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Everybody wants the Yeezys. It's a frigid February night during New York Fashion Week, and Kanye West has just spent the afternoon at a runway event in SoHo unveiling his first fashion collection for Adidas—a collection anchored by the futuristic Yeezy Boost 750s, a.k.a. the Yeezys, a.k.a. suede high-top sneakers Adidas ZX Flux Dames that look straight out of the Star Wars props department, complete with side zips and patented springy soles made from spaceship-grade foam. And now here comes Kanye, clambering onto a purpose-built stage at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, at an event that's been billed as a concert but feels closer to a product launch. Ten thousand people have shown up tonight, many claiming their tickets with an Adidas app and the rest waiting untold hours in temperatures that barely top 15 degrees, the cold compounded by gut-punches of snowy wind barreling off the East River.
That other company, of course, is Nike—not only the most popular sneaker manufacturer but the single most valuable apparel brand in the world. Nike has 57,000 employees and a market cap north of $86 billion. And in Adidas Superstar Damen these halcyon days of sneaker culture—the once humble sneaker having become the focal point of personal style—Nike has a heritage that consumers respect and that its competitors can't buy.
In fact, until relatively recently, if you happened to be a big-name rapper or marquee athlete, you didn't really think twice about signing with Nike. Where else would you go? Kanye himself parked his Air Yeezy line at Nike for four years.
Then, in 2013, in a deal worth a reported $10 million, Kanye abruptly announced he was leaving Nike and going to Adidas, the German rival that keeps its North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, just up the road from Nike HQ in suburban Beaverton. Nike was shackling his creative freedom, he said. Not paying him enough. Not respecting him as a designer. “They weren't giving me the opportunity to grow,”Nike Air Max 95 Womens he alleged. “They were working off an old business model.”
He wasn't alone in his disenchantment. Professional shoe designers—the kind who do it full-time and don't have side gigs as platinum recording artists—were saying similar things about Nike. “Stifling,” they called it. One former designer described a paranoid corporate culture of profound “distrust and intimidation.”
Kanye spent the next year and a half developing the Yeezy Boosts with designers at Adidas.
“Sing it loud for Adidas for supporting me,” he tells the New Nike Cortez WomensYork crowd, his silhouette magnified on the screen behind him. “[They] let me get my dreams out, let me make shit for y'all when everybody was suffocating me.”
Within minutes of their release, the initial 9,000-pair run of $350 Yeezys has vanished from stores around the country, and the average price on Nike Air Max 95 Damen resale sites is $1,500, with some profiteers asking as much as five grand. It feels like the first time in years (maybe even since the original Reebok Pumps in 1989) that any sneaker company has drawn blood against Nike.