On the eve of its retail return, Boardroom breaks down the design, branding, and business elements that made Ye’s original low-top launch with the Three Stripes an industry-shifting event.
This week, all bad blood between Ye and adidas is in the rearview.
With Yeezy Day 2022 upon us, the world celebrates Kanye West‘s catalog with the Three Stripes. While an array of Yeezy Boost styles and Foam Runner renditions are set to release and restock, no launch compares to that of the return of the “Turtle Dove” adidas Yeezy Boost 350.
Originally released on June 27, 2015, the $200 slip-on now sells for around $1,000 on StockX despite added allocation coming with word of its return.
The “Turtle Dove” 350 has endured the test of time while appealing to different demographics and crossing over to various categories. From Kanye’s creation to Kardashian’s co-sign, the “Turtle Dove” 350 became the ‘it’ shoe for fans of fashion, rap, and reality TV. Full-family sizing made them a status symbol for influencers of all ages.
Despite carving out a lane in the market and even appearing in a cleated form on NFL fields, the original “Turtle Dove” drop was a one-off release at retail. As that changes, Boardroom recalls the loaded history of the casual kicks.
Taking a Chance
Kanye West has a billion-dollar brand under the adidas umbrella, but a decade ago, things were much different for the finances surrounding his footwear.
Over the course of 2013, West ridiculed the company on stage and on social media, calling out high-profile execs for cramping his creativity and squeezing him out of royalties. By that November, West made the shocking switch from Nike to adidas, signing with Jon Wexler and changing the industry.
Almost immediately, Kanye and his camp began creating kicks meant to leverage the brand’s buzzing Boost technology. While the energy-return foam was revered by runners, it was only beginning to gain traction in other categories, including basketball and lifestyle.
With West leading the charge and bringing his friends, things picked up.
“There are no words to describe the creative lightning in a bottle that existed from November 2013 to February 2015,” former Yeezy GM Jon Wexler told Boardroom in May. “I’ve tried to find the words in the past, but it was just the greatest exposure I’ve ever had to creativity and the process itself. How things twist, turn, and ultimately result in the most powerful outcomes possible.”
Famously, West was furious with Nike for its limitations on his project range and lack of desire to amplify his allocations. The brand didn’t believe in bolstering artists as it did athletes, residing on the rationale that the Swoosh was rooted solely in sports and incredibly successful because of it.
Ironically, Nike was killing it over the course of Kanye’s exit rants thanks to Roshe Run, a lifestyle model made with athletic ingredients but not intended for any sort of sport. Drafted by designer Dylan Raasch, the minimal model proved massive on the market, famously inspired by Zen and licensed to chill. In essence, the Roshe Run was as casual as it got, canvassing all customers thanks to its cozy comfort and accessible $70 price point.
The Swoosh sought to sell more models off Kanye clout in 2012 by releasing the Roshe Run and other styles in limited edition colors likened to that of West’s Air Yeezy 2. Not only would this water down the impact of the Nike Air Yeezy mystique, but the shoes ‘inspired’ by West would not earn him any royalties.
One could say Ye took that personally.
Having switched sides, West and his new team at adidas began designing a shoe they dubbed “The Roshe Killer.”
In the latter months of 2014 all the way through 2015, Kanye collaborated closely with adidas Originals designer Nic Galway of Y3 fame. Learning from the last time he went from exiled to exalted, West called in fashion favorites from all corners to carry out the mission of Yeezy Season 1 through cloth and kicks.
Both on the scene and behind the scenes, everyone had their hands full making sure the unveiling of the adidas Yeezy line would be a game-changer.
“Everyone was doing their part [on Yeezy] in addition to their actual full-time job,” Wexler said. “There were so many people trying to deliver on the level of the expectation and promise that a partnership of working with Ye could deliver. There was a whole dynamic of really pushing the boundaries forward.”
Unlike his latter days at the Swoosh, brand brass at adidas like Rachel Muscat, Paul Mittleman, Dirk Schoenberger, and countless others worked with West and Wex to carry out the business and marketing end of the Yeezy adidas partnership.
By February 2015, after almost a year-and-a-half of design and development, Kanye and adidas’ revenge-fueled “Roshe Killer” was finally ready for the world to see.
The Battle of the Brands
On Valentine’s Day 2015 there was no lost love between Nike and Kanye West.
Sharing space in the Big Apple, both brands and artists attempted to bite off more than they could chew with NBA All-Star Weekend and New York Fashion Week taking place at the same time in the same city. Despite below-freezing temperatures, the heat was on for all involved.
The festivities started on Feb. 12, 2015, with West’s highly anticipated Yeezy Season 1 presentation.
Unveiling a line of derelict basics in front of Anna Wintour, Jay Z, Beyonce, and Rihanna, a who’s-who audience watched West step into an industrial room clad in distressed sweats and brand new shoes.
Of all the silos unveiled, it was the “Roshe Killer” — formally known as the adidas Yeezy Boost 350 — that stole the show.
Worn by models in “Turtle Dove” and “Pirate Black” schemes, the low-top look took the same artistic approach West often used in music.
Essentially, Kanye and his team reworked the proven framework of the Nike Roshe Run, reshaping it for fashion and updating it with adidas Boost comfort.
Lastly, the wooly textures of Primeknit nuanced the unbranded upper in a manner that made Nike’s breadwinner appear tacky.
Though the 350 was unanimously considered best in show among an online audience, it would be the adidas Yeezy Boost 750 that was released that weekend on Feb. 14, 2015 — the Saturday morning before the NBA’s All-Star Game — at adidas’ flagship SoHo Store.
Around the city, the athletic-anchored Nike held activations at multiple locations, leaning on LeBron James models and flashy Foamposites to compete with the buzz built by Kanye and adidas.
In fact, it’s even rumored that the brand considered releasing pairs of the Back to the Future Nike Air Mag just to take eyeballs off Kanye craze.
For the first time in history, adidas won NBA All-Star Weekend, and West took home MVP honors.
Despite all the heat around adidas and the Yeezy Boost 350, fans had to wait for warmer months to finally land the lauded “Turtle Dove” drop.
One & Done
Even internally, few executives at adidas expected Yeezy to be that big of a deal.
“I think people look at that business today and think that was what it was intended to be,” Wexler said. “I think that’s what Kanye intended it to be. I think I intended it to be that. But I’m not sure that was the plan upfront.”
Leading up to the launch of Yeezy Season 1, adidas had clout in the collaborative world of designer fashion. Famously, the Three Stripes brought on the likes of Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons, Stella McCartney, and Rick Owens to create collections tied to a season or subject.
“Those businesses were typically thought of as three to four SKUs, small product collaborations,” Wex said. “Move in, move out, and transactionally roll through whoever the shiniest person or brand is.”
With Yeezy, it was different, even though most higher-ups didn’t know that was the plan.
In the months leading up to the June 27, 2015 launch of the “Turtle Dove” adidas Yeezy Boost 350, Kanye wore pairs on stage and on red carpets. With his then-wife Kim Kardashian pregnant, paparazzi poured over the power couple and their famous family, snapping shots of the spouses, sisters, and assistants in the unreleased shoes.
When the “Turtle Dove” debuted at retail, it started at $200 in adult sizes, scaling down to full-family fits and selling out in all allocations. Because of the Kanye-Kardashian empire, the shoes appealed to an array of audiences that far outpaced Ye’s limited launches with Nike.
From a buying perspective, retail accounts and an up-and-coming category of consignment shops oriented towards streetwear did everything they could just to have “Turtle Dove” 350s in stock.
“When they first came out we had just moved to California,” Round Two owner Sean Wotherspoon recalled to Boardroom in April 2022. “I waited in line at Barney’s for them.”
From there, Wotherspoon went on to bury a pair of “Turtle Doves” five feet deep in the sandy banks of Santa Monica, using it as a viral video promotion for his new store, Round Two. Upon planting a flag in the sand and uploading the clip to YouTube, the fever for the new Yeezys proved to be very real.
“Within 30 minutes, this dude comes rushing down the beach, dragging his bike through the sand to find the shoes,” he recalled. “He sees the flag, starts digging with his hand, and pulls out the Turtle Doves. He was so hyped.”
While a shoe spanning an audience range from high-end department stores to vintage clothing shops seems normal in 2022, it was unorthodox in 2015. Effectively, Kanye closed the gap between various forms of fashion with the Yeezy Boost 350. For those that couldn’t afford the limited launch that soon went for well over the asking price, fake pairs were plentiful, turning cart-crowded Costcos into an evolved runway.
By the end of 2015, the Roshe Run was not just lifeless, it was buried in blood.
In a matter of months, the Yeezy Boost 350 was the hottest shoe on the market and aftermarket all across the world. The $200 tag took on a new space in the void between sportswear and designer, selling for more than double that of Nike’s once-revered Roshe while under-cutting the starting point for sock-styled shoes made by Balenciaga.
To add insult to injury, Nike released a “Triple Red” Roshe Run inspired by the last shoe West ever launched with the Swoosh. The $90 novelty failed to appeal to fashion’s elite or core sneaker culture, making the Roshe Run dead in its tracks.
As a eulogy, West dropped the diss record, “FACTS,” that December, stomping on the brand that snubbed him while celebrating an amazing adidas debut.
The song would score Kanye’s 2016 album, The Life of Pablo, released in 2016. While fans continued to clamor for a “Turtle Dove” restock, it’d be years before the original iteration was released again.
Back for the First Time
In 2015, Wexler was in the eye of the storm that was Hurricane Yeezy.
“What that proved is that when you have the cultural significance, thought leadership, and design leadership all in one location? You can push the entire market and bring in the broadest level of interest imaginable,” Wexler said.
That’s not hyperbole.
Since its arrival, the adidas Yeezy Boost 350 has been a fixture at retail. In 2015, four different styles sold out to widespread fanfare. In 2016, the “Pirate Black” OG was restocked with the “Turtle Dove” drop re-engineered for football and infant sizes.
From Fall 2016 to Spring 2022, the model’s follow-up, the adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2, has absolutely owned all walks of life, not by the novelty of limited nature, but through an abundance of launches.
When considering all iterations of the Yeezy Boost 350, over 50 styles have hit stores since the shoe’s June 2015 arrival, making the model the core candidate for Yeezy’s billion-dollar brand worth.
In 2022, the OG “Turtle Dove” is finally returning to retailers.
Since its debut, the shoe has added a cool cache to inline adidas favorites like the Ultra Boost and NMD while making the same model worn by West and the Kardashian clan an accessible piece of luxury.
The launch deemed Footwear News’ 2015 Shoe of the Year has stood the test of time while rewriting the laws of hype.
Years ago, Complex called the adidas Yeezy Boost 350 the modern equivalent to the brand’s seminal Superstar in regard to cultural convergence and staying power.
On Yeezy Day 2022, the “Turtle Dove” adidas Yeezy Boost 350 is reported to release for $230 a pair and is anticipated to sell through with the same success it saw seven years ago, if not more.
West and The Three Stripes have officially delivered on making the most ubiquitous model of the present while making the Nike Roshe Run something of the past.