted to Twitter Thursday, Ye and his representatives were more specific, accusing Gap of failing to feature Yeezy Gap items in brick-and-mortar stores in a timely manner. Yeezy Gap items were found in stores for the first time in July, when Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga items were made available at Gap’s Times Square flagship location in New York City, with plans to have them in select Gap stores nationwide. The Yeezy Gap marketing around that location was taken down Thursday after Ye said he was quitting the partnership, according to TMZ.

Notably, Gap does not dispute that it has failed for over two years to sell a single Product in a single Gap store, including any of its 500+ stores in North America,” the letter states. “Nor does Gap dispute that it has failed for over two years to open a single dedicated store anywhere in the world.”

That could be in part because the first Yeezy Gap item didn’t drop until June 2021, about a year after the collaboration was announced. The slow roll-out of the collection was reportedly a source of frustration for the brand. Brick and mortar seems to be in focus for Ye of late: In June his intellectual property holding company, Mascotte Holdings, filed a trademark request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the name YZYSPLY, intended for apparel and accessories stores.

This breakup comes days after Ye took to social media to post a series of since-deleted complaints against Gap and longtime collaborator Adidas, but it may have been unavoidable from the start.

“Gap is a cautious company with a stale brand that usually eschews bold moves. In contrast, Kanye is a radical innovator who loves to shake things up,” GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders said in emailed comments. “While Kanye could have injected a dose of energy into Gap, the incompatibility of the two visions meant that frustrations were inevitable. In some ways, Kanye was just too extreme for Gap.”

Saunders sees the brand as compelled by the prospect of generating buzz via the partnership, without thinking that through. But Ye is hardly the only creative to arrive with fanfare only to make a hasty retreat, he said, noting that Danish branding guru Rebekka Bay did so a few years ago. 

“This repeated pattern of botched reinvention is one that the company desperately needs to remedy,” Saunders said.

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