It's official: Kanye West will be launching a collection with the financial backing and support of adidas, and we can confidently assume that it will be a full clothing line. And for both coin and creative reasons, partnering with adidas was the right move for Yeezy's fashion ambitions.
Ever since his explosive interview with Zane Lowe, Kanye has been waging a raucous campaign via "visionary streams of consciousness" and trying to provoke Nike into giving him the creative freedom he craves. If we're hearing correctly through the noise, he believes that an absolute absence of constraints is required for him to bring forth the product that will re-define the notion of luxury and clothing and create a realm of product that doesn't yet exist.
Kanye has given two reasons why he's on this mission, the first being creativity. When he began this crusade for financial backing, he repeatedly claimed he had endless ideas he wanted to bring to life in the form of clothing. Music wasn't even his primary passion anymore—he told Zane Lowe that he now spends 80% of his time on fashion. He had become obsessed with creatively contributing in ways similar to the people he considered his peers, including Raf Simons, Riccardo Tisci, and Phoebe Philo. He was (and is) currently in a state where he refers to himself as a slave to fashion.
The thing is, Nike's primary mission is not Fashion with a capital "F," and Kanye is trying to make himself synonymous with that capital letter.
Nike has always been first and foremost an athletic company, and that is why dudes all over the world love it. It's a brand that produces gear for professional and amateur athletes, and places its primary focus on innovative performance and design. Turns out, technical function is a huge part of men's style, and this aspect has obviously connected with a huge audience. Nike designs for the gladiators within us, and that is why we love it.
But the reality is sneakerheads and fashionistos have adopted the athlete-centric gear and created a masculine foundation in a style-conscious world. In this way, Nike has transcended its roots and converted countless kids who pledge allegiance to the swoosh, young Yeezy included. Simply put, it's one of the most iconic brands of all time, and if you doubt its dopeness, you need to have your head checked (or stop fronting). But Nike's appeal stems from its original mission statement to contribute to the world of sport.
Kanye is trying to enter the high-fashion realm, an arena that Nike is happy and smart to leave alone.
On the other hand, adidas now occupies an authoritative and unique position in the fashion world. Via strategic collaborations and partnerships, the brand has cleverly put itself in the forefront of the gray area between high fashion and athletic gear. And if it's creative freedom that Kanye's seeking, look how wild and extensive the collaborations have been between adidas and some of the most talented designers out there. The Raf Simons collaboration for spring is comprised of an absurdly high number of sneakers for a typical collaboration, and Rick Owens created a shoe that does not stray far from the Sith Lord's shadowy ethos. Jeremy Scott's ongoing collab is essentially a pure extension of the designer's insane product. If he gets the permission to produce some of the wildest clothing under the adidas umbrella, Kanye can be confident that he'll be able to create with reckless abandon.
And, of course, the Y-3 line with Yohji Yamamoto is the standard that people point to when talking about the marriage of fashion and function. If Kanye considers himself a God, then he'll be in similar company when in the presence of Yamamoto. Read in a certain light, the history of Yamamoto's ascent is remarkably similar to Kanye's. Anyone who doubts that adidas can foster a fashion-focused brand should take a single glance at the brand that routinely shuts it down at New York Fashion Week and is led by a master craftsman revered by his peers. The precedent is there.
The other more recent reason that Kanye has been expounding upon is that he's trying to cake on behalf of his daughter and family.
As he stated on the Angie Martinez show in the unofficial announcement that he was with adidas, "the old me, without a daughter, would have taken the Nike deal because I just love Nikes so much. But the new me, with a daughter, takes the adidas deal because I have royalties and I have to provide for my family."
According to the New York Post, which reported that the adidas deal is worth $10 million, Kanye made 10 to 20 cents on the dollar for every Nike Air Yeezy sold. If true, that's 10 to 20% royalties, much more than what Ye himself believes Michael Jordan makes on the Jordan brand. So if it's not a matter of percentage, then it must be a matter of units. Nike simply didn't produce that many Air Yeezys. And while that drove up demand, 20% of 2,000 pairs is a lot less than 20% of 200,000 pairs.
Nike didn't have to create a shitload of Yeezys because, as Matt Welty pointed out, it is not in a position where it needs to cash in on Kanye's cache. Nike is worth almost $70 billion. Estimates place the number of authentic Air Yeezy I's and II's at a few thousand, meaning Nike may have only grossed approximately $1 million from the two runs. Without extending itself beyond the boundaries of athletics, Nike will be doing just fine financially without Ye.
As a business, adidas does involve itself in the athletic world, but it also identifies and connects with its audience beyond sports. Since 1986, when it first signed a then unheard of $1.6 million deal with Run DMC, adidas has spent significant money positioning itself as a sportswear brand that prospers outside the immediate sporting world. Corralling talent like Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Big Sean, Yohji Yamamoto, Stella McCartney, and A$AP Rocky does not come cheap. But with a value of over $20 billion, adidas clearly has its means of production locked down, as well as the proven intentions to spend on the lifestyle and fashion sector of its business. Unlike others, adidas may both "got the answers" and be willing to heavily invest in these. There is no way that adidas or anyone else can go toe-to-toe with the Nike behemoth on a purely athletic level, and so adidas has strategically filled in the gaps and niches that exist between sports and lifestyle.
Kanye has stated over and over that he wants to create in a way that advances culture overall. These days, the once separate worlds of art, tech, fashion, music, sports, film, celebrity, etc. all overlap in a dizzying Venn diagram. Nike and adidas are both central figures in this convergence. The only difference is Nike got there because we made it a central tenet of the blurred lines, while adidas has actively pursued the occupation of this space. Now Kanye has aligned himself with a major player that has the funds and the resources to progress the multi-dimensioned notion of culture.
Whether there are creative or monetary considerations behind Kanye's desire to become a true fashion designer, adidas satisfies each moreso than Nike. And even though Nike and Jordan countered adidas' recent move by signing Drake, comparing the two is apples and oranges. Drizzy will be a face of the brand, but will probably occupy an even smaller "sandbox to play in" than Ye enjoyed at Nike. Forget sand; at adidas, Kanye will be given the ocean.
Now that Kanye's campaign has been answered, it's time to stop talking and start making waves.