In 2016, rapper Kanye West made headlines when he begged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg via Twitter to invest $1 billion into his “ideas,” because he was personally $53 million in debt.
West never got that billion from Zuckerberg (though they apparently became friends and did karaoke together), but it appears West has now healed his own financial woes: His apparel brand Yeezy is a billion-dollar empire, according to Forbes, and over the past 12 months, Forbes estimates West has earned over $150 million (pretax). His income is due largely to Yeezy’s Adidas deal, a line that is expected to top $1.5 billion in sales in 2019.
The rapper-turned-designer negotiated an unheard of 15% royalty on the wholesale price of his sneakers with the German shoemaker Adidas, plus a marketing fee, after he brought his brand over to the apparel brand from Nike in 2013, according to Forbes.
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For comparison, basketball legend Michael Jordan, who’s Jordan Line of sneakers still generates approximately $3 billion in annual sales for Nike, is thought to only get royalties of about 5% on sales, according to Forbes. Jordan, however, doesn’t own his brand, while West does.
While it took West a little more than two years to release his first design under Adidas, the line quickly gained momentum: his 2015 Yeezy Boost 750 “Light Brown” sneakers sold out within 10 minutes at the retail price of $350, and over the next few years, limited edition releases such as Yeezy Boost 350, Yeezy 950 and Yeezy Boost 700 had record sales at retail prices ranging from $300 to $585 a pair.
On Monday, West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, released a statement on Instagram saying that she is “so incredibly proud of [her] husband.” She says she’s watched every day how hard he worked and how much heart and soul he puts into his business and every product that he designs.
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“It’s of no surprise to anyone who works with or is close to Kanye that he has been able to turn millions of dollars in debt into a billion in only four years. 100% on his own terms, while owning 100% of his business,” she wrote.
West tells Forbes that he credits his success in part to his Christian faith and also to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which he calls a “superpower” that is key to his creativity. But mostly, he tell Forbes he is a “a product guy” at his core.
“To make products that make people feel an immense amount of joy and solve issues and problems in their life, that’s the problem-solving that I love to do,” West says.