The Contentious History Of The Yeezy Sneaker Brand

The Contentious History Of The Yeezy Sneaker Brand

Sneakers can become rare and hard to find for a variety of reasons, from overambitious launches to strange marketing and surreal limited editions.

However, the case of how Yeezys became rare sneakers is a surreal one, the latter part of which was part of a very public fall from grace that transcended controversy and moved into outright bigotry.

However, the path leading up to that point was long and fraught, filled with outspoken grandiose statements, unique silhouettes and the almost-mythical Air Yeezy 2 Red October, before a near-collapse, phoenix-like rise from the ashes before a complete and total implosion.


Through The Wire

Prior to Kanye West, it was rare for musicians and artists to get their own sneaker line. Master P had one, but only because he managed to get onto an NBA roster thanks to an industrial dispute.

Kanye West had never really followed that convention, and once he managed to break out as a successful artist thanks to the album College Dropout, he managed to make friends with the Japanese rap group Teriyaki Boyz.

More importantly, he befriended Nigo, founder of fashion brand A Bathing Ape (often known simply as BAPE), which led not only to music collaborations but the 2007 release of a College Dropout-themed sneaker, which whilst largely an Air Force One ripoff, got him closer to the deal he wanted.


Jumping Over Jumpman

Initially, however, it seemed that Adidas would be the ones to get a deal with Kanye, with an unreleased design in 2006 that was apparently a Rod Laver Vintage trainer but with the College Dropout bear on it, similar to the BAPE collaboration.

In 2007, Kanye West worked with Mark Smith, a longtime designer at Nike to create the first Nike Air Yeezy, which was prominently featured during his Glow in the Dark tour in 2008 before receiving a full commercial release in 2009.

Arguably the most notable pair was an all-black prototype set worn by Kanye during his performance at the Grammy Awards in early 2008 which signalled the start of their collaboration, set the sneaker world into a frenzy and would later sell for $1.8m at auction in 2021, by far the most expensive sneakers ever sold.

There was also a revised follow-up in the form of 2012’s Air Yeezy 2s, and the infamously rare Red October variations suddenly dropped in 2013 were one of the most sought-after of his entire collection.



In 2013, Kanye left Nike, citing frustration for not being paid for his designs, instead being offered the opportunity to donate to charity instead. Adidas offered him royalties and greater creative control, leading to a widely publicised switch.

The Adidas Yeezy collaboration was a success by most metrics, with the shoes selling out quickly whenever they dropped.

However, whilst the deal netted Kanye $191m in 2020 alone thanks to his 11 per cent royalty cut, all was not well. Kanye was frustrated with Adidas and accused them of copying his designs and threatening to not renew his contract.

It did not come to that, however. Criticisms over Kanye West’s increasingly antisemitic and white supremacist comments, alongside support from hate groups, led to Adidas cutting their contract alongside several other companies Kanye had endorsements with.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.