While “driving down the same street Kobe [Bryant] passed on,” Ye accused Adidas of ripping off his Yeezy slides. “To Kasper,” he wrote, addressing the brand’s CEO Kasper Rørsted, “I’m not standing for this blatant copying no more… These shoes represent the disrespect that people in power have to the talent This shoe is a fake Yeezy made by adidas themselves.” (Ye also said he’s “not talking to DC about this,” presumably referring to Adidas’s new senior VP and general manager Daniel Cherry III, according to Complex. “Kasper come talk to me.”) He signed the note “Happy Monday,” so that’s nice at least. He later deleted the post.
Ye definitely has a points. There are some differences in the sole and the texture of the shoe—the Adilette’s wavy design is inspired by “3D topography and human expeditions to Mars,” according to Adidas—but it’s clear the Three Stripes also found inspiration a little closer to home in the Yeezy. What’s missing from Ye’s missive is the fact the resemblance between the two shoes is likely by design. Whether or not you side with Ye on this issue depends on how you feel about the way the sneaker industry has long functioned.
Since the beginning of Ye’s partnership with Adidas, the brand has drafted off the success of his shoes. When the 750s were hot, Adidas put out the more accessible Tubular Invader Strap. When energy moved to the 350s, Adidas was there with the mainline Tubular Shadow. Ye created a lot of hype around his silhouettes by selling them in super-limited quantities. To maintain that scarcity while cashing in on the success of Ye’s sneakers, Adidas created shoes in the core collection that resembled the harder-to-get Yeezy ones. This felt like a win-win for both parties: Ye’s shoes were able to maintain heat while Adidas stuffed its piggy banks.
Using collaborators to drive business back to the core collection is standard procedure across the sneaker business. When Rihanna held the title of creative director at Puma, the brand would frequently put out shoes “inspired” by the singer’s much more limited styles. At Nike and Jordan, collaborators are often assigned a certain model to drive attention back to the non- or less-limited styles. “Typically Jordan has a shoe for a year that they’re giving energy to,” Chris Gibbs of Union LA told me while rolling out his Jordan 4s. “And they draw on their quiver of designers to do their thing to that shoe.” Collaborators are hype drivers, but not usually direct contributors to the bottom line.
Ye seems to understand that he’s fighting against more than just this single Yeezy Slide lookalike. “To all sneaker culture To every ball player rapper or even if you work at the store This is for everyone who wants to express themselves but feel they can’t cause they’ll loose [sic] their contract or be called crazy,” Ye wrote on Instagram. I’d bet that Ye doesn’t just want to junk the Adilette, or to receive credit for the design, so much as he wants to change the way things are done in the world of sneakers.
And while the target of his ire might seem unusual, getting into a fight with a collaborator because he’s unhappy with the industry standard is an essential part of the Ye experience at this point. Ye originally left Nike because the brand refused to give him royalties on his shoe sales, he said. “Nike told me, ‘We can’t give you royalties because you’re not a professional athlete,’” he said on Hot 97 in 2013. (His response was an all-timer: “I told them, ‘I go to the Garden and play one-on-no one. I’m a performance athlete.'”) Of course, he ended up getting those royalties from Adidas. Ending the practice of what Ye calls “blatant copying” might require an even bigger leap.