words by Nick DePaula // photography by Zac Dubasik
Originally posted September 18, 2009 // [As published in Sole Collector's Issue 29, available HERE]
When it was all said and done, the Nike Air Yeezy likely took longer than everyone involved with the project expected - over a full two years - but its impact on the sneaker scene of 2009 is certainly undeniable. Supple leathers, loud liners and that intensely vibrant glow sole left people content with paying $215 at the door (at the few retailers that didn't mark them up, at least), and on the online secondary market, prices peaked much, much more.
What began as a simple design challenge for Mark Smith with a phone call from a longtime cross-campus friend had turned out to be that year's most monumental sneaker release. Campouts globally ensued, with tents and chairs lined up for days at a time, and during the first three Saturdays of the young summer season, the footwear landscape couldn't get enough of Kanye and his Air Yeezy.
For the team within the Innovation Kitchen, they tried to treat West like every other creative attached to a project, and according to Smith, the approach yielded the results they were looking for. For Tiffany Beers, it was one more project amongst countless others that they tried to balance.
"I am not sure what folks expected, but just because this project was with Kanye didn't mean we didn't have a ton of other projects to get done," begins Beers. "We would have 'working' meetings with him, where we sat at Mark's desk and not just discussed the shoe, but worked on it - cutting it, changing things, and making decisions. If we had a fire to put out on another project, we did it. Tink was sitting at the next desk working on other projects, and Kanye got to see it all. It's all part of the process in the IK. We didn't do the formal meetings or presentations; we didn't have time. We just cranked things out, interruptions and all. As few folks do, Kanye got to see firsthand a couple days in the life of the Innovation Kitchen. It's busy; it's scattered; it's crazy, and it's a ton of fun, while still making a bunch of cool stuff."
As they saw it, the luxury of working within the Innovation Kitchen and outside of the day-to-day business timelines and restrictions of the normal in-line categories allowed the project to truly evolve along the way. "Because we worked directly with Kanye and our sample room, we had more flexibility in how quickly we could build samples and make changes," says Beers. "If Kanye or Mark wanted some changes, we could turn a sample in a day if we had to."
With the Air Yeezy harvesting as much attention as was humanly possible throughout its entire lifespan, the sneaker's lasting touch will likely be the quality materials that it was constructed with, the added charitable element and also the fact that at the end of the day, the team was proud of the great product that was created. "We prototyped a lot of different shoes for this program," says Beers. "And each one could have stood on its own. Looking back on how much work it was, it turned into a really great shoe."