Despite what Matt Powell might tell you, Kanye West has the ability to make obscure products and brands instantly cool. It's what we call the Kanye effect: If he laces up a certain pair of sneakers, you better believe there is going to be an engaged audience ready to hunt down what's on his feet.
Last December, Kanye West announced that he would be leaving Nike and joining ranks with adidas. At the time, the news sent an immediate ripple through the sneaker community, hip-hop- and it was subsequently followed by the signing of Nigo and Pharrell. But is that really why adidas is having its moment right now? No.
For those keeping score, adidas has worked with a legion of musicians before Kanye. Do the names , Run DMC, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot, and Teyana Taylor ring a bell? Adidas has filled its roster, both past and present, with music artists and created product that best represented their careers. When the brand decided to sign Kanye, along with Pharrell and Nigo, it felt like a natural move for adidas to expand its portfolio and give worthwhile artists a chance to create.
For those keeping score, adidas has worked with a legion of musicians before Kanye.
Adidas also has the penchant for creating high-fashion collaborations that would lure in Kanye's style-obsessed following.
A$AP Rocky had collaborated with adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott in 2013, and Raf Simons was set to release his second collection with brand (not to mention, Yohji Yamamoto and adidas has been working together for over 10 years). But adidas, at its most basic offerings, just didn't have that aura around it like Nike did. To compete in the same space, it would have to create solid product, and that's exactly what it did.
The Stan Smith saw a return after adidas put a self-imposed moratorium on the '70s tennis sneaker. Pharrell wore a hand-painted pair religiously, and a more-premium version was released at high-end places like Barneys. But the mass-market version of Stan Smith became a hit again, selling out at a $75 price point.
Adidas was speaking to the masses. It delivered a product that not only everyone could afford, but something they'd want to wear, too. Yes, Kanye has since worn the Stan Smith—he even attended the sneaker's launch party in Paris—but he wasn't the driving force behind everyone's purchases. People just wanted a pair of Stans because they're great sneakers. It also re-released runners such as the EQT Support and the EQT Racing, and the fervor for all things retro running brought a buzz back to the Three Stripes.
But adidas couldn't just recapture its past glory by re-releasing old models. It had to focus on the future, and that meant creating new silhouettes. If you take a look at Nike, the brand's CEO, Mark Parker, is obsessed with forward innovation. And adidas needed this same type of thinking.
Instead of going out and trying to create the most tech-savvy running sneakers, the brand kept things innovative but simple with the Pure Boost. It wasn't a shot in the dark with the hopes that its staff of designers could create something to rival Nike's lightweight running revolution. It enlisted help from its Y-3 designers to create a stripped-down runner to transcend the line between athletic sneakers and things to be worn at Fashion Week. Yohji also re-designed the Pure Boost, and he, arguably, made it better than the original version.
If the Pure Boost was adidas' answer to a stylish running sneaker, then the ZX Flux looked just as sharp. The ZX Flux sure didn't sell as many pairs as the Nike Roshe Run, but it occupied the same space as Nike's running-inspired sneaker. It was also announced that customers would be able to put custom prints on the ZX Flux—instantly making it a more personal product. And this line of thinking didn't end with the ZX Flux. There's also big plans for the SL Loop, another modern runner that takes its cues from adidas' archives.
The public didn't have to wait for Kanye West to wear the Pure Boost or ZX Flux to see them catch on—they were already selling before Kanye gave them an appearance along the sidewalks of Paris or New York City. Kanye wore the Pure Boost to get snapped by the paparazzi in NYC, But when I posted this news on Complex, the all-black version of the sneaker Kanye wore was nearly sold out on Foot Locker's website. And people were already begging for re-issues of ZX Flux models that had previously sold out.
With the rest of the sneaker world losing its mind over Nike's Flyknit technology, adidas was able to reintroduce Primeknit, which was so similar to Nike that it spurred a lawsuit in 2012. It didn't feel like adidas was ripping off Nike's multicolored Flyknit patterns, though. It used this lightweight weave to give new a take on the Stan Smith and to make a limited-edition version of the Pure Boost.
In turn, adidas had whetted its consumer's appetite for high-end athletic sneakers. And it didn't have to cross over into a section of the sneaker world that's dominated by high-fashion houses such as Balenciaga or Saint Laurent Paris. It made runners that had a $300 price tag—such as the ninja-like Qasa Racer—but still connected to its core audience.
And if Kanye was going to bring his flare for fashion to adidas, it felt like adidas had figured out the direction that would work best for him. Kanye's adopting of the Stan Smith, ZX Flux, and Pure Boost also showed that he's on-board with the direction adidas is pushing towards.
Sure, Kanye's co-sign makes the casual sneakerhead's move from strictly wearing Nike to placing adidas in their current rotations a touch easier. But it's also because they might just want a pair of Primeknit Stan Smiths this summer. They're not trying to wear them for the sake of being different or to go against the grain, they're wearing a sneaker brand that's finally caught up to its competitor on its own accord.
Matt Welty is an editorial assistant for Complex Sneakers. You can follow him on Twitter here.