If you were burning the candle at both ends the morning of Black Friday–perhaps while tending to a 3-month-old–you’d have noticed something interesting: The Yeezy might not be the only shoe jumping over the Jumpman.
At around 3 a.m. on the East Coast, the iconic Air Jordan VIII Aquas popped up on a couple of European sites, while adidas randomly dropped Pusha T’s new sneaker, the fishscale-adorned EQT Black Market. And when the dust cleared, it was not M.J. but King Push that seemed to hold the Black Friday crown, lighting up Twitter and selling out instantly.
This is not to take anything away from the Aqua VIII, which is a great shoe that belongs in everyone’s collection. And there’s no doubt that demand for the Pusha T’s was driven by the fact that it was far more limited than its double-strapped brethren.
Still, it shows that adidas’ focus on celebrity endorsements and lifestyle models–which begins with Kanye West but doesn’t end there–has had an effect that goes beyond the sales of any particular sneaker. In recent months, there has been a buzz growing around the company that has been noticed by consumers and pitchmen alike.
“Working with adidas has been really good,” Pusha recently told Mass Appeal. “Simply because adidas is very hip and very into the culture. And they’ve prided themselves on keeping any and everything that I do with the brand, synonymous with my brand. It’s just been uncompromising.”
High-profile partnerships are hardly a new thing for adidas. If you find yourself in Paris, venture to the second floor of the brand’s expansive store on the Champs-Élysées, and witness a wide assortment of cutting-edge collaborations, featuring Rick Owens, Raf Simons, and a large panoply devoted to Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 line.
Though their roster of hip-hop tastemakers obviously isn’t as active in the design studio, a more hands-on level of creative input has proven to be a significant lure. West famously joined the Three Stripes and they bestowed him with multiple coveted sneakers and his own clothing line. Pharrell Williams described to Complex a modicum of freedom not generally given to musicians except in the studio, and Big Sean echoed that sentiment.
Likewise, new signee James Harden seems a better fit as a basketball centerpiece than Derrick Rose and John Wall, thanks to his unique stylings and celebrity status. (He is, after all, the second member of the roster to date a Kardashian sister.) And though he signed for an eye-popping $200 million, he insists he followed West to adidas for more than just the money.
“Just everything, however I want it, I have a say-so,” Harden told ESPN. “I have a voice that can and will be heard. I have a pretty strong voice, whether it’s designing my shoe, designing my clothing, just everything, everything that the brand has to offer. I’ll definitely voice my opinion.”
The most significant voice does of course belong to Kanye, whose vision for fashion and footwear has rippled across the entire brand. It’s well established that like Pusha’s sneakers, Yeezys are way too limited to affect adidas’ bottom line on their own. But the theory is that when he wears an Ultra Boost or ZX Flux–which drops in its latest XENO iteration this weekend at Champs Sports–it serves to make that sneaker and the brand in general more desirable.
“There’s a halo that comes off [the Yeezy 750], and you hope it casts light on everything else you do,” adidas global design director Paul Gaudio recently told GQ. “It’s a statement piece, right? You pull some of what’s so interesting about it into the broader offerings.”
Encouragingly, it seems as if their strategy is beginning to pay dividends as adidas has built much-needed momentum in North America, where sales increased 6.5 percent this year. Overall profits are up 10 percent, and the company plans to further enhance its marketing efforts while increasing sales targets for 2016.
According to sneaker journalist and “The Week in Sneaks” host Jacques Slade, while the needle is moving in the right direction, adidas has to build on their bread and butter lifestyle business to prolong its current momentum.
“I think the next frontier is womens and kids,” Slade said. “If adidas can find a way to appeal to those two audiences, they will change the way people look at them. From athletic wear to lifestyle sneakers, those two audiences aren’t getting the attention they deserve, and will provide a windfall if adidas can get it right.”
Make no mistake, it would be virtually impossible to catch Nike, which holds a nearly insurmountable lead in market share and revenue. But adidas has made necessary inroads: signing three top designers from the Swoosh, opening up a Brooklyn design studio, riding the Kanye wave, pushing Boost to the forefront, signing Harden to give its basketball division a jolt.
As such, adidas has taken a situation that seemed dire a year ago and given it an infusion of energy and promise. It’s where they’ll be a year from now that will determine whether this recent surge was a blip on the radar or the start of something truly big.
illustration via Timothy McAuliffe