YEEZY MAFIA Talks Controversy and Sneaker Leaking Strategy
In the three years since they began as a Skype chat, super sneaker leakers YEEZY MAFIA haven’t just thrived, they’ve monopolised the current generation’s most visible and desirable sneaker/rap co-sign. At times, their disruptive intel has been so prophetic you’d think they were backed by – or had hacked – the global adidas corporation. Other times, Kim Kardashian has flamed them so hard it looked like they would be charred and barred from Twitter for life. And yet, even after beefing openly with Kim, YEEZY MAFIA is still the only sneaker account that Kanye follows.
In an industry propped up by celebrity, YEEZY MAFIA’s outlaw status is a curious anomaly. Every sneakerhead sympathetic to the Three Stripes follows their feed, yet the group’s leaders have so far remained invisible. In that respect, their marketing model – built on sharing information rather than piles of influencer co-signs – is a sneaker biz oddity.
But it works. The cabal’s freewheeling approach is fast becoming the go-to template for the pseudo-nefarious practice of profiteering from sneaker leaks. Their ascendant social credibility means they now have their own apparel range (as worn by Migos member, Offset), and a booming business ‘securing’ Yeezys for a juicy finder’s fee. Essentially, the YEEZY MAFIA business model is half-guerilla affiliate marketing, half-industrial-scale reselling.
Love or loathe their renegade playbook, there’s no doubt YEEZY MAFIA are heavyweight players. Like a real-life crime syndicate, this mob is headed by a secretive king-pin known only as ‘Don’, which funnily enough, is not his real name. We broke bread with the godfather to set the record straight.
Before we get into the mechanics of YEEZY MAFIA, let’s start at the beginning. Is it true you began as a Skype group?
That’s how it all started, back during the 750 Triple Black drop, though it’s not active anymore.
And what was your previous experience with sneakers?
My first VHS movie was Space Jam, and I grew up a big fan of Michael Jordan and his shoes. More recently, I remember taking a nap in front of the Air Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’ product page and waking up to see the product was live. I caught a serious L on that one but some of my friends were able to grab multiple pairs. That’s when I heard about ‘the game’.
Had you ever ‘cooked’ before then?
I got into computing and cyber security primarily due to bad luck. When I was about 13, my MSN account was hacked. It pissed me off so much I looked for revenge. By doing some research and analysing the Trojan virus, I was able to track down the hacker and finesse him back. I used to rail against bots because, back then at least, there were ways to cook manually by exploiting glitches. The trial and error process was very educational and more fun than using bots, but times change and with brands increasing their security, the most effective way to cop sneakers now is using automated software. You’ve also got to keep in mind that bots are not for everybody and they are way less straightforward than you think. Bots can be insanely costly to run. There is no easy money to be made in this business.
Let me know if I’ve got all this right, and feel free to fill in the blanks. YEEZY MAFIA is an international network of people who leak information about adidas sneakers, but, like the real mafia, is ruled by one person?
It’s a small collective of people from different backgrounds. Everyone’s individual skillset combines to serve one goal. We grew and learned together, and we do our best to be successful in everything we undertake. The main members opened Dropout Milano, a resale store in Milan, while some others run Outpump, one of the biggest streetwear media magazines in Italy. Last but not least, some other members are running PY_RATES, the Nike leak account. I’m very proud of what our crew has accomplished. The other day at the YEEZY MAFIA pop-up in Los Angeles, I met some members for the first time. One thanked me because he was getting his Tesla Model S delivered that afternoon. He’s a 17-year-old student.
I think your website used to have an option to pay something like £100,000 for entry into YEEZY MAFIA. Has anyone actually paid to get in and, if so, how much?
That fee was to prevent people from trying to join, but some people ended up paying, for sure. People are willing to pay a lot just to be part of YEEZY MAFIA.
I know your line of work is secretive, but I’d like to get into the operations as much as possible. What’s your average work day like?
I wake up, check socials and emails, eat breakfast, then take a look at the crystal ball to see if anything is worth publishing. If anything is cool then I start designing mockups, plan leaks, and handle director stuff. Then I’m designing clothes and working out.
Am I correct in saying that the bulk of your revenue comes from cart sales?
We’re doing both carts and pre-orders now, as we developed a more effective way to purchase shoes for customers. With carts, the customer has to purchase a pre-filled cart and then checkout to skip the waiting room. We now handle the checkout with pre-orders. The customer just purchases a pre-order fee, waits for release day, and wakes up to an order confirmation in their email. That’s it! We created this stress-free solution to simplify the frustrating process of spending a whole day waiting online, which is time that some people can’t afford. Also, our fee is calculated to be cheaper than the market resell price.
Kanye keeps saying that his plan is ‘Yeezys for all!’ This is a counter-intuitive vision of the sneaker market, which is all about enforced under-supply. How do you view that strategy? Is it still working?
I think that too many people assume too many things, without expert knowledge, and that brings toxicity to the game. It’s true Yeezy 350s have been made available to a wider audience, while most of the other styles remain limited, but they are still worn and constantly sell out. By now, everyone who wanted a pair of Yeezys could surely get their hands on a pair if they put in the work. Many people have multiple pairs.
There is so much versatility in the line that everyone can pick and choose between limited and non-limited releases, ﬂashy colours, or monochrome style, etc. Yeezy isn’t just a collaboration, it has become a semi-autonomous division of adidas, and it looks like this is only the beginning.
Generally speaking, have you cracked the adidas code on how many units are made of each shoe? Is that still the biggest factor in hype?
Quantity is far from the biggest hype factor. If you make a limited shoe that no one wants, the number doesn’t matter. How many people wear Stan Smiths or Superstars? Those two styles are well-established products that are almost always available, and are still seen on many feet. The biggest factor is the colourway and the timing. As long as the quantity made is reasonable, this is not the biggest factor.
I find it hard enough to tell people I write about sneakers for a job. How do people react when you tell them your job is leaking and selling sneakers that you don’t technically own?
I don’t tell anyone what I do, except my closest circle. And I don’t talk about it in everyday life unless it’s business-related. Usually I just say I’m an entrepreneur linked to fashion/sneakers, or that I run a clothing brand. My job is not leaking sneakers, I think of it more as entertaining a huge, thirsty community. I have to keep the content hot, run the business, and deal with all the problems linked to that. Some people can’t understand what we do because they have a lot of negativity in their lives, and they wake up every day to something they don’t like. We all worked hard to make a living from what makes us happy and keeps us passionate. We are blessed.
What do you think has made you the authority on Yeezy information when there are so many other leakers out there?
Timing and simplicity. It’s all about getting access to the exclusive quality content, building the right alliances, and working with the right people. Having Kanye West follow us on Twitter was the cherry on top.
You’ve said previously that anyone can learn to do what you do. Where would you point them for their first lesson?
If you want to learn about how to purchase a certain limited shoe on a certain website, you have to first learn how this website works, and what happens behind the scenes when you purchase the shoes. Regarding the leaks, well, the best way would be to take some fortune-telling courses.
How do you decide how far out to leak sneakers?
It depends on the shoe because design changes often happen during the development. So sometimes we will post a mockup and the final product will be different. For example, the cage colour on the Bape x Super Bowl UltraBOOST changed from gold to white. We know how annoying it can be for the fans, so we try to announce a maximum of six months before the planned release. Sometimes release dates change, like with the Yeezy 350 ‘Sesame’ getting moved from August to November. Timing is very important.
What have you learned from controversy, and the detractors throughout the years?
When we started we didn’t have all the knowledge and connects we have now, so we posted some wrong information and our detractors loved it. But we learned over the years that, as with anything you do in life, people will always envy you and have negative things to say. When you start getting notorious it’s difficult to handle, so you need to be mentally strong. If you look at any blog or social media account, you will find more hate than love in the comments, so you’ve got to deal with it. Either way, they’re making the comment count go up!
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about Kim Kardashian. What was the story linking her to your account suspension?
That incident attracted all the most world-famous press outlets to us, but it also brought paparazzi agencies that realised we had posted a lot of their pictures without paying a license. They asked for a huge amount of money to settle the case, which is a common process handled by copyright trolls. A lot of websites have closed because of them. But this belongs in the past. We’ve just got to be careful in the future.
I’ve seen members joking about ‘SWOOSH MAFIA’. Was that ever a possibility, and would it ever happen?
You never know what the future holds, but our current focus is 100 per cent Yeezy.
A basic question, but it has to be asked. Do you have a favourite pair?
Tough one, because every Yeezy release is something special. I like the ‘Shadow Black’ 500 sample which I’m lucky enough to own, as the blue outsole details give me ‘Pirate Black’ vibes. I also like the 700 Wave Runner because it set trends and brought back the dad shoe. Props to Kanye and the Yeezy team for that. I also dig the 700 V2 ‘Static’ which is a more high-end approach to the 700, due to the quality of the materials and reflective details. Kanye is the ultimate trendsetter. Some people won’t give him credit, but before the 700s were seen on him, wearing dad shoes was not cool. As far as non-Yeezys go, the Sneakersnstuff Yung-1 in grey and purple was pretty cool. Love the Yung-1 – fire shoe! Honourable mention to the PUMA CELL, it’s cool to see brands putting out new designs from their archive.
With so many resellers and kids getting in on the action, is the game totally over-saturated? Who is buying all these shoes?
Reselling is just like any other hustle. You are either talented or not and, if you are, it doesn’t matter how over-saturated the game might seem. But you have to adapt to it as the game won’t adapt to you. How to recognise a bad reseller? He will comment ‘bricks’ on a shoe he can’t ﬂip.
And what does your crystal ball predict for 2019?
A major bounce back from adidas, more limited Yeezy releases, some new models, and a lot of new colabs. 2019 is going to be crazy, so stay tuned!
This interview was originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 41. Buy your copy HERE.