Kanye West has done a lot of things over the course of his career to polarize mainstream culture, and he hasn’t slowed down one bit. Most recently, he drew the ire of a large portion of his fan base by supporting Donald Trump, wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and, most egregiously, saying, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years ... for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” This has caused a lot of folks to question whether or not they could still be Kanye fans and for others to contemplate the bigger societal ramifications of Kanye’s remarks. There were even people who called for Adidas to drop Kanye West from its list of endorsers. It’s safe to say that Kanye’s words, or tweets in this case, have impacted him as an artist or public figure. One thing it hasn’t affected, at least greatly, are the popularity of his sneakers.
In the midst of Kanye’s recent tweet storm(s), he’s also previewed a ton of new footwear: showing that there are dozens of new colorways and models on the way, including a rainbow of Yeezy Boost 350 v2s and 700 Wave Runners, as well as showing off the 451 and 700 v2. People are mad, and rightfully so, about Kanye’s slavery comments. But why hasn’t it transferred over to his sneakers?
The same people who I see talking about Kanye being canceled are the same ones who want to get their hands on the Yeezy 500 Mud Rat.
The ire of West’s fans, or the general public, went all the way up to the top of the food chain at Adidas, and the brand’s CEO, Kasper Rorsted, was forced to issue a public statement, telling Bloomberg, “We’re not going to comment or speculate on every single comment that our external creators are making. Kanye has been, and is, a very important part of our strategy, and he’s been a fantastic creator, and that’s where I’m going to leave it.”
He went on to to say, though, “There clearly are some comments we don’t support.”
The relationship with Kanye and Adidas is difficult to simply break apart. For starters, much of the brand’s recent success, which saw it surpass Jordan Brand last year as the second-biggest sneaker brand in America, is due to Kanye’s association with the company. Although it’s impossible to tell if Yeezy sales them self have been the key proponent of this change in the company’s fortune -- the brand has never released sales figures for Kanye’s sneakers -- it’s more likely that his association with the company, also factoring in an overhauled aesthetic, have given Adidas a mainstream emergence in America.
It’s not just Kanye that has boosted Adidas, and people would be stupid to assume he’s the only factor, but he’s greatly helped things. People didn’t just buy the Ultra Boost because Kanye wore them, but some people did, and those numbers add up. It would be really, really, really hard for Adidas to say, “Bye, Kanye, thank you for your services.” Not only because he has a long-term contract with the brand, but because of everything he brings to the company. Even if people are mad about his remarks.
It would, most likely, take Kanye to commit a crime of epic proportions and to be sentenced to jail for Adidas to drop him. And that’s not an overstatement. He’s become the identity of the company, his sneakers sell out within the snap of a finger, and, if Kanye is to be believed, they sell upwards of 400,000 pairs in as little as four hours.
There’s something strange about the connection to his shoes, too. People are, for whatever reason, able to divorce the man from his footwear. If they look good, and they’re hype, people will buy them. Resellers will scoop them up and people will pay over retail for them on the secondary market. The prices on some of his sneakers have started to go down, but it’s also because of Adidas flooding the market with Yeezys and it not being as difficult as it was to get the shoes in, say, 2015.
For example, the Turtle Dove version of the Yeezy Boost 350, which released in 2015, re-sells for upwards of $3,000, while the Yeezy 700 Wave Runner goes for somewhere around $800. It’s not because the resale prices have gone down due to circumstances, but there are still more of the shoes on the market.
Adidas isn’t going to drop Kanye, at least not yet, but footwear brands have cut ties with endorsers they believe have made statements that don’t align with the company’s overall mission. In February 2016, Nike dropped Manny Pacquiao because he made derogatory statements about same-sex couples, and New Balance cut ties with James Worthy in 1990 due to him being arrested for two counts of soliciting prostitution. It’s safe to say, however, that neither Pacquiao or Worthy, although important endorsers, meant the same to their respective brands as Kanye means to Adidas.
Though some would like to see Kanye’s Yeezy run come to an end, I just don’t see it happening anytime soon. Hype kids could care less about social issues and want cool sneakers they can show off on Instagram. And as long as there’s a bit of meat left on the bone for resellers, every Yeezy release is going to sell out in seconds. It’s hard for people to “vote with their dollar” on how they feel about Kanye being on Adidas when they can’t even buy the shoes anyway. Days after Kanye made all these remarks, I still saw people all over the streets of New York, and even the Complex office, wearing 500s, 700s, Powerphases, and v2s.
“Yeah, I still wear them,” says 30-year-old Andres Hernandez. “I like them for the design, and I have a lot of good memories tied to them. Kanye’s comments don’t change that. I don’t support them. However I can differentiate comments from an artist and their art.”
Not everyone thinks it’s OK to wear Yeezys now, Some people do associate wearing Kanye West’s sneakers with supporting Donald Trump, and, in their eyes, it aligns you with hateful rhetoric and ideals. “Yes, you can buy Yeezys. The hype behind Yeezy releases is unlikely to die down and go away anytime soon. But let’s not pretend buying or wearing a pair doesn’t make a profound statement,” says David Blackmon in a story for Epsilon Magazine. “Kanye West smugly cavorts and pals around with individuals who proudly support police brutality, societal discrimination based on race, religion, and sex, as well as assaults on clean water and air. Wearing his new releases might be a fashion statement, but for many of us it’ll be impossible for it not to also be a social or even a political statement.”
Celebrities such as Justin Bieber have recently worn Yeezys in support of Kanye West.
From a business standpoint, Yeezys have held their resale value and resellers aren’t seeing Kanye’s statements impact their business. “There’s been no decline in sales or market price. We saw an increase in search volume after he made his comments,” says StockX CEO Josh Luber.
When New Balance said that it was excited for Trump’s presidency in 2016, due to the American-made brand’s support of ending the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the public wasn’t so kind to them. People burned New Balances on social media and the company was in a true crisis mode. Things have changed, though, and most anger goes away with time.
It’s likely the same thing will happen with Kanye and Adidas, even if you don’t want it to occur. If Adidas was to drop a limited run of Yeezys at this moment, most of you would stop reading this article and try to enter a raffle and score a pair. It has nothing to do with politics or how you feel about one political figure, it’s just the way things go.
Also remember that it was easy for people to discard their New Balances, because they likely didn’t have as close of a connection to them. People aren’t burning or tossing their Yeezys -- even those who are, we see you and know you took them out of the trash, you know who you are -- because it’s like intentionally discarding a golden ticket to cool. The shoes don’t look any less good than they did before Kanye made his remarks, and even if people chuck their shoes, there will be another person willing to pick them up off the ground.
As Luber puts it, “We all know Kanye is a little or a lot crazy. People accept that he’s nuts, and it doesn’t change the perception of shoes. It doesn’t change the supply of the shoes. If you paid $1,200 for your 750s, you’re not gonna burn them.”
Hate to break it to you, but it’s just the way the world of supply and sneaker demand works.