The Secret to YEEZY’s Sneaker Success

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The end of 2020 is just around the corner — and what a year it’s been. While the pandemic has changed a lot of our daily lives, the hype around sneakers is one train Covid-19 couldn’t stop. Cowen Equity Research believes that the sneaker resale market will continue to grow, reaching around $30 billion by 2030, up from $6 billion globally today.

Partnering exclusively with StockX once again, we’ve collated data from the secondary sneaker market to bring this past quarter’s biggest stories to life. While resale doesn’t cover figures at retail level, it’s a useful tool to explore the intricacies of sneaker supply and demand, and what releases most resonated with sneakerheads and newcomers alike.

While New Balance’s dominant collaboration strategy, Michael Jordan and Netflix’s The Last Dance, and Nike SB controlled the narrative last quarter, three new but equally exciting narratives have left their mark on the sneaker world in Q3.

The sneaker community has long been an international one. Cultural differences have ensured that tastes and styles have developed differently around the world, and never has this been more evident than in Q3 2020. The Nike Air Jordan 1 is undoubtedly one of the most revered sneakers across the globe; more recently, however, the Air Jordan 1 Mid has outperformed the High in parts of Europe — unthinkable in the United States of America.

Kanye West’s line of adidas YEEZYs still dominate release calendars, but generally don’t resell for as much as older releases do. Is this an early sign of Kanye’s fading influence, or is the “creative director of the world” as influential as ever?

Finally, sustainability has become more than just a buzzword among sneaker brands, as consumers are increasingly demanding authenticity and action from these multi-billion dollar companies. Early signs on the StockX resell market show that sustainability and hype can, in fact, coexist, and that sustainability can be a huge driver in consumer behavior.

Gone are the times when the Nike Air Jordan 1 Mid is clowned on for being the ugly stepbrother to the AJ1 High. As StockX’s recent snapshot has shown, Europeans are increasingly finding things to love about the Mid, so much so that it’s outperformed the High on several occasions. While the opposite is still true in the United States, the statistics paint an interesting picture, one that neatly sums up how sneaker culture has evolved differently in various countries.

According to StockX, Air Jordan 1 Mid sales made up 63 percent of all AJ1 sales (excluding Lows) this quarter in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the figure is almost reversed in the US, where they made up 41 percent of all sales.

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“Our report finds that buyers in France tend to import Jordan 1 Mids from the United States, while sellers in France tend to export the Dior Jordans. This behavior is a perfect example of how the global nature of sneaker resale benefits everyone,” explains StockX chief economist Jesse Einhorn, speaking on how globalization and, in certain cases, localized drops influence the secondary market.

In Italy, 25 of the 100 top-selling sneakers in Q3 were Nike Air Jordan 1 Mids. In France, the best-selling Mid was the Maison Château Rouge collaboration, which was bought at 21 times the global average. In both France and the United Kingdom, three of the top five best-selling sneakers were Jordan 1 Mids, speaking to the silhouette’s popularity in Europe — something that’s unfathomable to most US-based sneakerheads.

While general tastes from country to country are certainly an explanation for the data, StockX also shares that its non-US female users increased by 130 percent over the past 12 months. It stands to reason that the increase in female StockX users had a direct effect on the popularity of the Nike Air Jordan 1 Mid in Europe.

“In countries like Italy, demand for Jordan 1 Mids is being driven by female StockX buyers,” says Einhorn. “Half of the top-selling Jordan 1 Mids in Italy were women’s exclusives. This mirrors a larger trend we’re seeing across our non-US markets.”

Whether you put it down to taste, cultural differences, or the rapid growth of female users on platforms such as StockX, the data shows that as more people become interested in sneakers, the more varied each market will become.

Talk to any opinionated sneakerhead and they’ll tell you YEEZYs are over, and that Kanye West’s star is waning. While it’s true that the adidas YEEZY Boost 350 V2 doesn’t resell for anywhere near to what it used to, those same sneakerheads couldn’t be any more wrong. It might have taken him a few years, but Kanye has finally set up YEEZY the way that he always wanted to. Remember his famous “YEEZYs for all” speech? The 350 V2 was never supposed to stay highly limited. Kanye himself said he wanted that model to replace the Nike Roshe Run, and in the scope of YEEZY, it has.

Over the past few years, YEEZY has diversified its product, introducing several iterations of the 700, a high-top of the 500, and all-new silhouettes in the BSKTBL and 380. That diversification, as shown in the graph above, has led to different tiers within YEEZY. The graph below shows that the overall YEEZY price premium has sunk drastically since 2017, when it was around 300 percent over retail. But the same graph also shows that new silhouettes, such as the 700 and the slides, have increased dramatically in price premiums, as the average for both silhouettes sits above the overall YEEZY average. Several individual models, such as the YEEZY 700 v3 launch colorway, are reselling for several times retail.

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“One of the secrets to YEEZY’s continued relevance is its diversification,” explains Einhorn. “Back in 2017, the 350 accounted for 95 percent of Yeezy sales on StockX. Today, that number has fallen below 70 percent, thanks to the success of the Yeezy 380s, Slides, and the latest 700s.”

Love him or hate him, Kanye West has a knack for getting people to pay attention, designing products that start conversations. Kanye knows that scarcity is incredibly important for the YEEZY brand and its aura of cool, but he also knows that to make real, billionaire-status money, you need a mass-market cash cow like the YEEZY Boost 350 V2. So if you thought ’Ye and his YEEZYs were going anywhere, you’re sorely mistaken.

Sustainability in fashion, while a noble thought, is more largely an oxymoron. We’ve produced too much and so, to become truly sustainable, we need to use what we have, not create more. Still, buying product that is more environmentally-conscious is a cause more and more consumers are getting behind.

“We know that sneakers are a form of self-expression, not just for people’s fashion sense but also for their identity and personal values, including their commitment to sustainability,” says Einhorn. That point is an important one, as sneaker culture is built on sending messages with the clothes and shoes we wear. When you wear Air Jordans, you’re saying you fuck with Michael Jordan. Now, when you wear sustainable sneakers, that sends a similar message.

This is why it’s no surprise that even in the hype-driven sneaker world, sustainability has caught on and — contrary to popular belief — sustainability-focused products are actually outperforming certain non-sustainable products. To illustrate that, Highsnobiety and StockX created an index of sustainable sneakers comprising a hand-selected mix of general releases and more hyped releases. The price premium of the index was compared to that of Nike Air Jordan 1s, Nike Air Jordan 5s, and YEEZY Boost 350 V2s.

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Hyped sustainable sneakers had a price premium that was nearly double all three non-sustainable models, at an average of 125 percent over retail. The Nike Air Jordan 1 came closest, with a price premium of 73 percent over retail (this includes all Air Jordan 1s, including general release and collaborative pairs alike).

What that shows is that consumers are making their voices heard, not just at the retail level, but on the secondary market as well. It also shows that while hype and limited edition releases make sustainable sneakers even more sought after — a given, considering that’s what makes non-sustainable shoes rise in resell value — the sustainability factor alone is enough for consumers to take notice and perhaps choose that product over other, non-conscious options.

Brands have worked out that there needs to be a balance between hyped, environmentally-conscious products and general release, conscious products in order to keep consumers interested and shift (or cater to, in some cases) consumer behavior. We’ve seen this with New Balance giving its silhouette of the moment, the 327, a undyed, conscious makeover, or adidas Originals balancing a Clean Classics range with more limited Sean Wotherspoon or Noah collaborations.

Hype and sustainability can’t just coexist, they need to, in order to keep consumers interested in sustainable products.

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As the graphics above illustrate, the Nike SB Dunk Low still reigns supreme in all categories — however, a new king could be crowned soon. Nike has begun to release more Dunk Highs over the past few months, many of which have been very popular. While not enough to unseat the Dunk Low just yet, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see the High take over the throne towards the end of the year — certainly into 2021 — as Nike focuses more on the model.

In addition to a possible changing of the guard at Nike SB, this year’s holiday releases will be especially noteworthy due to Covid-19’s effect on consumption. With most brands’ biggest releases lined up for the holiday season, it will be interesting to see whether consumers continue to tighten their purse strings after almost an entire year of coronavirus-related hardship, or if spending returns to normal towards the end of the year. Either way, records will be broken during 2020’s holiday season.