The multi-hyphenate shook up social media with an array of uploads angling at adidas, Gap, and more. Boardroom attempts to decipher the meaning behind the messaging.
This week, Kanye West returned to Instagram through a spree of since-deleted posts.
Cumulatively, the announcements honed in on his usual targets, venting frustrations with his entertainment in-laws and the perceived disrespect from his corporate partners. Seemingly disjointed in nature, Ye brought it all together with a singular statement regarding his focus and frustration.
“Here is the through line,” Ye began in a notes-style screenshot. “Gap having meetings about me without me. adidas releasing old shoes and coloring my shoes like I’m dead. Me not having a say on where my children go to school.”
For Kanye, it comes down to control; having a simple seat at the table isn’t enough.
As an observer, it’s often unclear if these social sprees are intended to elicit a change in dynamics with his partners. Moreover, it makes one wonder if it’s all a planned promotion for a new product or project. He may aim to attract eyeballs before presenting bystanders with something they can click to consume.
While his creations at adidas and Gap have been massively successful in volume and vanity, both brands have failed to offer the retail experience he’s long sought and said to be promised.
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Despite having the infrastructure of two of the top companies in the history of apparel and sportswear behind him, becoming a billionaire is the tip of the iceberg for Ye’s creative vision.
While putting out product efficiently is something Kanye has yet to conquer, he has mastered the art of attention. As many argue that retail is dead, Ye has made moves. His trademark filings and impassioned soliloquies show he’d like to leverage his ability to create conversation into tangible retail stores.
In Kanye’s mind’s eye, Yeezy retail, as expressed to Gap execs, sees a “fully foam bouncy floor,” blurring the line between boutique and oversized play pit. The mission is to mix couture color palettes with Costco pricing. His vision aims to replicate Wal-Mart’s reach and accessibility, while completely changing the retail experience.
“We gotta be the highest energy brand in the mall,” Ye told Gap execs. “Who’s got the most energy in the mall? Apple. Respectfully [Steve Jobs] has passed away. So he’s not gonna be able to draw this attention.”
Visions of retail real estate aren’t new for Ye. Notably, adidas vowed to open physical Yeezy locations as part of a 10-year extension he signed in 2016. That is yet to happen.
While it’s unclear whether stores are part of the plan in Gap’s decade-long deal with Ye, his recent takeover of their Times Square flagship suggests it’s his ultimate goal. And Yeezy has made his hopes clear in no uncertain terms.
“I signed with both adidas and Gap because it contractually stated they would build permanent stores,” he wrote. “Which neither company has done, even though I saved both of those companies at the same time.”
With his most recent social shares, West drummed up support from a selection of his famous friends and collaborators. From Fivio Foreign offering to run the New York location to Pusha-T taking on opening doors in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Ye’s mind appears set on stores.
“We are going to open Yeezy stores worldwide,” West declared in a now-deleted Instagram post. “Starting in Atlanta. Who would be the best to open it? I’ll buy the land and the building. Then we gonna open up in every state. Then internationally.”
The infrastructure and funding from his brand partners would seemingly make this easier, if not more affordable.
Can celebrity connections make CEOs shift strategy or break ground? It remains unclear.
Taking the power into his own hands and trademarking YZYSPLY for retail use earlier this year, it appears more than ever that Kanye is using his clout and the court of public opinion to apply as much pressure as possible to both Gap and adidas.
The question remains: will old execs give in to modern mockery?
In 2022, Kanye is attacking CEOs with the same hijinks 50 Cent used years ago in battle rap.
Understanding that public opinion is shaped less by bars and more by memes, Ye has blasted execs on Instagram, which reaches more than 17 million followers.
The power of the platform is something West has going for him, but it’s not all in his favor. For reference, Gap claims 3.1M followers on IG with no nods to Ye. Additionally, adidas has 26.4M followers in the same space.
West claims that his ability to build with both brands should signal more success for all involved. But his calculus has been stifled since the start, and he points to the organizations when assessing what went wrong.
“We canceled the pre-order of the blue jacket,” Ye said when speaking on the $200 piece of outerwear released with Gap during the heat of June 2021. “That’s insane! I brought 3 million e-mail [addresses] over from adidas and we didn’t use them. That’s insane.”
Months later in Jan. 2022, West took to an updated strategy to launch a new product. Ye put out the music video for Donda‘s “Heaven and Hell,” letting it serve as a one-time TV spot to promote an upcoming Gap release.
“We sold 14 million hoodies at $80 with no logo on it off of one commercial and never ran the commercial again. That’s insane.”
While Ye’s tactics may not influence brand decision-makers, his ability to move the needle and product is unquestionable. As odd as it is to grasp through all the theatrics, Ye does desire to provide cool and affordable clothing to the masses. If he didn’t, he’d have gone the couture route a long time ago.
Within adidas, he’s built a billion-dollar brand that Nike was never going to fully fund or allow. In 2022, he’s hit another wall in regard to footwear and apparel. While Kanye is consistently correct in his confidence to produce pined-after product, he’s also the common denominator in many professional partnerships gone bad.
If he does leave adidas before his 2026 deal closes, it would mean lost money immediately for both the brand and the artist.
Perhaps the perplexing state of affairs with the Three Stripes is exactly why he’s going so hard on making it happen with Gap.
“I love Gap,” Ye expressed to their team. “You have to really give me the position to be Ye and do what I’m thinking or I’m gonna have to do what I’m thinking somewhere else. Because one thing I’ve learned from Virgil is if something’s killing you, it’s actually killing you.”
“This is the moment. There will never be an opportunity with a guy like me that cares this much about, specifically, this brand and has done this up to this point.”
Looking at the tale of the tape for both Gap and Kanye, he’s likely right.
Closing his presentation to Gap execs by comparing himself to Tom Brady, West shared stories of going to factories without security in an effort to get costs down. Somewhere amid the high fashion aspirations, the dream of Ye still centers around conquering capitalism by outfitting kids that just want to look cool at school.
It may seem strange to most, or even funny to some, but trust it’s no laughing matter to the man dressed in all black.
“It’s not a fucking joke,” Ye closed. “In Virgil’s name, in my mama’s name. I’m telling you what it is.
“This is Sparta.”