Owns Kanye Yeezys

KANYES
IMPERIUM

Kanye West landed one of the biggest hits of the decade - apart from music. Because West's sneaker brand Yeezy is the biggest hit since the Air Jordans hit the market.

Everyone notices when Kanye West arrives. Because his matt black Lamborghini SUV hums like an earthquake as it rolls through the driveway of his house on the outskirts of Los Angeles. And as soon as Kanye gets out of the car, simply dressed in a white T-shirt, you realize how obsessed the man is with what he is doing. First there is the house: the lush facade of the property is in stark contrast to the interior. The home of West, his wife Kim Kardashian West and their four children (North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm) is kept in simple alabaster. The floors are made of Belgian plaster which, if worn, can only be repaired by a team that has to be flown in from Europe.

“He designed the interior entirely,” Kim Kardashian West later tells us. “I've never seen someone with so much attention to detail.” When I enter the foyer, an employee asks me to pull cloth shoes over my sneakers. To my left is West's library, the shelves of which are stocked with works by designer Alexander McQueen and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami - eccentric through and through. West corrects the position of some books before eyeing me. “The first shoe I remember is the Air Jordan you're wearing right now. God actually has a gift to put things together. "

Kanye West
... was born in Atlanta in 1977. He grew up in Chicago, dropped out of college and started producing music. He achieved first notoriety in 2001 for his collaboration on Jay-Z's album "The Blueprint". West released a total of eight solo albums. He first launched his Yeezy shoe collection at Nike, but West achieved great success in 2013 after switching to Adidas. West repeatedly attracts attention through controversial statements.

West's attention to detail made him one of the most popular musicians in the world. "He took his music to a new level," says the highly successful producer DJ Khaled, who spent some time with West in the studio. But as with Michael Jordan and sport in the 1990s, the source of West's wealth does not lie in his core business - it comes from sneakers. His Yeezy shoe line, which he launched with Nike in 2009 before moving to Adidas in 2013, could overtake Jordan's sneaker empire. This applies to both pop culture relevance and financial success.

The Jordan brand is estimated to generate around US $ 3 billion a year, with Yeezy set to reach around US $ 1.5 billion in 2019 - with an upward trend. As with interior design and the position of books, West also focuses on details with his sneakers. He follows his idol Steve Jobs with a limited number of products that are then offered in many different colors. West's iPod is the hugely popular, somewhat chunky Yeezy Boost 350s, which comes in dozens of color options. “Ultimately, I'm a product developer. Making products that bring joy to people and solve problems - that's what I like to do. "

West's infamous attention to detail

West's control obligation is omnipresent. When Forbes was planning a shoot for a possible cover photo, the musician insisted on wearing a black hoodie. When we asked him to try again the next day, West came back - wearing the exact same hoodie again. He is known to keep revising albums even after their release date. And when he felt that I did not appreciate the influence of religion on his business, he spontaneously called my editor-in-chief on a Saturday evening to teach him the relevance of this aspect for 90 minutes. But the success proves him right. Forbes estimates that Kanye made around $ 150 million in the past twelve months. His team insists that the number is too low. In any case, West made it to number three of the highest-earning celebrities in the world (number one was Taylor Swift, second place was Kylie Jenner). And that's despite West claiming $ 53 million in debt three years ago before canceling a lucrative tour and admitting himself to hospital - with sleep deprivation and temporary psychosis. West attributes his comeback to his faith - and sometimes his bipolar disorder. You can call it creative or chaotic, but never crazy. Like other entrepreneurs with ADHD or Asperger's Syndrome, West sees his diagnosis as a superpower.

Making products that make people happy and solve problems - that's what I like to do.

"Crazy is a word that will no longer be used carelessly in the future," says West. “It is a state that people can slip into, into which they can be born, into which they are also driven. And a lot of people who were called crazy made it onto the Forbes cover. "

Music, sneakers and Lamborghinis

West's enthusiasm for design goes back as far as his passion for music. He grew up in Chicago and often got into trouble because he was constantly drawing sneakers in class. He found inspiration in Japanese cyberpunk films, but also in cars, such as the Lamborghini Countach. “There's a little Lamborghini in everything I do,” says West. "The Yeezy is the Lamborghini of the shoe world."

His music career began when he established himself as a producer for Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records label after dropping out of college. He was the brain behind Jay-Z's legendary album "The Blueprint". West's sound itself was cross-genre. The songs were full of Marvin Gaye and Daft Punk samples, he recorded songs with Coldplay and went on tour with U2. He also differed thematically from the rap of that time: Instead of aggression, he showed himself vulnerable, reflected on racial discrimination, instead of telling stories about drug trafficking. His fame led him back to his first great love: sneakers. In 2007 he designed the first shoe for the Japanese label A Bathing Ape. West befriended the French designer Hedi Slimane, who predicted a great future in shoe design early on. When West was on a plane with Nike CEO Mark Parker shortly afterwards, Parker West's sketches caught on - Yeezy was born (an abbreviation of the nickname "Kanyeezy").

Hip-hop has been concerned with sneakers since its inception. But West was the first to achieve superstar fame at Nike. At the same time as the new business interests, West began to change. His mother died in 2007 due to complications from a cosmetic procedure. The following year he separated from his fiancée Alexis Phifer. Then it got bizarre: In 2009, West jumped on stage to interrupt Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards - Beyoncé should have won the award, West said. The criticism was great, West moved to Italy to do an internship at Fendi. Back in the USA he declared on his album "Yeezus" without further ado: "I am a god."

 

Kanye West: Timeline
(Source: Forbes US)

 

In 2016, West claimed in a tweet that he owed $ 53 million - and asked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for $ 1 billion to fund his ideas. On the tour that followed, West's utterances became increasingly erratic. During one show, he suspected that Jay-Z might try to have him murdered. 2016 ended with his hospital stay. Incidentally, his first public appearance after that took place on the side of Donald Trump.

Break with Nike and switch to Adidas

His career was never affected by the incidents. When the sales of the Yeezy collection filled Nike's coffers, West felt inadequately valued: "Nike refused to pay royalties to prominent partners," says West. (Nike didn't want to comment - but two sources in charge confirm West's version of the story.) But West wanted to keep the rights to his brand. And when the Adidas board found out about West's dissatisfaction in 2013, they acted: West received 15% of wholesale sales, plus a payment for marketing. For comparison: Michael Jordan allegedly gets 5% (but the athlete does not own the trademark rights either).

The Yeezy Season came out in 2015, and West used the release of his album the following year for promotional purposes. His biggest coup, however, was the 350 model: West combined his attention to detail with Adidas Boost technology to create the first sneaker that penetrated the haute couture sector. Despite the $ 200 price tag, West revealed in 2016 that the 40,000 copies per release sold out in minutes. Kim Kardashian West also had her part in this, as she regularly advertises the Yeezy shoes on her social media channels with several million followers.

Exclusivity as a recipe for success

When I meet again with West a few days later, he is busy with his next project. In a parking lot behind his office, he has laid out all of his creative work at Adidas in concentric circles: there is an unbelievable amount of sneaker prototypes lying in the midday sun. The Yeezy 350 is laid out in all of its color variants in the sequence of a rainbow. There are around 1,000 pairs of shoes, but when I ask West exactly how many there are, he is almost offended - offended that his creative output should be reduced to a perfectly normal number. "You can't put a figure on love," says West. “These things should bring joy. To put that into numbers would be like asking your grandma, who baked you a surprise cake, for the exact recipe. ”West claims to be no“ numbers person ”. But someone has to keep an eye on the numbers. Because just like Air Jordan at the beginning, Yeezy lives from its surprising releases (called "drops"). But too large numbers take away the exclusivity of the shoes.

Adidas is aware of this. “We continue to control the volume very strictly. The sales that we achieve through Yeezy will not have a significant share in our total sales in 2019 either, "says Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted. “Not because the brand would no longer be hot, but because we want to remain disciplined in terms of quantities and production cycles.” So sales should not increase at the expense of the image. In any case, the brand continues to pull: The new 350s, which glows in the dark, was sold out immediately despite the start of sales at 6 a.m., in Moscow the lines were about several blocks long. A shoe made from algae is also being planned.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this whole story is that Kanye West still owns 100% of the shares in Yeezy. Mainly because of this, he became a multi-millionaire much faster than Michael Jordan. Given the success, West could soon follow the basketball player into the billionaires club - as could sister-in-law Kylie Jenner and mentor Jay-Z. West himself has probably long since arrived there. And not only there: "We only saw a small glimmer of the whole beauty of this partnership (between West and Adidas, note)."

Text: Zack O’Malley Greenburg / Forbes US
Photos: Jamel Toppin / Forbes US

The article was published in our October 2019 issue of “Handel”.