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Air Yeezy

Digging for Gold with Kanye

Monday, 24 February 2014

There’s a pair of shoes on ebay that are going for close to sixteen million dollars.

They didn’t belong to Winston Churchill or Michael Jordan and they’re not made from albino rhino leather. In fact, to most people there is nothing particularly extraordinary about them; they’re made in China, they have rubber soles and they were bought at a Footlocker. So why on earth would anyone pay sixteen-flippin-million dollars for something you wear with a tracksuit? Kanye West, that’s why.

Yes that’s right sneaker-freaks, the new Air Yeezys are out. The ‘Red Octobers’ are Kanye’s last collaboration with Nike and clearly people are pretty keen to get their hands on them. The shoes were released online a couple of days ago with absolutely no warning and at $245 a pop they were snapped up in about ten minutes. Of course within hours quite a few pairs made it to ebay where one pair in particular garnered some quite competitive bidding.

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So how in the name of Tupac and Biggie does that happen?

Well it’s been quite a few years in the making. Hip-hop culture has always idolised sneakers; the earliest mainstream example of this was Run DMC’s song My Adidas in 1986. It was a song that celebrated the iconic shell-toed Adidas Superstar, a basketball sneaker that was embraced by street fashion and hip-hop. The song was followed up with an Adidas endorsement and a line of Run DMC shoes that further perpetuated the hip-hop and sneaker love affair.

Twenty-seven years on and sneaker endorsements are a run of the mill proposition for the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Mr. West. The hype for Air Yeezys however is anything but run of the mill. It’s crazy. It’s shake your head, what’s wrong with the youth, back-in-my-day, fair-shake-of-the-sauce-bottle crazy.

The truth is Kanye West has been building hysteria for this shoe before it even existed. For over ten years he’s been creating pop culture frenzy for himself. Nike had the sense and the money to get into to bed with the pop culture phenomenon (yes, he really is) and leverage some of his priceless hype.

The next right move they made was allowing Kanye to design the shoe; this was never a case of just slapping his name on a pair of basketball shoes. West clearly put a lot of pride into his design and was therefore more than happy to spruik his collaboration. And hey, let’s be honest, the result was pretty spectacular. Whether you get round in tracky-dacks or Savile Row one-offs, it’s difficult to play down how incredible they look.

Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t deny West holds that magic formula of unique taste, untouchable style and a progressive aesthetic that has mass appeal. It’s a formula that has people following him with blind faith as he abuses photographers, steals awards from 16 year old girls and proposes to a Kardashian. It’s the formula that sells albums, singles, stadiums and shoes for 16 million.

So what do Nike and Kanye get out of a $245 shoe selling for $16 million?

An infinite amount of free PR and bucket loads of brand awareness. Nike is hoping to roll that hype onto the next collaboration with Hip-hop pretty boy Drake. Meanwhile Kanye has moved to Adidas who are no doubt hoping that the Kanye magic will work for them too. Chances are that it will.