Karl Smith is a London-based writer and editor. He was formerly UK editor of Hypebeast, an online destination for men’s contemporary fashion and streetwear.
Since early this morning (and, possibly, earlier than that), shoppers from Melbourne to London have been outside queuing, not for concert tickets or to see a celebrity, but for the chance to pick up a pair of sneakers.
Or, to be precise, the new Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in “Black Static,” designed by cultural omnivore Kanye West in collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas.
For those outside of sneaker culture — itself an enormous consumer base that bridges streetwear and high fashion trends — it can be difficult to understand how a sneaker could attract such crowds. It’s not like West himself was scheduled to appear, after all.
In a sense, though, physically present or not, for fervid Yeezy fans this is a chance to feel what it’s like to be in presence of greatness — or, at least taste the lifestyle that comes with it.
It’s not so much about West himself, or the aesthetic appeal of a new Yeezy Boost (there’s much debate to be had there), but the prize of exclusivity. The reason Yeezy sneakers sell out so quickly and with such fervor is because their numbers are limited. They are coveted because of their rarity.
Supreme isn’t fronted by a global megastar (although global megastars frequently wear Supreme), and has instead built its brand on the basis of extremely limited weekly drops, creating huge queues at their stores.
The Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in “Black Static.” Credit: Courtesy Adidas
London’s Palace Skateboards, a brand that first gained popularity among the skateboarders at the Southbank Undercroft and is now worn by the likes of Jonah Hill, uses the same approach. Limited product is trialed before release, then dropped at regular intervals exclusively through their web store and brick-and-mortar locations.
Kanye West, with wife Kim Kardashian, wearing a pair of Yeezy sneakers in 2016. Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images North America
But it’s not just about getting people to queue. There’s the art of getting people excited about the experience. Like Supreme’s loyal consumers, today’s Yeezy buyers weren’t put out to be standing outside on a rainy London morning. In fact, I’d bet there were probably fewer sighs, groans and eye rolls in these queues than any other in Britain.
And it all tracks back to that culture of exclusivity. The level of anticipation isn’t just about buying the shoes, but also about being one of the few people who gets to buy these shoes first. There’s the thrill of ownership where others are forced to concede defeat; the aggregation of clout through consumerism.
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On top of that, streetwear sites like Hypebeast (where I formerly served as UK editor) and Highsnobiety, whose monthly user base is in the tens of millions often send professional photographers to shoot the scene.
In this sense, it’s not just about securing the prize. It’s about the act of being there and, perhaps more importantly, being seen to be there and letting your peers now that you got what they couldn’t.
Whether they’re ever worn or not, whether they’re immediately resold to the highest bidder for a huge profit, you were there because you were part of something important, an event within the culture, and that’s the prize no one can sell on.
This story has been updated with the correct photo of the Yeezy Boost sneaker.