Kanye West: So Just How Badly Has He Warped The Sneaker World?

LET us go back 10 years, back to when only a handful of kids in your area had a relative interest in sneakers; when Kanye West’s only shoe was a sample pair of Air Max 180 with the ‘Dropout Bear’ embossed upon a leopard print dressed silhouette. This was prior to LV, prior to his first personal silhouette, and even the BAPE collaboration! 2006 was, in my opinion one of the best years for release dates from Jordan Brand.

We saw both Citrus and Flint 7s; the 6 with 11 DMP pack; Pure Money, Black Cat, Military Blue, Thunder and Lightning 4s; completed by a perfect selection of 5s, from Green Bean and Olive down to Burgundy and White Grapes. As I said, an incredible year. The reason I touch upon this topic is the fact that some were still available months after release; Sneakerheads would purchase based on personal preference- not necessarily hype. Expanding slightly, Sneakers were not just accessories- you built your outfit around your choice of footwear. The community feel was much stronger seeing as the interest was rather scarce outside of London, much more respect and appreciation was shown. Without sounding pessimistic, do we have a culture anymore? Working in retail it sometimes feels as though every third customer that walks in wears fake 350 Boosts, looks intently at the Y-3/Ultra Boost section, then without fail asking when the next Yeezy is dropping… there’s a complete and utter disregard for anything non-boost related right now, thus influencing this article.

Kanye West, the figurehead of Adidas’ current streetwear stronghold has been releasing collaborative footwear for the last 9 years. Yes, you heard… the Nike Air Yeezy ‘Zen’ wasn’t his first Sneaker! Crazy right? As a matter of fact, 2006 was the first time he worked with the Three Stripes. West put his own twist on the Rod Laver silhouette; evidently this never saw any publicity until brought to light very recently when uncovered in the second Official Crepe City magazine. In terms of availability, the first that you could actually purchase was the Bapesta from ’07. This brown/cream/red colour way sported a well-renowned ‘Dropout Bear’ on the heel. Personally this is his best collaboration, cannot say I enjoy his obsessive use of clumpy straps, excessively loud midsoles and velcro! There are two 2008 samples with Nike; the first a Huarache Trainer splashed with pastel blocking behind a black toe-box, this was presented with a Jordan 6 nicknamed ‘Donda’, incredibly similar to the Varsity Red colour way. From the same year a selection of 4 Reebok C.Carter Low colour ways surfaced, clad in either patent leather or pastel blends. Evidently they receive a lot less attention than every other pair- regardless of Dropout Bear’s appearance.

2009 saw the start of Nike’s bumpy partnership. Zen, Blink and Net dropped within the first 6 months of the year; and yes, they sold out very quickly. The Yeezy hype is nothing new, people have camped for every available release to date however the hype is completely different to that created by Adidas as I’ll explain later on. This introduction was followed by an enormous number of one-off samples for Kanye himself; varying from a Black/White for the Grammys to an Air Jordan 6 Hybrid in Black on Black. I’ll skip Louis Vuitton’s contributions as they were incredibly high end, therefore unobtainable for many fans no matter how many colour ways/ silhouettes were covered. The 2010 VMA gave us our first glance at the brilliant Yeezy 2 silhouette- a perforated leather upper paired with a fur sock-liner, a completely different image to anything we had seen prior. Taking full advantage 2 official colour ways dropped in 2012; Platinum and Solar, then two years later Red October. This may seem like I’m simply rabbling on, but unlike the Adidas movement 90% of buyers of the products above would have been legitimate Sneakerheads… these releases were so limited in comparison, effort would have to be put in when finding your own size even on the resell market. Most importantly, younger enthusiasts at the time (myself for example) would not have to own a pair of Yeezy to be seen as a Sneakerhead. When a pair was seen in person you couldn’t help but get excited.

Moving onto Adidas, limited is most certainly not a word used to describe these projects. Granted, the primary colour ways of both major silhouettes were made in tiny quantities, but following this accessibility became a necessity- they became common. Working in retail, at least one pair enters my store each day; fake pairs sometimes triple the number of those that are legitimate- backing up my point of an accessory based view rather than a staple outfit piece. Then again, I completely appreciate how important fashion has become within the sneaker community. We’ve moved on from baggy jeans with frayed hems draped over perfectly laced AF1, new-age collectors are definitely more fashion orientated with the likes of Supreme, Stussy and Palace working with big brands continuously, and well it’s hard not to develop. Ronnie Fieg is a prime example on how everything has moved forward, the introduction of KITH clothing lines have been hugely successful. Older colour schemes have been worked into the most recent jacket/outerwear collection, in a sense giving back to long term followers and those whom have worked to keep him relevant. I’m a big fan of this.

So, as I pull this article to an end let me emphasise something- if you own EVERY Adidas Yeezy release yet don’t know anything history-wise, appreciation-wise- you are not a Sneakerhead. A friend once described it as owning a Ferrari without an ounce of background knowledge as to where the company grew from, purchasing simply because money dictates the possibility. It doesn’t count. Facebook groups and general sneaker forums have almost been made redundant for selling footwear, unless including Boost or Kanye. Resellers in particular see this as a positive; with the market becoming so simple decision making in terms of what to purchase has become very easy, not to mention availability rising again in 2016. Positively however, prices beyond Adidas have begun to fall, if not falling then the market has frozen. Is this what we’ve all been waiting for, the inevitable fall in false ‘collectors’? With each release production numbers rise, exactly as Nike did with the Air Huarache re-issue… we all know the outcome here, don’t we? Looking even closer, the Nomad Runner has been killed off within 6 months of it’s original release, essentially reseller bait. Primeknit must roughly translate as ‘profit’ if resell prices are anything to work by, I’ve experienced first hand how ‘resell life’ can affect not only the community but in fact the respect towards certain individuals; a flooded market is a boring market.

To conclude, I’m going to finish on a couple of positives. Firstly, this natural cycle means that pairs within personal collections previously un-appreciated become absolute gems. At the current point in our cycle, Nike’s Presto silhouette is considered to be one of the most desirable comfort-wise, even competing with the Ultra Boost in relation to minimal runners. Most importantly, older collectors are shown more appreciation. Lets face it, sneakers 10+ years old getting UNDS on your Instagram feed is far more pleasant opposed to endless Boost products, worn with zipper joggers, oversized hoodies and 20 layers. As I’d mentioned alternative footwear prices are falling, this opens new markets that haven’t quite been exploited yet. Older pairs that aren’t Hypebeast material can potentially be purchased at lower prices, re-forming faith within communities when money-crazed teenagers are taken out of the equation. Over alleged, if there’s one piece of advice you take from this please join all local groups that are relevant to your particular interests. I have found recently that no bond is stronger than that with those living nearby, particularly aged collectors whom have not succumb to recent hype and genuinely own all of these pairs because of their love for the whole culture. To answer the title question, has Kanye killed off the culture that we previously loved? On a large scale, yes he has. In some situations you have to be on the Adidas/Hypebeast wave to be acknowledged; but on a local scale outside of major groups, stores, drops and events the original perception is still firmly alive and kicking.

Written by Tommy Corlito.

For photos of all collaborations mentioned above, please visit SoleCollector.

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