Even before he started designing clothing and shoes under Yeezy, Kanye West expressed an explicit desire to dress the whole world. When he first launched his own brand, though, Yeezys were as difficult to secure as any other super-hyped shoe. In 2016, it sounded like a cruel joke when he declared, “Eventually everybody who wants to get Yeezys will get Yeezys.” Now, nearly five years on, that vision is coming to fruition. Kanye’s brand has made the trickiest shift in fashion: from subsisting on limited crazy-making drops to selling shoes without the hype.
The latest annual report from resale platform StockX details the massive jump Yeezy made in 2020. While the top four most-traded brands—Jordan, Nike, Adidas, Converse—remains the same as the year prior, Yeezy stands out. The brand jumped from 16th on StockX’s ranking all the way to sixth. Yeezy now sits in between two major, mass brands: New Balance is one spot ahead, and Vans is right below.
The leap is indicative of Yeezy’s shifting strategy. The brand is no longer relying on gimmicks like limited volume to sell its most popular shoes. Far and away the most popular Yeezy model is the brand’s 350, which ranks second just behind the Air Jordan 1 and ahead of iconic shoes like the Air Force 1 on StockX’s list of most traded shoes. Many Yeezys can be found on the site for close to retail price, or even below for some models. Kanye’s brand is muscling its way up the rankings by sustaining volume, hanging in there with brands that have stores in malls and do billions of dollars in revenue. That’s not to conflate StockX transactions with what happens out at your local Westfield, but the numbers are indicative of the sheer number of Yeezys on the secondary market. Even if Yeezy appeared “hotter” in past years because drops sold out in seconds, it was only able to jump on the StockX list by releasing millions of pairs at a time.
And because the Yeezy story has been so heavily chronicled over the years, we’re able to look back and see how Adidas and Kanye’s long-tail strategy played out. In hindsight, the multiyear evolution provides a striking example of how you build a sustainable sneaker brand in 2021. For years, the brand cultivated hype, leaving plenty of pent-up demand in the wake of its frustratingly limited releases. Then Adidas was able to slowly convert scarcity into mass sales. Adidas’s CEO Kasper Rørsted mapped out the strategy plainly in late 2018: “As we’re moving new Yeezy products into the market, we will do what we’ve done also in the past: Create scarcity around the new products we are launching, make sure we have the hype, and, over a given period of time of course, drive volume into that market,” he said on an investor call at the time. Now, Yeezy is able to do what Nike, Jordan, and Adidas do: rely on tentpole models while continuing to put out limited hype-churning releases. While the 350 is moving in massive numbers, the brand is still able to play the scarcity game elsewhere. Sales of Yeezy slides grew 400% in 2020, according to StockX, and most of those are going for quadruple the original retail price.
Maybe the best proof that Yeezy is firing on all cylinders is that sales were able to weather the behavior of the brand’s founder. 2020 wasn’t exactly a banner year for Kanye, who ran a short-lived presidential campaign, tweeted a picture of him peeing on one of his Grammys, and claimed his wife Kim Kardashian tried to “lock him up.” Somehow, none of his bad behavior seems to have dampened the desire for the brand bearing his name. While Yeezy may once have been a brand reliant on the influencing powers of one of the most stylish men in the world, it now appears to be a brand that simply sells a ton of sneakers.