Analysis: What happened to Yeezy?
Yeezy, the brainchild of rapper and designer Kanye West and Adidas, will go down in history as one of the most successful collaborative projects ever, creating an entirely new narrative within the sportswear industry. Through its innovative and forward-thinking designs, Yeezy was able to create some of the most iconic sneaker silhouettes, namely the Yeezy Boost 350 and Yeezy Foam RNNR.
After achieving success early on, Yeezy became a major profit driver for Adidas and provided competition to the Nike Jordan brand in the premium sportswear space. But its legacy is currently in flames.
West, who had his name legally changed to Ye, has accused the German sportswear brand of breaching its contract in a slew of public rants on Instagram.
The fallout stemmed from disputes over the production of the highly popular Yeezy Boost 350 model, which West accused Adidas of releasing in unauthorised colourways. West also opposed the appointment of Daniel Cherry as Adidas’ senior vice president and general manager, a hire the company made without informing him.
Despite Adidas achieving billions in sales with his Yeezy footwear line, West has claimed that the company offered a mere US$1 billion to buy him out of his contract, which he declined. He is reportedly expected to earn US$500 million in royalties next year.
Failed Yeezy ambitions
Hostility between West and Adidas began a few years ago, with insiders at Adidas reportedly claiming that West has not been involved in the production of any Yeezy footwear for the last two years.
Earlier this year, West called out Adidas for “blatantly copying” his designs, specifically with the AdiForm Q and the Adilette 22, which bear similarities to his Yeezy Slides.
West addressed Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted in a now deleted post saying, “to Kasper I’m not standing for this blatant copying no more. […] To all sneaker culture…This is for everyone who wants to express themselves but feel they can’t cause they’ll lose their contract or be called crazy…These shoes represent the disrespect that people in power have to the talent.”
On 1 September this year, West posted a mock New York Times front page featuring Rørsted’s death. West also aimed several posts at Cherry, who he claims is primarily responsible for the release of unauthorised Yeezy footwear designs.
Since Cherry’s appointment in January, West has refused to work with him on any Yeezy products. Last month, Adidas announced that Rørsted will be stepping down as CEO in 2023.
West was also unhappy that plans to open a Yeezy store have been unfulfilled by Adidas.
“I signed with both Adidas and Gap because it contractually stated they would build permanent stores, which neither company has done…,” he said.
From Adidas’ point of view, this is not without reason. Coming out of the pandemic, foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores has remained sluggish. On the brand’s latest earnings call in August, Rørsted said that retail traffic is down 21 per cent and that “own retail traffic is still well below normal levels.”
But even with all of the drama surrounding their partnership, West is not quite ready to cut ties with the brand. According to one of his posts, he takes a 15 per cent cut from every sale of the Yeezy Boost 350 and he has no plans to change that even when he exits the company. West’s contract with Adidas is set to end in 2026.
“They my new baby mamas,” he told Bloomberg. “I guess we’re just going to have to co-parent those 350s.”
Calling it quits with Gap
Throughout the course of West’s social media outburst, he also called out his second largest corporate partner, Gap. The defunct YZY Gap collection came to a premature halt this month when the company confirmed that it would be ending their partnership.
West’s legal team sent a letter formally requesting to terminate the agreement in early September. Similarly to his argument with Adidas, West claimed that Gap had breached its contract with him regarding the distribution of merchandise and failure to open dedicated YZY Gap stores
In an internal letter obtained by the New York Times, Gap president Mark Breitbard reportedly wrote, “While we share a vision of bringing high-quality, trend-forward, utilitarian design to all people through unique omni experiences with Yeezy Gap, how we work together to deliver this vision is not aligned. […] And we are deciding to wind down the partnership.”
The partnership only lasted two years. The YZY Gap collection was announced in 2020 and was contracted to last 10 years. West and Gap were releasing new products as recently as this year; however, West claimed he had no say in setting product prices and colourways, or selecting stockists for distribution.
West told CNBC’s Closing Bell, “It was very frustrating, it was very disheartening, because I just put everything I had [into it]. I put all of my top relationships. … And sometimes I would talk to the guys, the heads, the leaders, and it would just be like I was on mute or something. Our agenda, it wasn’t aligned.”
Restrictions on Yeezy
Until recently, West was intent on keeping the Yeezy brand and operating the Yeezy Supply online store for new Yeezy products releases, including his upcoming YZY SHDZ eyewear range, which was originally part of a Yeezy Gap collection.
On 19 September, West expressed his frustration over restrictions on standalone Yeezy brand activities following the dissolution of his business relationships with Adidas and Gap.
In a document that he shared on Instagram, it stated “neither Yeezy nor Ye may use, wear, sponsor, promote, market, advertise, endorse, design, manufacture, license, sell, or provide consulting services with respect to any of the following products under the Yeezy Trademarks or Ye’s likeness or any other identifiable attribute, feature, or indica of Ye.”
The list of restricted products spanned a wide range of categories, from apparel and casual footwear to lifestyle accessories. It also specified that West could not use “design[s] that copy or resemble any designs used for Yeezy by [A]didas or Yeezy Gap products.”
It is unclear whether YZY SHDZ will now be sold under Yeezy Gap or independently. However, Gap has stated it retains the right to continue selling any products created under the YZY Gap collection.
The birth of Donda Sports
In a recent interview, West said, “It’s time for me to go it alone. […] It’s fine. I made the companies money. The companies made me money.”
His promise to deliver an entirely new brand may come sooner than later. He debuted Donda Sports, an all-in-one sports company that encompasses sports marketing, athlete management and sportswear earlier this year.
The brand has already signed two top athletes, Aaron Donald from the NFL and basketball superstar Jaylen Brown. West also named former American football player and Super Bowl winner Antonio Brown as the president of the company.
In late May, he released a small collection of Donda Sports merchandise which included a hoodie, shorts and a pair of socks. But plans to expand are coming soon. West’s company Mascotte Holdings has already filed new trademarks for apparel items like shirts, jackets, hats and shoes, as well as accessories, such as fanny packs, luggage, wallets, umbrellas and blankets.
West is also reportedly preparing to trademark ‘Dove Sports,’ intended for “athletic services such as training sessions, competitions, tournaments, camps, seminars, field trips and even traditional educational frameworks, and ‘Donda Doves’ which appears to be sporting equipment like basketballs, baseball bats and hockey pucks, along with selected merchandise such as mugs and posters.
Donda Sports will be West’s first official foray beyond fashion and music. According to West, he envisions Donda Sports as a potential rival to Nike and Adidas.
“Now it’s time for Ye to make the new industry. No more companies standing in between me and the audience,” he said.
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