How has Yeezy, Kanye West’s brand of sneaker shoes, become so expensive and so popular at the same time?
Part of the reason is that Yeezys are overall good quality shoes, made of good materials and with innovative technology.
The bigger reasons of course are the marketing and branding of the shoes, plus the artificial scarcity adidas uses to keep the price of the shoes up.
History of Yeezy
Kanye West originally made Yeezy in a partnership with Nike. From their first versions in 2009, the shoes were meant to be a highly exclusive footwear, sold only in limited editions.
Perhaps the most famous version of these early day Yeezy’s were the 2014 Red October’s, which now often sell on Ebay for ~$10,000.
These original Yeezys basically established Kanye West as a fashion designer.
The partnership between Kanye and Nike eventually broke down over disagreements about royalties and the future direction of the Yeezy brand, with Kanye eventually moving to adidas.
7 reasons why Yeezys are so expensive
High end fashion designer shoes
Yeezy is ultimately a fashion designer’s shoe, made by Kanye West.
Kanye West himself has the final decision of the design of the Yeezy. Not only that, be he is actively involved in proposing designs, creating prototypes, adding or removing elements etc.
To be clear, Kanye doesn’t design Yeezy’s alone from top to bottom. Creating a modern, high quality shoe is a lot of work with complicated science behind it. For that you need a bigger design team that specializes in athletic shoe design, and that is what adidas provides.
This may sound weird at first since Kanye West built his name as a pop music star plus a few scandals to spice things up.
Kanye however has always seen himself as a fashion designer first, and music was more of a necessary detour to get to that point.
After building his music career, he leveraged the fame into partnerships with Nike and then adidas to design sneakers.
Yeezy’s are limited edition and have good resale value
Another reason Yeezy shoes are so expensive is because they’re sold in limited editions, with a limited number per drop.
The most Yeezy’s ever sold in a year was in 2019, when reportedly 1-1.5 million pairs were released on the market.
This limited supply / scarcity tactic was used ever since Kanye released the first Yeezy’s during the Nike days.
The tactic was so effective, that a pair of 2014 Red October Yeezy shoes now often sell for close to $10,000 on the used market.
Kanye carried over this tactic over to adidas.
Because adidas artificially limits the supply of Yeezy shoes, consumer demand is never fully satisfied. As a result, you have a lot of people that are willing to pay above retail prices to get their hands on a pair of Yeezys since there’s nowhere else to buy them.
That’s why you sometimes still see people forming huge lines so they can purchase a pair of Yeezy shoes.
When you combine the brand power of Yeezy plus limited editions of shoes, you end up with products that become collector’s items instead of everyday use objects.
To be fair, modern Yeezy editions don’t sell for such high prices as the early ones. However it’s entirely possible to buy a pair of Yeezy’s at $350 and sell them at the same price one year later.
This ability of Yeezy shoes to retain value is what makes them so special, and why many people are comfortable spending a lot of money on them.
Technology and materials used in Yeezy shoes
One reason Yeezy’s are so expensive compared to other shoes is because they simply cost more to make.
Most Nike and adidas shoes cost somewhere around 20-40 dollars to manufacture.
Yeezy’s are an exception though, and have a manufacturing cost that goes up to $75.
A large part of this higher production cost comes down to the materials adidas uses in Yeezy’s such as:
Primeknit. It’s adidas marketing jargon for the material that makes up the upper half of the shoe. It’s made out of a very lightweight thermoplastic yarn that can be spun and cut in such a way that a handful of pieces are enough to make the shoe.
The fewer pieces and material required to make a shoe, the lighter the shoe becomes.
The disadvantage of Primeknit is it costs more to make compared to other shoe materials.
Ultraboost. This is the heel cushioning tech found in other adidas sneakers such as Ultraboost. Its made out of tiny, elastic pellets that are glued together.
The material used in Ultraboost is a relatively modern invention, created by a huge German chemical company called BASF in the mid 2000’s.
adidas saw the potential of the pellets as a shoe material, so they signed an agreement with BASF that gives adidas exclusivity over this material.
Exclusivity deals are tricky things though, since since you have to pay extra to be the only customer of a company.
Primeknit, Ultraboost and some of the other materials and manufacturing processes involved in making a Yeezy shoe are simply more costly than regular adidas or Nike shoes, and that’s reflected in the final price of the shoe.
Of course, there remains the question why a shoe that costs 75 dollars to make sells for 350, and whether or not that can be classified as highway robbery.
Before making that decision, this interesting article explains the economics of making shoes and why it’s an industry that actually has very thin profit margins.
Yeezy’s are halo products for adidas
In 1985 Nike made the deal of the century and entered a partnership with basketball legend Michael Jordan to make Jordan branded shoes, the famous Air Jordan.
Over the course of 30+ years Air Jordans have grown into the flagship Nike product, selling around $3 billion worth every year.
The prestige of Air Jordans has had positive effects on the entire Nike brand, giving all other Nike products and air of quality, coolness and desirability which has translated into better sales.
In essence, it’s the “halo effect” of good marketing, where one popular and successful product can make all other products from a company look worth buying.
For a long time, adidas struggled to catch up to Nike since they didn’t have anything comparable to Air Jordans.
Until Kanye’s Yeezy’s arrived.
With Yeezy, adidas hopes to create their own “halo products”. However building up the brand power of Yeezy’s is a slow burn process that requires careful management.
If adidas makes Yeezy’s too easy & affordable to buy, the brand will lose it’s air of exclusivity since people don’t want to wear the same shoes everybody else has.
As such, the only way forward for adidas is to keep Yeezy on a limited edition business model, otherwise they risk flooding the market, killing the brands cool factor.
It’s a similar process to how Nike grew the Air Jordan brand: limited supply, but gradually increasing it over the years.
Yeezy’s are overall comfortable and high quality shoes
Yeezy’s are not just branding and marketing, they’re actually pretty good shoes that are very comfortable, even when used for longer periods of time.
The materials and technology used in Yeezy’s has been commercially tested and proven successful with consumers.
The build quality is there, as well as adidas’s generally excellent warranty policies.
The design is generally appealing, although it might look too sporty for some.
In the end though, you are getting a good quality product for the ~$300 price tag, so it’s not just smoke and mirrors and clever marketing at play.
Yeezys are targeted by scalpers
Because Yeezy’s are limited edition and can be resold for higher than retail price, they’ve become the target of scalpers flippers looking to make a quick buck out of desperate consumers.
This is why you have specialized software such as aiobot.com that can automatically buy a pair of Yeezys (or Jordans, Bapes etc.) before the stuck runs out. They can then resell them at a higher price.
This scalping and flipping situation works just fine for adidas, since it adds to the appeal of the brand as a high-end line of shoes that everybody wants.