The Democratisation of Hype

Yeezys for everyone!

The Democratisation of Hype

Words: Dane Maharaj | Illustration: Lapin Blanc

Kanye West says and does a lot. Most of the time it's difficult for us to understand whether he's being sincere, looking for a reaction, or doing it simply because he thinks he can. When he left Nike for Adidas in 2013 it was a big deal, as the Air Yeezy was Nike's first ever non-athlete collaboration, and a shoe that helped pave the way for this collaboration based, limited release, hype driven world we live in today. Yandhi gave us a few reasons for leaving Nike, but one of the more interesting ones was that he wanted "Yeezys for everyone".

In a world where people genuinely think that exclusivity is a basis for good taste, many believed that there was no sincerity behind this sentiment.

With sneakers (but really with things in general), exclusivity is a major factor behind value and desirability. Supply and demand is literally a law of economics. So why would Adidas want to mass release the Yeezy and risk a decrease in demand for its product? If they did that, how was Adidas' shoe going to topple the OG Nike Air Yeezy 1 and Air Yeezy 2 on StockX's highest bid chart?

In 2018, when Yeezy drop numbers are larger than ever and pairs are sitting in the backrooms of malls (you can still get a pair, just ask politely at the counter), we can see that the Three Stripes is definitely making good on its deal.

The decision by Adidas to mass release one of its most hyped products was probably driven by profit, like all things in big business. But it could also be something else – an exercise in democratising hype.

This move away from limited supply can be viewed as an indication of a changing ideology in the world of sneakers and hype. Where companies (often relying on well-established cult brands) are attempting to change the notion that something can only be in "good taste" or "cool" because it is exclusive or rare.

But why should cool sneakers and apparel be the sole domain of those with enough luck, bots or backdoor connections? Should the Air Yeezy 2 be hyped because of its limited numbers or because its average resale price is in the region of $4000? Or should it be hyped because of the details that make the shoe great? (The midfoot strap... the spikes... the bubble... ohmigod, the little depiction of Horus on the tongue!)

Attempts by sneaker and clothing companies to make cool things more accessible is not new. Diffusion lines are common. However, Adidas' Yeezy is not a secondary line. These sneakers are a flagship product and are essentially mass releasing at the same price point as more sought-after sneakers (often higher). But while they may now be widely available, they still retail for between R3500 and R5000. This still makes their economic accessibility an issue.

On the other hand, high-street brands are all about the economic accessibility of the latest trends, attempting to make luxury and sought-after products more accessible. In 2004, H&M appointed the former CEO of Gucci to their board and, in the years that followed, we have seen relatively affordable (but still quite limited) collaborations from H&M with luxury heavy-hitters like Balmain, Karl Lagerfeld and Kenzo. These collaborations created economic accessibility, but they still weren't that easy to get.

Supreme, a poster child for cool, is likely to become a very good exercise in democratising hype. The skate brand recently made moves that would indicate that they will release products in larger volumes and open more locations.

In 2017, the same year Supreme collaborated with luxury stalwarts Louis Vuitton (a huge step towards a type of cultural accessibility), multinational private equity firm The Carlyle Group acquired 50% of Supreme for a staggering $500 million. This means that Supreme was essentially valued at $1 Billion. At the time of the acquisition, Supreme's valuation was more than that of Abercrombie and Finch (a 126-year-old company operating with around 330 retail outlets).

The Carlyle Group, like many private equity firms, does not typically hold onto its consumer serving companies forever. Business of Fashion reported that the they will, in all likelihood, rapidly increase the value of Supreme and sell it within three to five years, like they have done in the past (see their acquisition and subsequent disposal of a minority stake in Beats Electronics LLC, for example).

What this may mean for Supreme, is that they will have to become more accessible in order to grow at a sufficient rate to meet the demands of their new shareholders.

The democratisation of Supreme has already begun with the brand opening a Brooklyn store in October 2017, around the same time that the Carlyle Group deal was announced, and a San Francisco store opening soon. Supreme's Nike collaborations have also become more accessible with bigger drops on wider reaching online platforms like Nike.co.za.

Has this made Supreme any less "cool"? Regardless of how many people copped the widely released 2016 Nike SB x Supreme Blazer Low, it's still a great sneaker. It still has all the details of solid collaboration with its high-quality suede upper, subtle gold box logo on the side of the heel and "FTW" lettering on the back (a long standing Supreme acronym). The cultural status of a brand like Supreme (and even Yeezy), coupled with a well-designed product, should not, in principle, make a sneaker any less cool.

The reality is though, that for better or for worse, increased accessibility of cool sneakers and other apparel will only continue if it is commercially feasible. Supply and demand again. The kicks still need to be cool enough for people to want to buy them. Hopefully, as brands release more widely available, well thought out and well-made sneakers, exclusivity will stop defining cool and more people will want sneakers because of their inherent characteristics, not because of rarity or resale value.

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