Those who follow sneaker culture know all about Matt Powell. He’s a sneaker analyst who is a loud critic of celebrity partnerships with apparel companies. Powell believes that the scarcity model of limited sneaker drops do little for a company’s bottom line. It’s a stance that Powell has pushed on every platform. Last year, I spoke with Powell on the phone while researching an early Trapital article. He told me the same exact thing—even when I pushed back.
One of the less discussed points with celebrity shoes is the indirect revenue from Yeezy and similar lines. Adidas has made a lot of money on its Tubular and Ultra Boost lines. Both sneakers look kind of like Yeezys, but are far more accessible and a fraction of the cost. In 2017, Tubulars were one of the top 10 most sold sneakers.
This week, Powell doubled down on his stance. When Footwear News tweeted that ‘Kanye West’s business is booming’ (in light of Kanye’s feature in Forbes) Powell replied with a subtle
— Matt Powell (@NPDMattPowell) July 9, 2019
There’s no disputing the sales Yeezys have made. Despite some conflicting numbers between articles from the New York Times and Forbes, we can conservatively say that Yeezy will clear $1 billion revenue in 2019. This firmly puts Yeezy into the mass quantity category of sneaker sales. There were articles written last fall about the increased accessibility of Yeezys in the primary market. Some recent drops have made one million pairs available— a far cry from the few thousand that was standard when the sneakers first came out.
Kanye has said that he wants everyone who wants Yeezy’s to have them:
“Eventually everybody who wants to get Yeezys will get Yeezys. adidas has promised me that because there’s so many kids that have wanted them that couldn’t get them and I talked to the heads at adidas and they said we can make them.”
Yeezy’s success has challenged the notion of hype—the scarcity and popularity that drives apparel demand. If a celebrity’s shoe gets mass produced, there’s a fear that it will end up like Reebok’s G-Unit and S.Carter sneakers. Both rapper-inspired sneakers started as scarce products that sold out quickly. They were eventually mass-produced at scale to capitalize on the initial sales. But Reebok made way too many of them. The shoes lost their appeal when everyone had access to them. Before long, they ended up on the clearance racks at TJ Maxx.
Is the $1 billion in sales a sign that Yeezys will be the next Adidas Superstar, Nike Air Jordan 11, or Nike Air Force 1—a staple in sneaker culture that thrives on mass supply? Or has it already run its course?
I predict that we’ve seen peak Yeezy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Kanye will still collect his bread (a reported 5% royalties on net sales or 15% wholesale, depending on the source). The shoe’s been a massive success, but nothing lasts forever.