On June 8, 2021, Kanye West turned 44. Yeezy Gap made the first product from its collection available for a pre-order: the Yeezy Gap round jacket. It was widely available, for a limited time; another time will come in autumn of 2021. All official traces of it at the Gap website and social media have since been scrubbed from the internet, to keep the excitement (hype!), but its footprints still exist. Many people follow Yeezy Gap’s collection and products closely, but I’m much more interested in the organization and the business. A little over a year ago, I wrote my first piece for Marker on why Gap decided to sign with Yeezy:
Earlier that day, the New York Times reported a 10-year licensing deal between Kanye West’s Yeezy and Gap. Gap hopes its upcoming Yeezy Gap line will generate $1 billion in annual sales within five years. … In addition to royalties, should Yeezy Gap meet revenue targets, Gap will grant Yeezy 8.5 million common shares. At its current stock price of $12, that stake would be worth just over $100 million.
Hot off the jacket drop, on June 30, 2021, CNBC reported a Wells Fargo estimate saying that billion in annual sales could possibly happen in the first year:
Wells Fargo estimated that the Yeezy line could drive up to $990 million in sales for Gap in fiscal 2022, and boost earnings by roughly 50 cents per share. By fiscal 2026, the partnership could add about $1.50 per share to earnings, Wells Fargo said.
Alone, this stat and Wells Fargo’s methodology is one to be skeptical of—basically surveying 1,000 respondents and extrapolating. But this criticism is easily waved away because it supports the narrative that Gap looks like it’s doing a lot of things right, and Yeezy Gap looks like it’s going to be one of those things. Should Yeezy Gap succeed, and with Gap’s stock price as of July 2021 now closer to $32, Yeezy’s stake in Gap would be worth $272 million on paper.
Yeezy Gap is just the tip of the iceberg. I had to omit a lot of the research I did for the Marker piece for word count, but I had wanted to introduce the concept of the Yeezy Ecosystem. Here are my words in an early draft:
One of West’s advantages is his growing ubiquity. As he made clear in his Gap announcement, his teams have many projects going on simultaneously. In a recent report, Dazed Media describes Kanye as a modern polymath, offering this diagram:
This ecosystem serves as its own, more perpetual, version of the high fashion runway show. It’s made West’s and Yeezy’s brand so powerful that even boring trademark and patent news makes the headlines at mainstream news sites.
Of course, a lot has happened since, including the first Yeezy Gap drop, for the jackets which Wells Fargo’s estimate is based on. It reminds me of what Jeff Bezos said about Amazon’s movie business, “From a business POV for us, we get to monetize that content in an unusual way. When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes in a very direct way.”
I wanted to riff on what’s most curious to me, which is Yeezy Gap is just the second of many possible collaborations. Because Yeezy is a relatively young company, it’s focused on making its Gap and Adidas deals succeed. But if they do at that scale—with a possible 9- or 10-figure stake in the business—a lot of other conglomerates will come running screaming, “Shut up and take my money!” And Yeezy will be ready, with its secretive innovation projects. As I wrote in The Kanye West Religion (Part 2): The Future:
There’s Mascotte and Pastelle, but also consider more secretive, speculative, innovations, like the Yeezy toothbrush, the Yeezy Athlet headphones, credited to designers who worked with him on the housing (Vadik Marmeladov and Ilya Kolganov.)
There’s also the possibility of going independent—with the infrastructure, relationships, and financing in place, Yeezy can start making its own projects, without a partner.
In addition to the latest news, I really liked Applied Divinity Studies’ coverage of Kanye West, who—naturally—founded Yeezy. Having compiled a book on Kanye’s interviews, that’s a big part of why I find Yeezy the company interesting. I also really appreciated Anne Helen Petersen’s proposal to cover Peloton’s various components. She framed it in such a great way:
Instead of approaching this series as supports for a concrete, overarching argument, I’m thinking of it as a series of pieces building toward a theory of why Peloton, and why now?
If I were to continue the Kanye West Religion series, it would be with Peterson’s structure in mind instead. Why Yeezy, and why now? What ideas does its founder and its team explore? Interviewing historians, marketers, and fashion experts, would apply here as well. I had the luxury of spending 20+ hours on each of those posts, which I don’t have now. But I’m still interested in continuing the thread, maybe 10–20 minutes at a time, almost as a public Zettelkasten.
Anyway, whether it’s Yeezy, Peloton, or Shopify, we’re all in the business of world-building now. And part of this world-building involves modern gospels. As I wrote in the original Kanye West Religion piece, paraphrasing sociologist Émile Durkheim, who says a religion consists of three elements:
- “A unified system of beliefs and practices”—the values, practices, and beliefs that bind Kanye’s followers to his religion
- “Sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden”—Kanye himself, his creative process, and his products (see the Kanye halo effect)
- “One single moral community called a Church”—the companies, communities, and individuals who have bought into Kanye West’s beliefs and practices
From that perspective, you could consider Yeezy Gap’s round jacket as another moment reinforcing the sacred things that Kanye West is making with Yeezy, another chance to interact with the church of Kanye—his more devout followers, as well as the streetwear community and mainstream popular culture. Naturally, buyers may have already seen the value of the jacket appreciate; it’s for sale on the secondary market for nearly 3x the original price.
It’s worth writing something up on the face mask—possibly a riff on the diamond-encrusted Martin Margiela masks he wore at the Yeezus tour—but it seems to protect himself from the paparazzi and allow him to wear Nikes. But from a conventional religious perspective, it reminds me of how a diety’s face is sacred. (For example, “‘But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’” Exodus 33:20.)
And through his artistic, fashion, and cultural contributions, Kanye has built himself a religion with many followers and possibly an even greater number of enemies. Yeezy is an extension of this: a chance to grow the church, to communicate the unified beliefs, create more sacred things, and unite the community. It’s a chance to imagine a new world, and to bring the rest of us into it.