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What Does the End of Yeezy Mean for the Sneakerverse?

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The Yeezys are disappearing. Off the shelves — and sites — of Adidas. Gone from Foot Locker. No longer displayed at Christie’s New York headquarters, where in early October the Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototypes that in 2021 were auctioned for $1.8 million had sat in state awaiting another sale. (It was canceled.) As Kanye West’s corporate partnerships have evaporated in the wake of two weeks of antisemitic and anti-Black statements, his products, and especially his shoes, have likewise seemed to vanish from sight.

Yet on the resale sites StockX, Stadium Goods and GOAT, where sneakers are traded like commodities and collectibles, hundreds of pairs can still be found. And in the chat rooms on Discord and Reddit where sneakerheads gather, a debate is raging about what, exactly, the fall of Ye, as Mr. West is now known, means for the future of what was called “an alternative asset class,” or an investment that isn’t in stocks or bonds, by Cowen Equity Research in 2019.

There are those like Christopher George, the founder of the “cook group” House of Carts (a cook group is a group that shares and monitor information on drops and resale), who, on the day the Adidas announcement was released, advised his 1,500 members, “If you are holding loads of Yeezys I would 100 percent be looking for an exit plan.”

And then there are those like Andre Ljustina, the founder of the sneaker and streetwear site Project Blitz, who believes that the end of the Adidas Yeezy partnership will simply make the shoes more collectible, that “when the smoke clears, their value will go up.”

The result of these mixed messages, said Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, the chief executive of Tradeblock, a sneaker trading platform with more than 200,000 users, is “rampant speculation.” The number of Yeezy trades on the site rose 40 percent last Monday to Wednesday versus the previous three days (Adidas announced they were cutting ties on Tuesday).

At issue is not just the social currency attached to sneakers, but a market that Cowen predicted could reach $30 billion globally by 2030, that has had museum exhibitions and documentaries devoted to its evolution, and that has been powered, said Jordan Geller, the founder of the ShoeZeum and recipient of the 2012 Guinness World Records title for largest collection of sneakers, by the twin engines of “Nike’s Air Jordans and Adidas’s Yeezys.”

If one of those engines sputters, what happens next? It’s an “unprecedented” situation, Mr. Geller said.

To understand why the fall of Yeezy could move the whole sneaker market, you first have to understand how sneakers accrue their value. As with any collectible market, like art or jewelry, how much an item is worth is based in large part on scarcity. But when it comes to sneakers, nostalgia and the cultural capital attached to its creator also play a role.

While kicks have long had their own subcultural semiology (reaching all the way back to the Converse All Star in 1917), it was the emergence of Michael Jordan and his Air Jordans in the mid-1980s, along with the rise of hip-hop, that shot them into the heart of the popular conversation and identity. Fans dreamed of being in his shoes — and then they actually could be. They remembered when they saw Mr. Jordan playing in the shoes. Jordan drops became so popular, they spurred riots in 2014.

While other brands and collaborations had their moments, it wasn’t until Ye joined forces with Adidas in 2013 after a fallout with Nike that a real competitor began to emerge. Until then, Mr. George said, “nothing even came close.”

“Before that, Adidas was irrelevant,” Mr. Geller agreed. “It wasn’t very popular with collectors. But when they signed Kanye, they instantly got street cred and became important.”

Rather than situating his cool in sports, Ye grounded it in his music, opening up a whole path of consumer connection. “He sang ‘Yeezy jumped over jumpman,’” Mr. George said, “and he did.” Ye previewed his shoes onstage, stoking anticipation, making them news, attaching them to an experience.

“It changed everything,” Mr. Ljustina said. “Adidas started to take energy from Nike.”

In 2018, a paper from Moritz Lutz and Peter Bug of Reutlingen University in Germany found that Nike, Air Jordan and Adidas accounted for 98 percent of the total sneaker resale market revenue globally. And when it comes to the Adidas share, Mr. Ljustina of Project Blitz said, most of that is Yeezys.

But according to Gerome Sapp, the chief executive of Rares, the fractional investment corporation that bought the Yeezy prototype in 2021 for $1.8 million — and that had intended to allow its investors’ to cash out through the now-canceled sale at Christie’s — when it comes to the Yeezys made with Adidas, there is a “fundamental difference between the Jordan brand and the Yeezy brand, which is the Yeezy brand is not about scarcity.”

For the most part, people buy Yeezys to wear, he said. They buy Jordans to store and collect.

“There are only three or four types of Yeezys you would buy to hold on to,” Mr. Sapp said, name-checking the Air Yeezy 2 SP Red Octobers, the last shoe Ye made with Nike, as a prime example. Mr. Ljustina also said that a majority of Yeezys sold for much less than Jordans — for prices closer to their original retail price — in part because there are so many more of them in circulation. (He also said that what resellers lose in profit on each shoe they offset in volume.)

That’s important because it explains why Ye’s recent remarks may have a negative effect on the resale market. If you buy a shoe to wear, and that shoe becomes associated with a toxic viewpoint, it could connect you with those ideas by association, in the way wearing a MAGA hat may imply a political view. One Florida man, Danny Shiff, went viral for burning $15,000 of Yeezys he owned and posting the video on TikTok in reaction to Ye’s statements. (He said he would auction off his remaining Yeezys and donate the proceeds to charities working to fight antisemitism and racism.)

And yet, said Mr. Ljustina, Yeezys are very popular among international buyers in Russia, the Middle East and China, who may not care so much about what Ye said.

When some sneakerheads reach for a comparable situation to predict what will happen to Adidas Yeezy prices, they talk about when Ye left Nike, or when Virgil Abloh and Kobe Bryant died, and the fact that their shoes became immediately collectible.

But “that was a totally different era,” Mr. Sapp of Rares said, of the Ye/Nike analogy. “Then Ye was at the top of his game, artistically, culturally and as a celebrity. There was no catastrophic hate speech that broke that relationship.”

Rosalind Chow, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University, said the controversy could actually make Adidas Yeezys more attractive to certain collectors — as the shoe that symbolized the downfall of Ye — though it was unclear “just how many collectors.”

On StockX, the online marketplace that track the value of Yeezys and other sneakers and apparel, Foam Runners and Boost 700 V2s have oscillated between steep declines in price and rebounds, if not quite to their original level, then close to it. (StockX did not respond to emails requesting comment.)

Mr. Sapp said he expected people to start dumping their stock, but that it was also true that “everything dies down. Obviously there’s no taking back what was said,” he noted, “but if Ye takes a back seat for while and then apologizes, I think enough people will forgive him for him to rebuild.”

Part of the question, Mr. George said, is what happens with the as-yet-unreleased Adidas Yeezy stock. “They are holding onto at least five drops that were planned for this year,” he said, citing colorways and styles that were slated for release, with each release comprising what he suggested would be at least 20,000 to 30,000 pairs. Adidas could flood the market with the shoes or simply destroy them. (Gap, for example, has said it will not release its Yeezy Gap stock at all.)

In addition, since Adidas owns the patents for most of the Yeezy designs, it can keep releasing the shoes under a different name, even if Ye eventually returns to the sneaker game with a new partner. Mr. George expects that when it comes to Yeezys, “only a select few will really keep rising in price,” especially “the Nike models, the ‘glory years’ version of his shoe history.”

In the short term, no one doubts that this will work to Nike’s favor. It also opens up the field for a new brand to step into the vacuum. Speculation has now begun on what name that might be. Mr. Ljustina is waiting to see what happens with Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God collaboration with Adidas. (Mr. Lorenzo was once part of Ye’s creative circle.)

Mr. George said he believed New Balance was “poised to take over Adidas’s spot.” Brahm Wachter, the head of the Sotheby’s streetwear and modern collectibles department, which originally sold those $1.8 million Yeezys, agreed.

“That’s the horse I’d be watching,” he said.

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