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Counterfeit Yeezys and the Booming Sneaker Black Market

Kevin longed for a pair of Adidas' "pirate black" Yeezys, a charcoal-colored edition of the ultra-hip sneakers designed by rapper Kanye West.

Counterfeit Yeezys and the Booming Sneaker Black Market

But the 22-year-old Riverside resident couldn't just walk into a store and buy them. The limited production shoes sold out shortly after their release, and resellers online were charging upward of $1,500, seven-and-a-half times the original retail price.

So the assistant high school football coach did what more and more collectors are doing to satisfy their Yeezy fix: He had a replica pair delivered to his doorstep from China.

“If I could readily buy a pair of Yeezys at the store right now I wouldn’t buy fake ones,” said Kevin, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition his last name not be published to avoid jeopardizing his relationship with illegal sellers.

Kevin’s entrée into the world of replica shoes was through the user-generated website Reddit, where collectors share photos of copycat shoes and contact information for sellers. They coach counterfeiters on how to get minute details correct like the proper length of a sock liner or the right amount of fuzz on a suede patch. With each batch of bootlegs, the replicas become increasingly difficult to distinguish from their authentic counterparts.

“Why pay over $1,000 for Yeezys when you can get a pair that looks the same for $120?” he said.

It’s a question vexing brands and copyright holders the world over. High-end fake Yeezys may represent a tiny fraction of the $460bn knockoff goods industry, but they provide a snapshot into how widespread counterfeiting has become in the digital age — all to the delight of collectors who are so devoted to the shoes they’re willing to undermine the very brand that makes them.

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