With so much hype constantly surrounding the new releases of the Nike LeBron or KD sneakers every year and the old school basketball heads losing their minds over a re-release of particular Jordans, you would be forgiven if you forgot that rapper Kanye West had his own line with Nike as well.
The original release of the Air Yeezy sneakers retailed at $215 [€190] with three colour ways chosen; The Zen Grey, which was the brainchild of West and Nike Creative Director Mark Smith, The Black/Pink which was chosen by Smith and the Net, which was selected by West as it suited to his design and tastes.
The sneakers were released on June 1, 2009 and each colour way pretty much sold out immediately after release.
After a few years away, the release of the highly anticipated Air Yeezy 2 in 2012 was obvious and heads around the world were getting ready to cop any pair they could find upon release. It didn’t factor in any way until the unveiling of the Air Yeezy 2s that Nike had done what many didn’t think would happen, they signed a dude that wasn’t an athlete to a lucrative sneaker deal, (forgetting the disgusting Reebok G Unit sneakers, inspired by 50 Cent and equally as bad S Dot Carters by Jay Z) and they were making a killing off it. By the time the second installment came out, the sneaker heads lost it.
A more varied amount of colour ways, a good feel to the sneaker itself and of course, the Red Octobers, which caught a lot of attention around Europe, as they were released quietly with no press coverage and retailing exclusively on Nike’s website.
But, just when the partnership between perhaps the most talked about rapper on earth and Nike seemed to be peaking, there was a hitch that West just could not shrug off … Nike refused to pay him royalties. Leaving the rapper no choice (in his eyes) but to ditch Nike and sign a deal instead for Adidas.
ENTER JON WEXLER
Jon Wexler, who serves as Adidas’ VP of Global Entertainment & Influencer Marketing is a man that has grown accustomed to his phone battery dying on a more than regular basis due to a nether ending stream of text messages, notifications on social media and emails that all pop up.
But one specific text message at 4;14pm on November 6, 2013 changed everything for an already busy Wexler. A text from Kayne West himself.
“The world changes now.”
Seconds later, a copy of West’s signed adidas contract popped to the top of Wexler’s inbox.
“The thing that really came across in those first conversations is he’s just truly a world builder,” Weller recalls in an interview with Slam Magazine. “He didn’t want to build a shoe – he wanted to build Rome. He was thinking on such a big scale.”
The ambitious Yeezy Boost 750 sneaker by Adidas was released on February 14, 2015. The trainer was only available to those who confirmed a reservation through the Adidas mobile app. On February 21 the Yeezy Boost 750 was available throughout a wider range of retailers than just adidas. The shoe retailed for $350 [€309].
Kanye wanted to give Nike a sucker punch that he felt it could not recover from. Nike though boast LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant among other sports icons around the globe, so they would not really give a shit about what West had to offer Adidas.
At Nike, Kanye was allowed to grow his sneaker trade in small steps. Over the course of the five years that he and the Swoosh worked together, they released six colour ways total through his two Air Yeezy models. But he was looking for more, specifically wanting to create expanded footwear and apparel launches, and he ultimately got that with Adidas.
“That’s always controversial, when people change sides,” Wexler admitted. “We put it through the evaluation filter, and I remember our CMO [Eric Liedtke] coming to the office, being like, ‘Based on the factors we’ve laid out, we believe this is the right thing for us.’ From that point on, that was the mission: To make sure we were able to make it happen.”
And now, the three stripe brand have put the rapper on their backs and are confident that West could possibly becoming a bigger deal than Jordans. With basketball, football and baseball apparel in the pipeline, with a promise to sign athletes to the company. Adidas have created a “Yeezy Department” based in Portland who will be dedicated to making sure the Yeezy brand is sustainable and damn successful.
Or as Kanye puts it: “jump over the Jumpman.”
“We’re the challenger brand, and [Kanye] is the challenger right now,” says Wexler, “and he wants to really break through.”