Why Kanye West’s Sneakers Aren’t Selling Out (Or: How I Ended Up With $900 Worth Of Yeezys)

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Why Kanye West’s Sneakers Aren’t Selling Out (Or: How I Ended Up With $900 Worth Of Yeezys)
Illustration: Sam Woolley (GMG)

I got the first email at 10:54 a.m. on a Friday.

“Congratulations — You won!” it read. I opened it and learned I’d won a pair of Yeezys. By “won” it meant I won the right to buy a pair. Specifically, the $300 Adidas Yeezy Boost 700 Mauve EE9614.

Then another email came, an hour later. “You won! You are the online raffle Winner!” Another arrived that evening. This one was in all caps: “YEEZY BOOST 700 ‘MAUVE’ IN-STORE RAFFLE WINNER.” I’d gone from Yeezy-less to West-full, spending $900 on brown sneakers in one day. I’d been entering raffles for almost every single Yeezy that’s ever been released. How the hell did I win three at the end of October?

I am a sneakerhead. I have 60 pairs of sneakers. I have enough pairs that I’m just estimating, really. I also don’t particularly love spending money, so a lot of my kicks were purchased off clearance racks at outlets—where already-discounted sneakers are discounted again. Because I’m me, I even remember specific deals I got. The pair of KDs I play basketball in cost me $38 at Ross. The LD-1000 x Roche hybrid sneakers were $12.51 at a Nike outlet. These generic, super-comfortable Air Maxes, which didn’t even have a box and I have no idea what model they are, were at the outlets for $8. I will even rank the Philadelphia-area Nike outlets for you: Atlantic City, Franklin Mills, Reading, Limerick, Gloucester.


But, because I’m prone to hype and I like fashion, I also traffic in higher-end sneakers. I wear my Jordan XI Breds with my black suit. I once camped out at a sneaker store for limited-edition New Balances which now reside on my dresser in a fancy wooden box. I have bought kicks from the Shoezeum’s sales.

A lot of sneakers are sold in raffles. I enter lots, and almost never win. I also have long been a fan of Kanye West as a musician, and I was interested in Yeezy sneakers. I once decided I was going to leave a job because I could not get the day off to go on a scavenger hunt to win the chance to buy Yeezys from a sneaker store. They were hyped. They were limited. I wanted his Nike sneakers. When he moved to Adidas, I wanted those sneakers. But I kept losing raffles. It was fine. Whatever. I didn’t really need them.


Sneakers are like high fashion. A lot of stuff that’s really cool is so because it’s exclusive. But even my $900 worth of Yeezys aren’t that expensive compared to high-end designer brands. Sneakers are relatively cheap at retail. They become exclusive (and expensive, on the resale market) due to intentional scarcity. Every Yeezy sneaker until last weekend has basically sold out instantly.

So why doesn’t Adidas, and why didn’t Nike before it, simply make more to meet demand? Because the idea is to create artificial scarcity to build hype. Yeezys are not Starburys. Yeezy sneakers are hot not just because they’re endorsed by a popular musician (who got more famous when he married into a family with a TV show). They’re hot because they’re hard to get. It’s a con, but it works. “I’m gonna make sure everyone gets Yeezys,” which West said in 2015, was long a joke. Adidas doesn’t make many of them.


Or, rather, they didn’t make that many of them. The Yeezy Boost 350 v2 triple white, which dropped in September, was incredibly easy to get. Adidas even mentioned the increased production in its press release about the shoe, bragging that for the first time “a Yeezy sneaker will be released in mass quantities.”

I didn’t hit on any raffles for the triple white—or the Yeezy butter, which were similarly easy to get—and I didn’t try to buy them at retail. Another confession to make, besides my sneaker habit: I used to be a pretty heavy sneaker reseller, at least in volume. It was after I left that aforementioned job, which did not initially turn out to be the best decision for me financially. To augment my income as a freelance writer, I bought sneakers at resale and sold them online for more money.


I wasn’t incredibly prolific. I would try to hit raffles and resell; I almost never won anywhere, however. I did have a regular hustle, though: I bought sneakers for cheap from places like Ross Dress for Less, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Century 21 and sold them online at a slight markup. I might make $20 a sneaker. It added up okay and allowed me to go to happy hour. There are lots of people like me. Some people run bots to allow them to purchase lots of sneakers and resell them. It’s a massive ecosystem.

Now that I have a full-time job, any sneaker resell profits primarily go to purchasing more sneakers. I enter raffles for sneakers I like; I rarely win. But if I hit a raffle and decide I don’t want the sneakers, I’ll sell them and cash out with a profit. Sometimes it is a nice profit; I made $440 selling a pair of Off-White x Nike Presto earlier this year. Other times I just sell them for retail to someone I know. I don’t exactly think this is upstanding behavior on my part. I no longer need to resell sneakers to hang out at happy hour or pay my rent or whatever.


But I do it, so being overburdened with Yeezys didn’t feel like much of a problem. I’d sell two of the three—or maybe all three, if I decided I didn’t like this Yeezy once I got it. And, if Yeezys were like anything they were in the past, I’d probably make enough money selling two to pay for that third pair! But my first inclination that this might not pan out came when I picked up the one pair of sneakers that I’d won in a local raffle. As I was checking out, I asked the sales associate how many pairs they were selling. He pointed to a clipboard filled with names and told me there were about three and half pages there. Then he said something really interesting.

“Seventy-five to 85 percent of the people who entered our raffle won,” he told me of the in-store raffle. “We only had about 200 entries. Usually it’s closer to 1,000.” The store’s online raffle was similarly under-subscribed: Instead of 50,000 entries like the store usually gets, only 10,000 or so were registered. Even if Adidas were trying to make more Yeezys, interest appeared down in this particular model.


I quickly learned the Yeezys weren’t even selling out. They were just sitting there waiting to be purchased online, and many sizes are still available at retail. The resale market for them has collapsed. When sneaker reseller site StockX cut reseller fees to 3.1 percent for a Halloween promotion, I immediately joked it was a way for everyone to get rid of these Yeezys nobody wants.

I’d actually sold two of my pairs before I noticed this. One I agreed to sell to someone for retail price. The other I sold on a sneaker-buying app for $400 the night before I picked it up. (At the risk of hurting my side hustle: Don’t buy at resale until at least a week out, people!) The resale market for these Yeezys is hilariously low. Sometimes sneakers go for multiples of what they’re worth, but you can buy my size, 13, for $305—the retail price, basically. The sneakers are, in reseller parlance, bricks.


I still have one pair that arrived the other day. So far I’ve recouped $650 of my original, accidental $900 investment. If I were to sell my other pair of 13s, I’d probably get about $250 after fees and shipping. That’s right: All this just to get back to the original $900. What a businessman I am.

But my occasional incompetent adventures in capitalism are not at issue here. What’s going on with Adidas? What’s up with Yeezy? Why are these sneakers, hot for years, suddenly sitting on shelves. Is Kanye trying to finally bring more Yeezys to the people, and the people are saying, “No thanks”?


First, there are some simple reasons this sneaker was finally the one to break the Yeezy sellout streak. There have been a lot of Yeezys recently. Adidas is absolutely trying to sell more. And, until now, most of them have been selling.

But Kanye West is also getting old. My fianceé, a high school teacher, had to remove photos of Kanye from her worksheets: The kids didn’t know who he was anymore. And this sneaker is $300—the second in a line of $300 sneakers that doesn’t have the cachet of the first. Kanye West selling a $300 sneaker is not nearly as stupid as Lonzo Ball selling one for $495, but it’s still a lot for a sneaker that is, by most visual metrics, an ugly one. The sneaker is brown. It’s hard to pair with outfits. Complex, the sneaker/streetwear lifestyle site, also said the end of the “dad shoe” trend is approaching. These Yeezys are definitely dad shoes, and they are not as good looking as the previous 700s, the Wave Runners.


The clerk at the shop where I picked up my Yeezys theorized Kanye’s recent political stances have hurt sales. West has long been on a Trump kick, but last month he visited with President Donald Trump, wore a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat, and was initially said to have designed merchandise for Blexit, a truth-challenged online campaign urging black voters to leave the Democratic party. Coincidentally, right after his sneakers tanked West denied having designed the ugly-as-shit merchandise and said he is distancing himself from politics. Being a Republican is one thing. But being associated with ugly merchandise? To many people, that’s much worse.

I called up Matt Powell, an analyst with market research firm NPD Group, who filled in some more details. “So many of these limited edition shoes are all about scarcity,” he told me. “The real value is there aren’t many very of them. When they don’t sell out it means that multiple has to come down.” He added whatever the reasons for this sneaker’s bust, it came down to Adidas making too many: “My speculation is there are too many pairs on the market—more supply than there was demand. Determining how many pairs to make is an art, not a science.”


Mastering the supply vs. demand balance is indeed a bit of an art, but it’s one that many other businesses handle just fine. The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that used to invest in donut shops and defense contractors, also owns Supreme, and despite the insanely un-cool ownership situation, much of the Supreme merchandise dropped weekly continues to sell out almost instantly. If they make too much of it, then it will lose its cachet. But it can’t be that hard: Crocs and Post Malone figured out how to have their collaboration sell out. Yes, the kids want Post Malone Crocs more than they want Kanye West Adidas kicks.

Adidas is, though, releasing more Yeezys than ever. The Yeezy 350 v2 Zebra comes out on the Nov. 9, and it’s even being released at what people call Footsites: Broad-base sneaker retailers like Foot Locker and Footaction that sell styles with much larger runs. The Yeezy may have reached a point where, as Powell put it: “If everybody can get one, I think nobody will want one.”


Is this all that bad for Adidas? Blog headlines aside, Adidas’s hot streak over the past two years was more about regular Boost, NMD, and other hot shoes that found the fascination of the sneaker-buying public—those are the sneakers that sold numbers that affected Adidas’ bottom line. Boost, in particular, turned things around for Adidas. That shine is finally wearing off; more recent Adidas sneakers haven’t been as popular. (I’d been eying the Deerupt Runner all summer, but I didn’t want to pay $160 for it. I got it on clearance for $32 last week. It didn’t fit and I sold it for a $2.61 profit.)

But it does sound bad for its Yeezy division. After years and years of building its brand on a sneaker that was hard (or expensive) to get, will people want a Yeezy that anyone can wear? Maybe the next Kanye sneaker will be a huge hit. Maybe Adidas is just cashing out and making Yeezy a more mainstream brand. Maybe we’ll see it at Walmart soon.


In the meantime, I still have one pair left. A fitting penance for my sneaker reselling crimes will be to spend all winter wearing the $300 kicks that don’t go with anything and that everyone hates.