Anyone who knows English music knows Kanye West. But it is not the man's music that has made him one of the wealthiest people. It is his Yeezy venture, which he started with Nike in the year 2009 and brought to Adidas in 2013. His love for sneakers and bringing something new but efficient has only grown over the years. This astronomical success is much like Michael Jordan's, whose annual sales brought in approximately 3 billion dollars. Jordan made a name for himself in football and started his tie-up with Nike at the beginning of the 1980s.
West's obsession with sneakers goes a long way in history, almost as long as his love for music. Film shapes and colour palettes inspired him, and he was obsessed with the Lamborghini and even called Yeezy the Lamborghini of shoes. Later in 2007, he created a shoe for the Japanese giant, A Bathing Ape. It gave him the courage to take out a notepad when on a plane with Nike CEO Mark Parker and make shoes with him.
When West noticed that his sneakers were influencing in 2009, he went on with the line, and the results were the Air Yeezy II in 2012. West said that seeing as the sneakers were making as much impact as Air Jordan, he decided he wanted to do more. But, Nike was not giving him the royalties that he wanted.
It did not take long for the brand's biggest rival, Adidas, to step in and offer Kanye a better deal. Scooter Braun made a deal so that West would get 15%royalty and marketing fees in exchange for Adidas using his brand name Yeezy. In addition to this, West retains ownership of the label and has control over designs, while Adidas looks over the production and fulfilment.
The music legend unsurprisingly idolises Steve Jobs and believes in a limited number of products in a wide range of colours. Kanye even told Forbes that he loves solving problems and bringing an immense amount of happiness into people's lives. The most significant turnover for the company came in the form of the Yeezy Boost 350s. They are perhaps the most beloved because of their chunky bottom and make a large portion of the brand's sales. The tough stance of the sneakers returned energy to runners, and suddenly people were willing to pay 200 dollars for a pair of sneakers.
In 2015, West debuted "Yeezy Season" to showcase his Yeezy clothing line and sneakers. The following year, he had a launch party that leveraged both his song and sneakers the following year. Another thing that forwarded this business idea was his marriage to Kim Kardashian in 2014. It did not take long for the two to exchange business ideas and make skyrocketing profits.
On the other hand, Air Jordan started losing its prestige a little over the years. The reason could be Nike's attempts to fill declining volumes with other businesses with the sub-brand. Adidas has taken a lot of inspiration from Air Jordan regarding business-forming ideas. Nike took years to build the sub-brand, and the sneakers grew 10% per year. Had they gone any faster, the idea would have crashed a long time back.
Celebrity brands sell because of their scarcity, but making them readily available can only damage the product's reputation and sales. But Adidas took great care not to let the sales of the Yeezy clothing line and sneakers make a large part of the brand's overall sales growth. It works effectively because limited numbers cause hype and urge consumers to buy immediately.
West's Yeezy is famed for its surprise drops. Kasper Rørsted also says that the company has a disciplined approach to managing volumes and is unwilling to increase sales in exchange for prestige. In 2016, West also said that the Yeezys were selling 40,000 pairs in surprise drops in a minute. In 2018, the brand sold 250,000 Desert Rat 500s in an hour.
Kanye's creativity with the shoes also adds to the enormous success of the sneaker line. There are shoes made of algae that biodegrade fully when sprayed with a certain bacterium. The Yeezy 350s come in colours ranging from zebra print to glow in the dark. Alongside, Kanye West uses his personality and social media presence to his advantage. He uses marketing strategies that may not look big on paper but create a massive impact.
For example, Kim Kardashian, who has a significant influence, was the centre of the Yeezy 6 season campaign. The paparazzi photographed her in Yeezys, and then West recruited other celebrities and influencers like Paris Hilton to recreate the photographs in the same outfit. These pictures were posted on social media and provoked a 45% spike in search demand.
The Yeezy clothing line and sneakers hit a million dollars back in 2018 and hired 160 people. West went on Twitter to declare that the line is a "unicorn" on its way to becoming a "decacorn." The terms might look like some mythical ones. But, in actuality, Decacorn refers to any business that makes more than 10 billion dollars. He also declared that he was the highest-paid person in footwear who made more money than Jordan in the same year. He predicted that the brand would be the highest apparel company globally.
In 2019, Forbes reported that his pretax income stood at "150 million dollars over the last 12 months." The numbers were to go to approximately 1.5 billion dollars the same year. If that is the case, it is a 50% growth from the 2018 numbers. Kanye was also ranked third in the top 100 celebrities by Forbes that year.
Later, in April 2020, the sneakers alone were valued at 3 billion dollars. The numbers are from the period before the pandemic hit the world. But Yeezys are "vitally important" to Adidas. They have added prestige and raised the company's credibility by resonating with the young people. The proof is that the brand grew by 31% during COVID-19 and surged to 1.7 billion in annual revenue. Gap expects the Yeezy line to break 150 million in sales by 2022 and surpass 1 billion by 2023.
Kanye West maintains control over Yeezy clothing line and sneakers, specifically, the trademark rights upon which the brand is built. Mascotte Holdings holds Adidas’ trademark rights and licenses for the footwear collection and Gap for the apparel deal. It enables West to monetise intellectual property and maintain ownership of the brand.
The indications of Mascotte Holdings do look like Kanye is looking to further this. The Yeezy-specific trademark is used on cosmetics like blushers, facial powders, foundation makeup, eye makeup, eye pencils, eyebrow pencils, mascara, false eyelashes, lipstick, lipstick cases, lipstick holders, and lip gloss. In addition to this, however, Adidas does hold power too. The brand has rights regarding footwear designs, with the designers Nic Galway and Aurelien Long listed as inventors in Yeezy 750 Boost.
The only minor hiccup is that these claims may not be so reliable. The company does not disclose sales data, which makes it impossible to determine if the statements West makes about the success of the brand Yeezy are correct or not. With this, if we consider how West declared on Twitter in 2016 that he was 53 million dollars in debt, the claims can become harder to believe. John Kernan said he found it hard to believe that the company was generating over a billion in sales and making more than Jordan. But he also pointed out that it cannot take away from the influence that Yeezy holds over trends and how West made sneakers high fashion.
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