Rafael Joseph faces an expensive dilemma. He normally wouldn’t think twice before lacing up one of his eight pairs of Yeezy sneakers — the much-hyped partnership between Adidas and Kanye West, also known as Ye.
But after the rapper’s recent antisemitic rants on social media and a podcast, Joseph — who is Jewish — is contemplating whether to give his expensive collection the boot.
“I love wearing them, you know? And I found myself in a position where my entire collection has been ruined by [his] statements,” said Joseph.
He’s one of millions of sneaker collectors and music fans now weighing whether they can separate West’s controversial views and actions from his creations.
In a TikTok video explaining his mixed feelings, Joseph urged the rapper to apologize — saying it was the only way he could wear his Yeezy collection again.
“I’m not telling all Jews to not wear Yeezys anymore. This is a personal thing,” Joseph told CBC News from his home in London, England.
“I have a personal problem with putting on branded clothing where I’m promoting someone who genuinely is causing trouble for my people.”
But where Joseph has a problem, plenty of others see opportunity in West’s fall from grace.
Adidas split fuels Yeezy hype
After Adidas cut ties with West on Tuesday, ending production and ordering authorized retailers like Foot Locker to remove Yeezy products from stores, the resale market kicked into hyperdrive.
Most Adidas Yeezys sold for an original retail price of $200 to $300 US, but could go for hundreds more at resale.
This week, resale prices jumped as sneakerheads rushed to snap up the sought-after shoes, made more exclusive than ever by Adidas’ discontinuation of the brand.
Since Monday, Yeezy sneakers and sandals have made up seven of the 10 best-selling shoes on resale giant StockX.
“As long as there is a demand for it, and people are still coming up to us and willing to pay three or four times the price, then it doesn’t make sense for us to not sell it, right?” asked Richard Chang, co-owner of online reseller Sneaker Source Toronto, which has about 100 pairs of Yeezys in stock.
Unlike big retailers, Chang and his business partner, Shawn Alonto, can’t afford not to sell their remaining supply — despite their own unease about West’s recent antics.
“To say stop selling, I can’t promise you that,” Alonto said. “But just wearing the product right now, yeah, it’s too fresh to be stunting in some Yeezys.”
In any case, many of the pairs still floating around on the resale market will likely never hit the pavement: with price tags stretching from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars a pair, they’re considered collector’s items, expected to rise in value in years to come.
“A lot of people who had a bunch in their closet that they were probably going to wear one day, who were possibly going to sell it, now will probably just keep onto it forever,” says Andrei Zelenine, co-owner of Toronto sneaker store Kenshi, which saw its own rush of Yeezy hunters this week.
“Most of the people buying them, they don’t seem like they care about what’s going on [with West]. They just like them because they’re good shoes … It’s just a sneaker, at the end of the day. The shoe doesn’t have its own voice.”
The scramble to Ye-proof playlists
Even companies with no links to West’s business enterprises were rushing to distance themselves from the rapper — including stores, restaurants and gyms that are now scrubbing his music from their playlists.
A “large retailer” in Canada was among hundreds of companies to remove West’s tunes from their rotation in the past week, alongside major restaurant and hotel groups in Australia and the U.S., says Ola Sars, CEO of Soundtrack Your Brand, which provides music to about 22,000 businesses worldwide. Sars declined to name the companies involved.
Big brands were especially concerned about customer perception, which will likely lead more to pull the plug on West’s music, said Melanie Fulker, chief customer officer of Startle Music, a competitor to Sars’ company.
“It only takes, in an extreme case, one customer to hear the song and be upset by it and that’s a lasting association that they’ll have with that brand,” Fulker said.
“In a lot of cases, businesses want to be speaking up about issues, but also [to] err on the side of caution and just make sure that they are protecting themselves.”
Fitness giants Peloton and Equinox are among the brands to confirm they will no longer use West’s music in their classes. Large Canadian gym chains, including GoodLife Fitness and Fitness World, declined to comment.
It only takes, in an extreme case, one customer to hear the song and be upset by it and that’s a lasting association that they’ll have with that brand.– Melanie Fulker, Startle Music, on big brands pulling West’s music from playlists
Winnipeg spin cycle instructor Hannah Pratt decided on Monday that she would no longer play West’s songs during her classes at Wheelhouse Cycle Club, which include a hip-hop-themed ride on Sunday mornings.
“My role as an indoor cycling instructor [involves] making playlists that attempt to bring positivity, joy, connectivity, motivation, inspiration to people who walk in through those doors,” said Pratt, who is also the studio’s director of marketing.
“By playing Kanye West, I was going to be not doing those things — especially if there were people within the Jewish community who are on my rides.”
While Adidas hasn’t said what it plans to do with its stockpile of unsold Yeezys, industry insiders and sneaker fans are hopeful the sportswear giant will keep making the same iconic designs — without reference to West.
While Joseph awaits for an apology that may never come, he’s torn about what to do with his eight pairs of Yeezy kicks: Keep them in his closet? Sell them to one of the many collectors looking to buy? Or perhaps donate them to a good cause.
“They were expensive shoes,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, I don’t really wanna take a loss on them.”