Should Gap continue to bet on Ye?

Amid an online outcry, industry experts and online commenters question whether the retailer should stand by Ye as his personal life and behavior pose 'an unwanted distraction.'

Within weeks of the June 2020 announcement of the 10-year Yeezy x Gap collaboration, the artist then known as Kanye West was prepared to “walk away”—or at least, he threatened to, while campaigning for his doomed presidential run that July. As a result of the stunt, Gap shares, which had surged immediately following the initial announcement, fell six percent, as then reported by Forbes. It was a rocky start to what many projected to be a nearly billion-dollar relationship, but the collaboration remained intact, its initial offerings instantly selling out the following year, and a second drop in collaboration with Balenciaga performing similarly last month.

Photo: JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

However, some speculate there may now actually be trouble in paradise, as, according to Bloomberg, Gap’s Instagram feed has been flooded with requests for the retailer to discontinue its partnership with Ye in the wake of his latest stunts. Specifically, commenters are reportedly protesting Ye’s self-acknowledged yet ongoing online harassment of his soon-to-be-ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her current beau, Pete Davidson. Most recently, Trevor Noah also became a target of Ye’s fury, as the rapper-producer cast a racial slur at the talk show host in an IG post, causing the social media platform to institute a 24-hour ban on the rapper Wednesday night, as reported by theGrio.

As at least one industry expert told Business of Fashion, despite the questionable and controversial behavior West has exhibited since the partnership was announced (and prior), the current public outcry might ultimately prove the tipping point for Gap.

David Swartz, an equity analyst with the investment firm Morningstar, said there’s a “definite risk” that Ye’s “bad behavior will create unwanted publicity for Gap and, possibly, that Gap will have to disassociate from him.”

That would be both an image “problem and damage Gap’s turnaround plan,” Swartz said, while adding that the bulk of the company’s business, which is bolstered by sales from Old Navy and Athleta brands, likely wouldn’t face reputational damage.

“Investors might react positively if Gap did cut ties with Ye, since he could become an unwanted distraction,” Swartz said.

Credit: Business of Fashion

Davia Temin, founder and chief executive officer of management-consultancy company Temin & Co, agreed, telling BoF: “The association that your brand has with somebody who’s an endorser or somebody who is your brand ambassador—if that brand ambassador gets tarnished rightfully or wrongly, unfortunately, that rebounds on your brand.”

As an example, one need only look at the fallout experienced by Travis Scott after a crowd surge at his Astroworld festival last summer that left 10 concertgoers dead, including nine-year-old Ezra Blount, as well as hundreds injured. In the aftermath, Scott’s highly anticipated Spring-Summer ’22 collaboration with Dior menswear was shelved indefinitely, with no further updates on whether it will ever be released.

While Scott’s culpability in the Astroworld tragedy is now a matter for legal debate, the alternate pleading, accusations and insults Ye has aimed at Kardashian—coincidentally, the elder sister of Scott’s partner Kylie Jenner—are largely perceived as a very deliberate choice, in spite of his well-known diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Notably, host-comedian Noah drew Ye’s ire for expressing similar concerns in an over nine-and-a-half-minute monologue on Tuesday night’s episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, in which Noah referenced his own mother’s abuse and ultimate shooting as he discussed the harassment and toxicity many women face when attempting to exit romantic relationships. However, even as Ye’s behavior and concerns about that behavior have escalated in recent weeks, BoF reports Gap has yet to respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Nevertheless, fans of Ye have predictably come out in force with a counter-campaign, leveraging Instagram’s algorithm to bump their support of the rapper to the top of the brand’s posts. As BoF further noted, all of this is especially interesting considering the bulk of the commentary has been directed at Gap’s feed rather than the separate and independent Yeezy x Gap Instagram account.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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