Man at His Best

Opinion: An Observation On The Sneaker X Music Endorsement Boom

We blame it on Kanye.

BY Jonathan Fong | Jan 23, 2017 | Music

From the first collaboration with A Bathing Ape in 2007 to the initial dabbling in high-end fashion with Louis Vuitton in 2009, Kanye West has changed the sneaker game. Whatever you might feel about him personally, there’s no disputing that Yeezy’s creative output in the realm of footwear has been phenomenal.

Let the fact sink in that he is the first non-athlete to have his own sneaker model with Nike. A design of his own, mind you, that he fully conceptualised, sketched and designed himself—not an existing model that he was allowed to colour in or add flourishes to. The resulting two models of Nike Air Yeezys released in 2009 and 2012 gained global notoriety for selling out in mere seconds.

This formula hasn’t lost its magic one bit since West defected to Adidas. The “creative freedom and control” granted by the German sportswear giant in 2014, allowing him to do whatever the hell he wants, has resulted in four new designs being released in just over a year. The mania has continued to grow with each release across the globe.

I witnessed first-hand over 3,500 people standing outside the Adidas Originals store in Singapore on a Saturday morning, waiting to see if they would be selected via ballot to purchase the SGD560 Kanye Boost 750. Someone managed to score a pair and flipped it immediately in the back alley for nearly 10 times the original retail price.

West’s sentiments on his acrimonious split from Nike are well documented, most notably in the track “Facts” from The Life of Pablo, in which Yeezus boasts that he’s “jumped over Jumpman” (i.e. surpassed Michael Jordan’s Nike sales), and that Nike “can’t give shit away”. He also observes that, if not for Drake, Nike would “have nothing”.

Exaggerations certainly, and a very clever dig at the fact that Nike only has Drake on its current music endorsement roster compared to Adidas’ lineup that includes West, Pharrell Williams, Rita Ora, Pusha T and Selena Gomez. Not all that surprising, given the latter’s long-standing history with musicians, such as Run-DMC, Missy Elliot and Snoop Dogg.

Other sportswear giants have similarly followed suit. Reebok now has Kendrick Lamar as its global brand ambassador while Puma’s biggest signing is Rihanna with her own womenfocused line. It’s interesting to see sneaker sales add an extra dimension to the battle between pop stars: does the beef between Drake (Nike/Jordan Brand) and Meek Mill (Puma) spill over into who’s got better-selling collab kicks?

Brands would be wise not to get carried away trying to collect music endorsees like Pokémons in the hope of landing the next Kanye-effect golden goose. Just google “Tiesto Sneaker” and brace yourself for the ugliest piece of ish you couldn’t pay me to wear.

Will the bubble of musician-endorsed sneakers burst? With West inking his very own collaborative brand with Adidas in June, the frenzy certainly shows no signs of cooling down. As the world turns, it watches and follows Mr West’s every move.