Was Nike CEO Mark Parker Wrong About Kanye West and the Air Yeezy?

Was Nike CEO Mark Parker Wrong About Kanye West and the Air Yeezy?

Written by Matt Welty (@matthewjwelty)

Kanye West painted Nike CEO Mark Parker into a villain when he stated, "Mark Parker even talked shit, talking 'bout he don't even know why people like the Yeezys." during a Yeezus Tour performance at the Barclays Center last week. And since then, it's been highly speculated that Kanye would sever ties with Nike and jump ship to adidas. 

But should anyone be angry with Mark Parker?

The Air Yeezy series has gained an almost unrivaled fandom for Nike. The sneakers have been impossible to get, and even single-handedly caused sneaker enthusiasts to pass on an Air Jordan IV release. But, Mark Parker is more than just the top brass of the $25B athletic company. He's the Steve Jobs of sneakers. He's been designing sneakers with Nike since 1979 when the brand had a research and development outpost in Exeter, N.H. Parker is literally the fabric of the brand.

If anyone understands what keeps Nike moving, it's Parker. The Air Yeezy—although awesome and an iconic silhouette in its own right—is a luxury mash-up of design elements that aren't new to Nike.

This isn't where Parker sees the brand going. In a 2012 interview with Fast Company, Parker said:

"Any business that wants to realize its potential needs to have good design. The world doesn't need anymore mediocre product, and designers are all about creating great design. And it should be the same with any company, any brand. It's really about making sure you're creating the future. You're thinking about what's possible, not just re-hashing what exists."

Innovation has always been Nike's direction. Letting Kanye design a complete collection wouldn't be about technological advancement, it would be about cashing in on the cool of Kanye.

The brand doesn't need a musician's co-sign because it's able to create its own buzz through re-releasing its back catalog and pushing forward new technology like Flyknit, Air Max, Hyperfuse, and more. Just look at the LeBron 11, it retails for $200 and virtually features every relevant technology offered by Nike.

To give Kanye his own Nike line wouldn't be doing anything progressive for the brand.

As a whole, Nike has peeled back from artist collaborations. Gone are the days of Pharrell and De La Soul designing a pair of Dunks or Questlove rendering an Air Force One. Giving Kanye free reign to create as much as he wants would be counterintuitive to Nike's ethos. Every active athlete under Nike's Swoosh-laden wing—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul Rodriguez, etc.—has received signature sneakers that create something new in their respective fields.

So has the Air Yeezy or HTM (Parker's design collective comprised of himself, Tinker Hatfield, and Hiroshi Fujiwara) been more influential for Nike?

The trio's involvement with the Flyknit technology has given Nike credibility for designing an innovative platform accepted by the fashion world, that also performs.

Innovation has always been Nike's direction. Letting Kanye design a complete collection wouldn't be about technological advancement, it would be about cashing in on the cool of Kanye.

Parker's opinion that he doesn't understand why people liked the Yeezy is valid. His, and Nike's, focus is solely on creating new products that athletes love first - then trickle down into the style world. Every attempt by the brand to create high fashion—Nike x Under Gyakusou and the Made in Italy White Label— always put function first.

The Yeezy line is awesome for sneakerheads, but serves little purpose in benefiting athletes. Kanye stating, "Mark Parker tried to son me. Yes. Son me because I am the sun and I will shine bright," can be viewed as a misunderstanding between two people who see a brand going in two different directions. 

As important as Kanye's influence is, he was never in a position that could change Nike —a brand thats legacy was built on the hardwork and sweat of Oregon track athletes— into a fashion-first brand. That's not a snub to Kanye, it's the same logic that certain producers appreciate certain emcees, but don't feel the need to work with them. If Kanye works with adidas, he's found a partner whose able to better use his talents, and Nike will continue to make billions.

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