Choose your Yeezys — $12 knockoffs or $5,000 resales?
Kanye West has had some success selling sneakers. The “pirate black” colourway of his Yeezy Boost 350s were available for barely an hour on the adidas website before the brand tweeted “#YEEZYBOOST 350 is now sold out online in the U.S.” People tweeted back “My wife left me”, “I'm killing myself”, and “You mean I skipped hebrew class for this?”
Nine months after the first Yeezys were released, unmet demand continues to feed an entire ecosystem of resales, replicas and knockoffs.
Having retailed for $200USD, the shoes, which are made from a synthetic knit, a rubber sole and a patch of suede, now regularly sell for $1,000. The original “turtledove” style, pictured top, is on Amazon for over $5,000. That's not how much they cost me though. I bought them on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao for 228RMB ($35USD).
The Reddit replica community
The exorbitant prices for real Yeezys puts them out of reach of most fans. Stepping in to bridge the gap, Reddit forums such as r/repsneakers have unspooled long threads about where to get the best replicas, introducing non-Chinese speakers to Taobao and factories in Putian, Fujian Province, the heart of China’s fake sneaker industry. Chinese manufacturers with names like “David” and “Eva” are revered for their ability to deliver top quality fakes, selling them for comparable prices to the retail prices of the authentic items. Martha, a sales rep at David’s factory, told me their Yeezy Boost 350 was shipping for $179USD, though the unit price would drop to $108 for an order of 1,000 pairs.
- “You mean I skipped hebrew class for this?”
Disappointed would-be Yeezy 350 Boost buyer @mxkid912
Sneakerheads on Reddit carry out ongoing conversations with these manufacturers, telling them where improvements are needed. R/repsneakers was buzzing with anticipation in the lead-up to April 1, when David began shipping his seventh generation of fake Yeezy Boost 350s. R/repsneakers moderator Kevin, who goes by yung-nivek on the site, has received 103 up-votes and 1,307 comments on his post “YEEZY 350/750/950 QC MEGATHREAD: 7th BATCH TURKEY BACON EDITION”. The 18 year old, who lives in Florida, explains that hip-hop producer DJ Khaled used to make turkey bacon for breakfast every day and post it to Snapchat. “The joke is that all quality control pics look the same” now that the fakes are indistinguishable from the real thing.
Different levels of fakes
For sneakerheads in China, it’s easy to access a wide variety of fakes at different prices. Andrew Chen, founder of bespoke fashion studio andremacht, says he started following trends in sneakers when it became popular to wear them with suits. A friend of his who works as a 代购 (purchasing agent) helped him get a pair of the real 350 Boosts at the retail price, but he also owns a pair of fake 750s he bought on Taobao. With the fake shoes, he says, “When people ask me are they Yeezys, I say, yeah, I got them for 400RMB on Taobao and you can do the same.”
“The really, really well-made fakes come with a box that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing, usually with a store printed receipt as well as a signed credit card receipt,” he says. “But there are many different levels of fakes. My friend and I bought multiple pairs and one of them was just 78RMB. They were from a Tmall store [Taobao’s vetted brand-to-consumer sister store] without any marketing or branding on them. When you look carefully at the design, the weave goes in a different direction, part of how they avoid infringing on adidas’s copyright.”
Unbranded knockoffs can likewise be found on Amazon.com.
Despite the ready availability of fakes, China also has its own resale market for limited edition sneakers. Hustlers known as 黄牛 (literally ‘yellow cattle’) obtain multiple pairs of the shoes, often reselling them through informal networks. Shanghai resident Rick Lu has been collecting sneakers for over 20 years, inspired by a love of basketball and “King Jordan”. He says he owns 8-900 pairs, most of them Nike basketball shoes. These days, he pays people to queue up to purchase shoes for him.
These aren’t country bumpkins bused in and paid 20RMB ($3USD) per day, a common practice during iPhone launches. “I need people with valid ID and credit cards, particularly when there’s a lottery,” he says. “I can pay them around 300-500RMB ($46-77USD), depending on the shoes and the hassle for getting them.” He sells the shoes on for over 10,000RMB ($1,550USD).
We asked adidas about the number of Yeezy Boost 350s they made available in China and how the replica market impacts their sales and marketing strategies, but they said they were unable to disclose the information.
- “I can get pretty much any hyped release I want for retail price... but it's hard for me to walk on money like that.”
R/repsneakers moderator yung-nivek
Undersupplied and overhyped
On March 9, Kanye West tweeted that “@Adidas is making a million Yeezys this year, opening up new factories”, but there's good reason to be sceptical about an increase in supply to satisfy fans. In an interview with Engadget last year, Adidas Originals' director of brand communications said, “That's not something strategically that you [do,] just turn the faucet on right away. We have a plan. We're going to build that business in a very smart way over time.”
“Nike and adidas don't really care about the resale price of their shoes,” Kevin says. “They just care about hype and how they can use it to make people buy other shoes. For example, adidas has the Tubular colorways that are reminiscent of the Moonrock and Tan Yeezy 350s. These shoes are available as general releases and hardly resell for anything. It's clear that adidas uses their limited quantity shoes to create hype for their general release shoes, which in the end makes them more money.”
The real thing
Chen says owning the genuine version of a limited release sneaker does mean something. Even if no one else can tell, “you know when you’ve got the real ones. You’re a true fan. You’re really part of this culture. And because it’s so difficult in China to get these sneakers, you must be such and such a person. It shows you’re well connected.” And yet, he says, “a Taobao pair is completely fine from a fashion standpoint. You can wear Zara and ‘cheap’ clothing but still have your own style and look good. It’s just about your state of mind.”
Kevin says owning fakes “was never really something for me to take pride in. I was just happy I was able to have the hottest shoes and still be able to eat as a broke 16 year old.” These days, he says, “I can get pretty much any hyped release I want for retail price simply by being good with computers and knowing the right people, but it's hard for me to walk on money like that.”
“Knowing what I know now about the replica and fashion industries, part of the whole ‘status’ thing doesn't sit well with me. But it's always gonna be a part of the fashion game as long as people are willing to pay for expensive items — and I am one of those people.”
- Article by Sam Gaskin and Frankie Huang