The Rise and Fall of Yeezy


Hip-hop luminary. Sneaker genius. Entrepreneur. Maverick. You can say what you want about Ye but he’s got an ear for music and an eye for fashion. Just like Ye’s music, his Yeezy brand has shaken the fashion industry to its core, introducing something that we’ve never seen before. 

Its minimalist design, distinctive sole units and even lacing has led to a new premium in streetwear aesthetics. But as we all know, the brand has had a bumpy ride since its inception, creating and ending partnerships with two heavyweights, Nike and Adidas. 

Yeezy’s rise was meteoric. It’s demise, predictable, and on-going. You could say that this all adds to the allure of the brand, making it something of an enigma. It has all of the ingredients of a good story, which is why we’re going to take a deep dive and explore the rise and fall of Yeezy.  

The genesis of Yeezy

It’s 2004 and Ye has dropped his first hip-hop album, The College Dropout. It smashed records and became a certified double-platinum, providing evidence of Ye’s creative talents. Not bad for a debut. 

Eventually, he pivoted to fashion, striking a partnership with Nike in 2009 which would eventually send a ripple through the sneaker industry. The collaboration gave birth to the iconic Air Yeezy line - a collection of sneakers that seamlessly merged Ye’s artistic vision with Nike's expertise in footwear design and production. 

Through this relationship, Ye created sneakers with unique design elements such as high-top silhouettes, futuristic and avant-garde styles, innovative lace designs and even unique strap details. It was groundbreaking stuff. Heads were turned. Sneaker fans were intrigued. And everything started to gather momentum. 

Limited releases and high demand created a sense of exclusivity, further propelling Yeezy into the spotlight. The Air Yeezy line fast became became a symbol of innovation and style that everyone wanted to be a part of. Celebrities, fashion influencers, and sneakerheads were all hooked and they couldn’t get enough of it. 

Switching ties to Adidas

In 2019, Ye made a bold move - he ended his marriage with Nike. Ye claimed this was because Nike refused to pay him in royalties since he wasn’t a professional athlete. Before all ties were cut, Nike launched their final collaboration sneaker with Yeezy in 2014, the Air Yeezy 2 "Pure Platinum." It sold out in just 11 minutes. 

Ye was a cash cow and was swooped up by Addias in November 2013. The move marked the end of an era and the beginning of another, which was characterized by the unveiling of the Yeezy Boost line. 

What made these sneakers unique was their midsoles,  consisting of thousands of expanded particles that cushioned the owner’s heel and provided an energy return that literally added an extra spring to their step. It was a revolutionary piece of sneaker technology that reached its full potential when merged with Ye’s creative talents. 

The Yeezy Boost line was a phenomenon. Each release was accompanied by anticipation, with eager fans waiting in line for hours or scrambling to secure a pair online. The scarcity and exclusivity of Yeezy Boost sneakers created a fashion craze that took the brand to new heights.

Cultural Impact and Mainstream Success

Between 2013 and 2015 was the pinnacle period for the Yeezy brand. During this time, Ye tapped into his network and used a long list of celebrity endorsements, propelling Yeezys to mainstream stardom. 

Influential figures across various industries, including music, sports, and entertainment, embraced and showcased Yeezy products, elevating the brand's status and amplifying its impact on popular culture. 

These celebrity endorsements fueled the desire for Yeezy products among fans and consumers, turning the product into coveted and highly sought-after items. Yeezy was now in uncharted territory - so much so that it created what is commonly known as the "Yeezy effect" on the sneaker resale market and hype-driven consumer behavior.

The "Yeezy effect" has not only influenced the sneaker industry but has also driven people to camp out overnight and join online raffles to secure a pair of Yeezys. 

Challenges and Controversies

As successful as Yeezy has become, it’s not been without its challenges. One of the biggest bumps in the road was its production and supply chain issues, resulting in limited availability of its products - a big no-no when you’re the hottest sneaker brand in the market. 

Meeting the market’s demand for sneakers was a complex task that was not always acomplished. As a result, there would be intermittent periods of empty Yeezy shelves in sneaker stores, which would amplify the brand’s scarcity whilst frustrating fans. Yes, Yeezys became prized but this was also creating friction amongst customers. 

But the controversies didn’t end there. The brand experienced a barrage of criticism over its pricing with many arguing that it was prohibitively too high, making the product unattainable for many individuals. It was an exclusivity that only benefited those with deep pockets. 

And then of course, we have Ye himself - the architect of controversy who has voiced contentious opinions about antisemiticism, Black Lives Matter, Kim Kardashian, Jesus … and the list goes on and on. 

The contamination of the Ye brand began to seep through to the Yeezy brand. While some admire Ye’s artistic vision and appreciate his authenticity, others have expressed concerns about the alignment between the brand and his public statements. 

These controversies have, at times, created a challenging environment for Yeezy, forcing the brand to navigate the delicate balance between its association with Ye and maintaining its own distinct identity.

Adidas pull the plug on Yeezy

In October 2022, Ye released a string of antisemitic comments on social media, creating an uproar in the online world. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for Adidas, who effectively cut ties with the rapper, stating that they would no longer produce Yeezy products. 

The nearly decade-long marriage had ended. But with the divorce came a whole range of problems. First there was the obvious one, money. The absence of Yeezy had cost Adidas $655 million in sales for the last three months of 2022, an amount that would rattle any corporate behemoth. 

Next, Adidas were trapped in a Catch 22 position. They were still left with a lot of Yeezy merchandise. Should they sell the remaining sneakers, they would mitigate their profit loss whilst tainting their ethical stance. Critics would highlight that they were still leveraging Ye’s brand for profit. 

But should they not, they would have to bin their merchandise and watch their revenue plummet. Former Adidas employee and footwear expert, Matt Powell, stated that ‘There's no way to get out of this gracefully or profitably. The question is, how can they lighten the bad things that are going to happen?’

On May 11th 2023, Adidas made their next move. They would continue to sell their remaining inventory of Yeezys, with a portion of the sales promised to be “donated in support of the fight against discrimination, hate, racism, and antisemitism.” Critics remained critical. How many Yeezys will go on sale? What portion of the revenue will be donated? What organizations will you donate to?

These are important questions and ones that we don’t have the answers to. And with fans still demanding that the Yeezy brand live on, there are whispers of Ye and Adidas rekindling a new partnership. Although there are no guarantees of a re-marriage, one thing thing is for certain: money talks, especially when it’s in the billion dollar territory.

The Yeezy brand will survive and will no doubt be back on our shelves one way or another.

The question is how?