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Inside the Sneaker Wars Between Nike and adidas

In in-depth look at adidas’s ongoing attempts to dethrone Nike.

This week is “Sneaker Week” at GQ.com and, to mark the occasion, the website has taken an in-depth look at the ongoing war between Nike and adidas. As GQ points out, Nike went virtually untested for decades as a “global sneaker juggernaut,” only to see adidas launch an all-out arms race in an attempt to level the playing field and, ultimately, dethrone the Swoosh entirely — a move that’s seen adidas poach a trio of Nike’s designers, not to mention Yeezus himself. While an excerpt appears below, Matthew Shaer’s piece can be read over at GQ.com in its entirety.

Everybody wants the Yeezys. It’s a frigid February night during New York Fashion Week, and Kanye West has just spent the afternoon at a runway event in SoHo unveiling his first fashion collection for Adidas—a collection anchored by the futuristic Yeezy Boost 750s, a.k.a. the Yeezys, a.k.a. suede high-top sneakers that look straight out of the Star Wars props department, complete with side zips and patented springy soles made from spaceship-grade foam. And now here comes Kanye, clambering onto a purpose-built stage at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, at an event that’s been billed as a concert but feels closer to a product launch. Ten thousand people have shown up tonight, many claiming their tickets with an Adidas app and the rest waiting untold hours in temperatures that barely top 15 degrees, the cold compounded by gut-punches of snowy wind barreling off the East River.

“We ain’t even gonna mention that other company no more, right?” Kanye asks the crowd. “We ain’t wearing that other company no more, right?”

That other company, of course, is Nike—not only the most popular sneaker manufacturer but the single most valuable apparel brand in the world. Nike has 57,000 employees and a market cap north of $86 billion. And in these halcyon days of sneaker culture—the once humble sneaker having become the focal point of personal style—Nike has a heritage that consumers respect and that its competitors can’t buy.

In fact, until relatively recently, if you happened to be a big-name rapper or marquee athlete, you didn’t really think twice about signing with Nike. Where else would you go? Kanye himself parked his Air Yeezy line at Nike for four years.

Then, in 2013, in a deal worth a reported $10 million, Kanye abruptly announced he was leaving Nike and going to Adidas, the German rival that keeps its North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, just up the road from Nike HQ in suburban Beaverton. Nike was shackling his creative freedom, he said. Not paying him enough. Not respecting him as a designer. “They weren’t giving me the opportunity to grow,” he alleged. “They were working off an old business model.”

Author: T.S. Fox