“Tell adidas that we need a million in production. I done told y’all all I needed was the infrastructure,” rapped Kanye West in his “Facts” track back in December and though it’s been half a year since the song dropped, last week adidas gave the star just that in an unprecedented deal.
But adidas + Kanye West didn’t just crop up out of nowhere. Having worked with Nike, Louis Vuitton and even the adidas-owned Reebok in the past, the rapper is definitely no rookie to the game, but his road with adidas hasn’t been the straightest path.
From his Nike defection to beef with PUMA, here are the high points of Kanye West’s twisted relationship with adidas.
The Nike Defection
To be clear, Kanye West didn’t start on his sneaker design career at Nike. In fact, back in 2006 he designed a shoe in collaboration with adidas that never came out. What Nike can lay claim to is being the first brand to meaningfully work with the rapper on footwear. That collaboration spanned five years and saw three sneaker styles. It also allowed West to do work with the likes of Reebok and Louis Vuitton. But in 2013, 'Ye left.
Following uncertainty about the launch of the “Red Octobers” he designed for Nike, Yeezy had questions. The dude had demands. Moving forward, Kanye West wanted royalties to provide for his family according to him. When Nike said no and adidas said yes, the decision was made for him. Cue speculation about a $10 million deal and two years later, the “Facts” Nike diss song and we have ourselves a rebound relationship in the making.
YEEZY Season 1
It took a while for Kanye and adidas to get anything out there. Though the artist claims he designed 20 sneakers for the sportswear company, for at least a year following confirmation of the collaboration, there was no product to show for it. It wasn’t until February 2015 that things got rolling.
The YEEZY Season 1 showing was a big deal. The front row alone boasted Rihanna, Diddy, Alexander Wang, Cassie, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, North West and Anna Wintour. MA-1 bomber jackets, military parkas, distressed shirts and cropped shearling jackets were presented on a variety of hodgepodge models awash in a dark palette. Critics noted the similarities between West's collection and his influences, and fans balked at the $600 sweatpants and $3,000 jackets. Though some shops reported that pieces were selling well, much of the collection is still available online at deeply reduced prices. But the footwear was a different story.
YEEZY Season 1 saw the launch of the YEEZY Boost 350 and Boost 750. Both sold out instantly even though adidas launched an entire app to facilitate demand. In fact, the 350 ended up scoring Kanye an award. But, the popularity of the footwear and difficulty with the apparel made adidas reexamine the relationships.
Following the YEEZY Season 1 show, like a lover who realizes they are in too deep, adidas decided to keep Kanye at an arm’s length. The company announced that they would not be supporting the production of YEEZY apparel and the resulting shows but would only be producing the footwear. It was a smart move: they had gotten quite a bit of press from YEEZY Season 1 as the show was Style.com’s most viewed of fashion month, and now they could just rake in from the guaranteed success of the YEEZY shoe styles. Cut your losses. But Kanye struck on.
While the YEEZY Season 2 show was partially forgettable, YEEZY Season 3 was when the artist really stepped into his own. That Madison Square Garden fete was one of the noisiest fashion shows in modern history. And, all the while, adidas was funding multiple iterations of the already successful Boost shoes. Grey, White, Beige. You want them? They had them.
Always one to pop off, the success no doubt fueled Kanye’s decision to pick a momentary beef with PUMA over their contract with sister-in-law Kylie Jenner. That Michael Corleone-esque exchange did not go YEEZY's way.
Rumors of Discord
Right before 'Ye put on his blow-out Madison Square Garden show rumors started to circulate. Was the all powerful Yeezus seeing other people? Was he eyeing the bed of another, West Coast-based footwear company in desperate need of some help? It was plausible.
As nothing is real until you put it on wax, the controversial rapper seemed to speak to the rumors in his “No More Parties In LA” track. “Some days I’m in my YEEZYs, some days I’m in my Vans.” It seemed like increasingly the star was turning to the latter wearing everything from two-toned slip-ons to Steve Caballero signatures and even custom Vans Old Skools.
There were no official statements but there was chatter that Vans had been keen on working with Yeezus back during Watch The Throne. Was Kanye playing on that relationship to make adidas jealous?
Righting the Wrongs
Whatever Kanye was angling at seemed to have worked. Last week's adidas + Kanye West announcement sees adidas not only supporting YEEZY apparel but creating a design team specifically for it, expanding into sportswear and building branded retail hubs. Talk about infrastructure. But it seems to be a strategic move.
MarketWatch reports that since Yeezy’s first shoe was introduced, adidas share of the secondary sneaker market jumped from 1% to 30%. There’s also no doubt that Kanye’s sneaker sales contributed to the company’s 5% growth in North America last year. Those sort of numbers were so significant that they warrant their own business unit for adidas.