What Brands Should Takeaway From Yeezy's Partnerships With Adidas And Gap
Eccentric is a word often affixed to many of those deemed genius by their peers. Whether or not it's an accurate assertion for most geniuses—there’s no denying that when it comes to Kanye West aka “Ye”—eccentric is a pretty precise description of the artist, fashion designer, and entrepreneur.
I’ll let you be the judge that decides if Kanye is truly a genius or simply a madman—but one thing I’m sure that we could agree on is that as an entrepreneur—Kanye has been nothing short of brilliant.
West recently made headlines after announcing that his fashion brand Yeezy, has officially ended its partnership with Gap Inc. Despite creative differences with Gap—Yeezy’s sneaker partnership with Adidas has been quite lucrative. According to Businessoffashion.com, in 2021, sales from the licensing deal reached $1.7 billion—which accounted for nearly 7 percent of Adidas’ annual revenue.
Yeezy’s partnerships with Adidas and Gap make for a great case study for brands that intend on entering partnerships with iconic influencers in hopes of appealing to their huge audiences. These are a few key lessons brands should take away from Yeezy’s partnerships with both, Adidas and Gap.
Culture moves product
Contemporary culture is one of those things that has never been controlled. No matter how much money major media corporations and Fortune 500 companies put into trying direct culture—they’ll never achieve their objective of doing so. Culture simply doesn’t work that way.
Instead of trying to direct culture, companies would find it far successful (and profitable) to work with those that understand culture, symbolize it, and know where it's going.
As a music producer, Kanye has always seemed to know exactly where hip-hop culture was at the time. But even better—he always seemed to know where it was going, and was eager to be the one to help it get there.
For example, when Kanye first hit the national scene as a hip-hop producer in the early 2000s, sonically—hip-hop fans espoused hard-hitting, ear-piercing, uptempo beats. With producers like Timbaland, Swizz Beats, and Mannie Fresh dominating the charts at the time—it would’ve been easy for Kanye to follow-suit and mimic their style.
But instead, Kanye—knowing that hip-hop fans had grown accustomed to the same beat patterns coming from their speakers—believed that fans would embrace a more soulful sound, if it was presented to them properly.
His theory was proven correct with the release of JAY-Z’s 2001 hit “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” —a song produced by West, whose soulful sample of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” helped it go on to become JAY-Z’s first top 10 single as a lead artist.
Kanye brought that same cultural intuition to the fashion industry. Which is why Adidas pounced at the chance to partner with him after he ended his footwear partnership with Nike over alleged unpaid royalties on Nike’s behalf. However, it was at Nike—where Kanye proved that he also knew where culture was heading as it pertained to fashion.
Sales of the Kanye designed—Nike Air Yeezy II “Red October” sneaker sold out on Nike.com in 11 minutes—solidifying West as a fashion icon.
“For 2014, we welcome to the Adidas family one of the most influential cultural icons of this generation.” The brand said a statement announcing its partnership with West.
The incredible sales success of sneakers designed by Kanye at both Nike and Adidas—is a testament that when brands work with those that understand what the culture wants and where it’s going—the culture will support those brands with their wallets.
Agendas must align
Be it a sponsorship deal with an influencer. Or a co-branding partnership with another brand. Whenever a brand chooses to present a partnership to the public—it’s extremely important that all parties are on the same page, and are willing to fulfill all obligations that they agreed upon.
If not, the partnership could turn very ugly if one party doesn’t live up to their side of the deal. As was the case with Yeezy’s partnership with Gap Inc.
According to Kanye, Gap failed to deliver on agreed price points for his Yeezy clothing line. His lawyers also claim that Gap failed to produce stores dedicated to the Yeezy brand— something that the two brands had previously agreed upon. In an interview with CNBC, West expressed his frustration with the partnership, “It was very frustrating. It was very disheartening, because I just put everything I had. I put all of my top relationships,” said West. “Our agenda, it wasn’t aligned.”
Moving forward, brands should learn from the Yeezy/Gap fallout and make sure that their agenda aligns with with their partner’s—which would give the alliance a much better chance at achieving success.
The reward was worth the risk
Entrepreneur and motivational speaker, the late great Jim Rohn once said that, “Life consists of really two major things: One, is avoiding the dangers, and taking advantage of the opportunities.”
I couldn't agree more.
Make no mistake, as a brand exec—aligning your brand with a controversial figure like Kanye West is an extremely risky endeavor. That’s because like many eccentric types—he is so unpredictable. You never know what he might say or do to offend a group of people.
Kanye has been known to say, and do—a lot of things that could stir up bad publicity for not only him—but also for the brands that are associated with him. With that being said, for the brands that embrace rebellion and are anti-safe—partnering with a controversial figure like West is definitely worth the risk—if your objective is to increase sales and generate attention towards your brand.
Notwithstanding the termination of its partnership with Yeezy, Gap’s deal with West should be viewed as a success for the brand. Due to the fact that Kanye thought so highly of Gap—he agreed to work with the brand. By being associated with Yeezy, Gap was able to provide the social proof needed to attract Gen Z consumers that weren’t interested in the stagnant brand prior to Kanye’s involvement.
For both Adidas and Gap—sales have proven that working with Kanye has been more of a lucrative opportunity—than a danger that should’ve been avoided.