At one point in recent history, Kanye West was one of the wealthiest Black individuals ever in the United States. With his music, keen sense of fashion, immense popularity, and ability to influence others and foster deals, his net worth soared to over $6 billion.
While his fame and fortune were launched by his rapping and music production, it was his passion for design that ultimately brought him substantial wealth. The birth of his immensely successful Yeezy brand marked a pivotal moment in West’s journey to becoming a prosperous designer. Creating distinct lines for both Adidas and Gap, his fans flocked to stores to purchase his trendy sneakers, sweatshirts, and more.
However, before this flourishing venture, West had started out designing exclusive sneakers for prominent luxury brands.
Early Fashion Days, Creating Capsule Collections
In 2007, West got his first taste of the design world when he played a role in creating the limited-edition capsule “Bapesta Kanye West College Dropout.” This collection featured a special “Bathing Ape Bape Sta Low Kanye West College Drop Out” sneaker inspired by his 2004 hit album. While the original price was $150, these sneakers now command prices as high as $13,086 on platforms like StockX.
Unfortunately, the BAPE deal didn’t grant him the full rewards he thought he deserved for his creations. Seeking to establish himself as a respected designer, West collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2009 to create the “Kanye West x Louis Vuitton Jasper Patchwork” collection.
But It was when he joined forces with sneaker trailblazer and industry veteran Steven Smith that the iconic Yeezy sneaker, as fans know it today, was born.
In the same year as the LV collaboration, West worked with Nike to create the Air Yeezy.
Adidas Changes the Game
However, after four years with Nike, he decided to part ways. In pursuit of what appeared to be greater financial gain and recognition as a designer, West struck a monumental deal in 2013 with Adidas, structured similarly to entertainment industry contracts.
According to an interview with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez, Ye said he inked the deal because he wanted more creatively and financially.
“I said, ‘Well, I need royalties.’ It’s not even like I have a joint venture. At least give me some royalties. Michael Jordan has 5 percent, and that business is $2 billion. He makes a $100 million dollars a year off of 5 percent royalties,” West said to the radio host. “Nike told me, ‘We can’t give you royalties because you’re not a professional athlete.’ I told them, ‘I go to the Garden and play one-on-no one. I’m a performance athlete.'”
Forbes estimated this deal to be worth an astonishing $1.5 billion, making Yeezy one of the most significant brands under Adidas’ umbrella. The brand’s value reached an impressive $3 billion, and Yeezy’s sales exceeded $1.3 billion in 2019.
The Gap Deal
Following the Adidas deal, West announced an even more lucrative and innovative partnership with Gap in 2020. The ten-year deal, with an option to renew after five years, was projected to bring Gap annual sales of $1 billion. Reports suggested the deal’s worth ranged from $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion.
Collabing with Kim Kardianian on Skims
Ye was originally the brand’s “ghost creative director” when it was formed in 2019, basing a lot of its design on the Yeezy brand and creating the undergarment company’s logo. In 2022, Skims shapewear company raised $240 million primarily from hedge funds and investment firms, which increased its valuation to $3.2 billion. Currently, having raised $270 million in a recent funding round, the company is now valued at $4 billion.
According to Business Insider, as of February 2023, Ye still owned a 5 percent stake in Skims.
Nearly Losing It All
Unhappy with his Gap deal, West ended his collab in September 2022. Then West’s journey took a tumultuous turn due to a series of inflammatory comments targeting companies, racial and religious groups. Adidas terminated its mega-partnership with Ye in November 2022, as did other companies.
Ye’s net worth plummeted from billions to $500 million, and he was hit with a series of lawsuits over unpaid bills.
In May, Adidas decided to sell its remaining Yeezy inventory, generating a staggering $565 million in online orders within just 48 hours. West received an undisclosed royalty from the sale, and a portion was donated to five organizations, including those representing protected communities affected by his earlier bigoted comments.
As he prepares for his next incarnation, West’s wealth has not been fully restored. But, judging for Ye’s business history, one never knows what to expect.