Facts: How Kanye Earned His Stripes
As Kanye admits on ‘Real Friends’, he isn’t the best at remembering birthdays – but that doesn’t mean we’re about to forget his.
Ye has had such a momentous impact on sneaker culture that it’s difficult to discuss it without slipping into cliché. He’s influenced buying habits and set an unprecedented standard for how performance brands can work with figureheads outside of athletic spheres. Plus, he’s made the sneaker world a lot more interesting. Covering footwear wouldn’t be the same with Kanye declaring that he’s the ‘Tupac of product’ or releasing a diss track aimed at a global conglomerate.
Today Yeezy turns 40, and, while we can’t give him what he asked for on 2Chainz’s ‘Birthday Song’, we figure that milestones like this are best spent with family. So to celebrate, we’re looking back at the relationship he has forged with adidas. From early shout-outs to his God dream come true, this is how Kanye earned his stripes.
Kanye might have had a dalliance with Nike before finding his feet with adidas, but he’s had an affinity with the Three Stripes since day one. Way back in 2004 – before dropping his breakout album, College Dropout – Ye can be heard big upping adidas with the line,’Yamamoto adidas is sick with the fashion.’ The line can be heard on this remix.
THE FIRST ADIDAS COLAB
Some might be surprised to learn that Kanye’s first adidas design was not the Yeezy. While Ye’s friend Ibn Jasper caused a stir by claiming that the first Kanye x adidas colab was going to be a model in the ZX series, a former VP of adidas Originals says otherwise. After a fugazi version surfaced last year, Ben Pruess took to Instagram to show off what he claims is the first adidas sneaker concocted by Kanye.
The model choice makes sense given that Gary Aspden, who formerly worked in adidas' entertainment promotions department, told Crepe City that, ’The discussion revolved around working with adidas on versions of the Rod Laver Vintage which was his favourite shoe at that time. After much toing and froing between Kanye’s team and the then head of adidas Originals, the project didn’t end up coming to fruition.’
A DONE DEAL
In an interview with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez from 2013, Kanye announced to the world that he had inked a deal with adidas. After airing his discontent about his partnership with Nike, Kanye went to say that, ‘The new me, with a daughter, takes the adidas deal. Because I have royalties and I have to provide for my family.’ Just a couple of weeks later, the union was made official.
THE GLOBAL BRAND CONFERENCE
After the deal was made public, Kanye further cemented his relationship with the Three Stripes by attending their 2014 Global Brand Conference. Wearing a pair of Stan Smiths, he performed a litany of hits before giving a sobering speech. While talking about the thrill of creativity through product, he commended the brand for being ‘experienced and brave enough’ to let him create.
At this stage, Kanye hadn’t released his first sneaker with the Three Stripes – but he was still supporting them in other ways. In 2014, he debuted a new song – titled ‘God Level’ – in an ad for adidas’ 2014 FIFA World Cup ‘all or nothing’ campaign. This was the same weekend as Kanye’s wedding and, though the song never officially released, premiering new music via adidas can only be considered as a move of solidarity.
Leaks and rumours percolated in the sneaker world for more than a year, until February 14, 2015 – when the first adidas Yeezy was released. Fans waiting for a pair of the BOOST 750s at the adidas Performance store in New York were treated even further by a surprise visit from West himself, who hand-delivered them pairs of the coveted sneaker.
Determined to spread the love internationally, Kanye then showed up at an adidas Originals store in London to do the same – even sticking around to make sure they fit right.
Kanye wearing the UltraBOOST
One of the earliest instances of the Kanye effect bleeding into other areas of adidas Originals was the impact he created simply by wearing the ‘Triple White’ Energy BOOST ESM. After donning the shoes at Kiss FM’s Wango Tango concert, and then again at the NBA Playoffs, the shoes were found on eBay going for upwards of $1000.
Days later, Kanye wore the same colourway of the UltraBOOST to the Billboard Music Awards and Power 106’s Powerhouse 2015, and getting your hands on a Triple White UltraBOOST became virtually impossible.
THE TROPHY LIFE
The rest of 2015 was a whirlwind for Kanye and adidas. A presidential candidacy announcement was made and a new shoe hit stores – the Yeezy BOOST 350. A momentous success, the sneaker was instrumental in the Yeezy being named Footwear News’ shoe of the year. While Kanye could have let any spokesman accept the award, he took to the stage to give an off-the-cuff speech. During the talk, he honoured adidas vice president of global entertainment and influencer marketing. 'I’m going to have to talk about how Jon [Wexler] basically saved my life,’ Kanye said, before talking about the creative bond that the two had formed.
HERZOG AND ADIDAS MAN YOU KNOW THEY LOVE IT
Regardless of what its detractors have to say about it, the resell market is a precise indicator of what people are hungry for. And, looking at data from StockX, no one was hungry for adidas before the Yeezy. The addition of Kanye’s sneaker line changed that dramatically, effecting a spike from one percent of the resell market share to 20 percent within a year. To put that into context – of the seven Yeezy releases in 2015, the top four resold for 50 times as much as adidas’ previous top four sellers. The Three Stripes’ resell market share has since increased to over 30 per cent with new hyped models like the NMD, but it will always be the Yeezy that gave them the boost they needed.
A conversation about Kanye’s dedication to adidas can’t occur without reference to his song ‘Facts’. Released at the start of 2016, the track takes the flow Drake used in ‘Jumpman’ and repurposes it as a Nike diss. He even frames the song around a line from 2012’s ‘New God Flow’, in which he says ‘The Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman’ – except in this context it takes on a whole new meaning. The song kicked off endless debates (and blog titles) in the sneakersphere and intensified the spotlight on the Yeezy BOOST.
A MILLION IN PRODUCTION
In June 2016, adidas and Kanye penned a deal, creating what they claimed was the ‘most significant partnership ever created between an athletic brand and a non-athlete.’ Yet to be actioned, the deal will see the two create a Yeezy-branded entity that will include footwear and apparel across street style and sport. This means that Kanye designs could appear throughout adidas’ entire catalogue. Yeezy retail stores are also included – and in a 2016 interview with Vogue, Kanye expressed that he’d like the first store to open close to his home in California.
Further proving his worth as a collaborative partner, Kanye’s influence wrangled adidas a spot on primetime television. The ‘Sneak Peek: Yeezy BOOST 2000’ spoof on Jimmy Kimmel involved mocking up fake Yeezys and tapping the public for thoughts. The reaction was invariably positive (and hilarious) and proved that Kanye’s Yeezy line was helping sneaker culture probe new territory.
In mid-September 2016, adidas shared Kanye’s first foray into sports-specific footwear with the release of the Yeezy 350 Cleat in ‘Turtle Dove’. The shoe cleared off shelves faster than a speeding bullet pass, and within a fortnight the shoe was banned from the NFL. Not only was it an unprecedented release for Kanye and adidas, the model’s prohibition was also significant because of its parallels with another infamous sneaker moment. Similarities were quickly drawn between the 350 Cleats and Michael Jordan’s banned AJ1s, pointing to the fact that we were watching sneaker history in the making. Kanye later released 750 cleats that didn’t violate the NFL’s ‘dominant base colour’ rule.
KANYE’S PLAN WORKS OUT
All Kanye needed was the infrastructure – and after he built it with the Yeezy BOOST, we began to see what the rest of Kanye’s footwear would look like. In March, the adidas Yeezy Powerphase released without warning on Yeezy Supply. The shoe is the first in what might be considered a sort of diffusion line of sneakers, carrying a relatively affordable $120USD price tag. The yet-to-be-named runner he debuted in Yeezy Season 5 takes the same approach, borrowing the EQT Solution, and will no doubt buoy interest in Equipment line on arrival.
TILL THE WHEELS FALL OFF
Of all the things Kanye has done for adidas, perhaps the most salient is his dedication to wearing Three Stripe models other than his own. He’s been seen wearing the Stan Smith, UltraBOOST, Energy BOOST, Gazelle, Superstar, Rod Laver and ZX Flux – along with adidas sneakers by Yohji Yamamoto, Raf Simons and Jeremy Scott. And that’s just at a glance.Even at a time of emotional turmoil, when he took a break over the 2016–17 holiday season, he was still seen with a Gazelle in hand, tinkering with new designs. His continual co-sign of the brand fortifies the connection between the two, one that – as he said at the 2014 Global Brand Conference – goes deeper that just celebrity advertising.