West enters partnership with Gap, adding jobs in Cody

CODY — With what Kanye West describes as a “business enterprise” developed between his Yeezy brand and Gap Inc., the Cody-based company is expanding and planning to add more jobs to the local economy.

How many jobs will be created is at this point unknown, but Matt George, a Yeezy business director, said many of the positions will be entry-level with highly specialized training provided, to allow for a local workforce that will be heavily sourced for the manufacturing jobs. He said the company hopes to have localized production churning by the end of 2020.

No large-scale apparel and footwear manufacturing exists in the region, and West told the Enterprise bringing back manufacturing to the U.S. is a goal he’s “absolutely” passionate about. In regard to the apparel produced for the Gap partnership, design and prototyping jobs will be the first added locally, with assembly line positions to follow.

West said his clothing has been defined by some as “American sportswear” and it’s his goal to not only be an industry leader, but to produce a product that is “outside of space and time.”

“You solve a person before you solve the clothing item,” he said.

Many of his clothing items are highly abstract, using designs, shapes and earth-toned color palettes.

The Gap is in need of the economic boost the deal could provide, as the company has seen a slow decline since the turn of the century. Prior to the deal being inked Thursday, the company’s shares had fallen 43% through the year, trading at $10.16 per stock at the end of that day. But when news of the partnership was unveiled Friday morning, shares rocketed up 29% in a matter of hours, before settling in at around $12.89.

West said he finds Cody the perfect fit for his company and “followed the Holy Spirit” when deciding to come to town.

While in Jackson recording his “Ye” album in 2018, amidst the stunning backdrop of the Tetons, West realized he wanted to relocate certain headquarters of the Yeezy operation to the Cowboy State.

“We needed to start our Yeezy organization in Wyoming,” West said. “We were looking for a multi-thousand acre property.”

Yeezy’s first phase of major production in Cody will focus on footwear manufactured at the company’s facility on County Road 2AB. A state-of-the-art sample and prototype laboratory has already been built on site which will be staffed in the next 30-60 days. Yeezy also has a Cody facility on Big Horn Avenue.

Unlike the current Yeezy apparel that costs hundreds of dollars per garment or shoe, items from the Gap collaboration will be sold at price point, matching Gap’s current market foothold. The new partnership will not affect Yeezy’s pre-existing partnership with Adidas, as it does not apply to footwear, a Yeezy spokesperson said.

George said the partnership that was around 10 years in the making may involve bringing Yeezy apparel to Gap’s online and brick and mortar stores, paving the way for a new product mainstream shoppers can acquire and experience with their retail shopping.

Yeezy will handle the development of products while The Gap will assist with distribution. The company also has plans to open its own retail stores and West said there “definitely” will be a shop in Cody.

A Yeezy spokesperson said it is a multi-year deal partnership but would not reveal any more details about the contractual obligations of the relationship.

Around 2015, about two years after inking his deal with Adidas, West said he eventually wanted to get to a point where Yeezy would be offering products at a price level allowing the common consumer to purchase a pair of Yeezys.

Yeezy’s relationship with Adidas is a licensing deal involving West making a percentage of the footwear sales. It was due to Nike’s refusal to offer West a similar royalty that he pulled his partnership with that company, he has said in prior interviews. Royalty deals are common in the music industry but are less common in fashion enterprises.

Yeezy shoes have an incredible resale value with some buyers willing to spend 400% more of the original retail price to get their hands on a pair.

West worked at The Gap in the 1990s before kicking off his 21-Grammy Award winning career. He spoke to the Enterprise about what it means to have risen to a starkly different position with the same company.

“I loved folding clothes at the Gap too, that was an aspirational job for me,” he said. “When everybody in my school was wearing oversized clothes, I was ‘gapped’ out. That was always my style.”

But on his first album “College Dropout,” released in 2004, West talked of his experience working at the Gap in the song, “Spaceship” with less than glowing remarks.

In fall of 2019, West moved his company to Cody and purchased the 4,524 acre Monster Lake Ranch property, renaming it West Ranch. Certain aspects of the Yeezy business are run out of this property.

“I love it here,” West said.

He held a Sunday Service sermon at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West shortly after, drawing thousands from the Rocky Mountain region and local community for the event.

“I stay as obedient to Jesus Christ as a man can be and allow God to use me and do everything I can to not be in the way of the blessings,” West said. “Ways that he can use me – simply, I’m here to be of service and be a servant to Jesus Christ, to my wife and children, to my uncles, aunts and cousins, to my friends, to my community, and you know I got to do it to my country.”

Yeezy also has an office in Calabasas, California, an arrangement which has tasked the company’s employees with flying to and from Cody on a frequent basis because of lack of local housing. George said employees are now starting to become more stable as they develop local business and real estate ties.