What the heck took Yeezy Gap so long?

Here are the facts:

  • As a brand, whatever Gap was doing on its own wasn’t working. 
  • If you search New York Times for “Gap,” the latest articles mentioning the company all revolve around Yeezy Gap.
  • Yeezy Gap rolled out two pieces in 18 months; at this pace, the alliance would need to break inertia, otherwise they would continue missing targets.

That was the driving question behind this piece in the New York Times, entitled, “Chaos and Creation: Inside the Making of Yeezy Gap.” It was a light, fun, read, and shed a spotlight on the paradox we call corporate creativity:

1. Refining

First impressions really matter, especially in luxury products, and Yeezy brought this mindset to Gap. Apparently “the original goal was to have a collection ready by Singles Day, an annual Chinese shopping event, in November 2020. The garments were conceived to be relatively affordable, priced around $50.” It would’ve looked something like this:

That collection obviously didn’t make it out, and remains in the ever-growing Yeezy vault. Here’s what Nick Knight has to say:

“I don’t think his mentality is at all the mentality we see in more classic fashion houses,” said Mr. Knight, the photographer. “If he wants to spend a year looking into the color blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the color blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.”

And a Gap spokeswoman’s note (an appreciated spin!) on patience:

Referring to the 2020 designs that weren’t put into production, a Gap spokeswoman said in an email that “a collection was not discarded; this was part of the creative process. The team was intentional about iterating until they were satisfied.” The broader goal was “product development, testing and learning.””

2. Translating

There was an unknown unknown; what would the team need to look like to facilitate such a collaboration? Enter Leonardo Lawson, recruited by Gap to build the bridge between it and Yeezy:

“Between the puffer and the hoodie, Gap intervened, hiring Leonardo Lawson, the former chief executive of the British brand the Vampire’s Wife, to help drive strategy for Yeezy Gap — with Ye’s blessing, Mr. Lawson said. (Ye did not respond to requests for comment for this article.)

Mr. Lawson’s directive has essentially been to build a conduit between Yeezy and Gap, acting as a translator of sorts. He helped opened a Los Angeles office for Yeezy Gap, whose operations had previously been spread out across several cities, depending on where Ye and his core team were at any given time. This “innovation studio” today houses about 20 employees, said Mr. Lawson, who was promoted to head of Yeezy Gap in March.”

It’s working!

3. Talent

Mowalola Ogunlesi departed Yeezy Gap after her contract. She says to Vogue,“I only wanted to do it for a year….I prefer being able to create without any kinds of restrictions. The experience gave me confidence to find my own voice and figure out how to work in my own way. So, I was ready to move on.”)

“Ye — whose vision, according to Gap, was to create “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points” — got to work, bringing on the Nigerian-British designer Mowalola Ogunlesi as design director and testing out pieces as early as the summer of 2020. (Ms. Ogunlesi left after a year, at the expiration of her contract.)”

With what we can call the Single’s Day collection scrapped, and Ogunlesi’s contract coming up, Yeezy would need a design director. Ye’s not in a place where he can take over that role himself, so that probably stalled the process for a while too. That’s why he reconnected with a prior collaborator, Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s creative director, in March 2021 (a few months before Ogunlesi was slated to depart). That’s why it worked:

“​​It wasn’t until a third party, Balenciaga, the French luxury house, entered the collaboration that a full Yeezy Gap collection was finally released this year (though it was still relatively small, with 36 styles in total unveiled in May).”

The idea is there’ll be more collections like this one, “Yeezy Gap Engineered by _____.” Who knows! It could involve MUJI’s Naoto Fukasawa, who experimented with McDonald’s packaging with Ye recently. It could be anyone! 

It’s been fun following along on this ride, to study the playbook of how Yeezy and Gap try to pull this off.

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