When a California kid hit the mall a few years ago proudly sporting his new Yeezy Boost “Pirate Black” sneakers, he was called out by a 12-year-old for wearing fakes. But what could have been a soul-crushing realization ended up kickstarting a career.
After doing extensive research on his own shoes, the 20-something sneakerhead (who now goes by the name Yeezy Busta and wears a surgical mask to protect his true identity) began sharing his newfound knowledge on social media to call out everyone from friends at school to celebrities for wearing fake kicks.
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“I always encourage my audience to work hard for what they want,” he told FN. “In a way, I brought to light that if you are wearing something fake and pretending it’s real, you are gonna get called out. I feel like I have had some sort of impact on people wearing fake stuff. Some celebrities still do it and don’t care, but I always preach that you shouldn’t take the easy way out and buy a fake for less; you should work hard and when you buy the real thing, it’s so much more gratifying. When you know it’s authentic, it’s a different feeling.”
Those efforts have turned Yeezy Busta into a YouTube star with half a million subscribers on the platform, plus more than 750,000 Instagram followers. And his net worth has been estimated at about $65 million.
Now, this sneaker crusader is taking his message to the “airwaves” with his own podcast, called “Legit Check,” offered through the iHeart Radio platform.
Only several episodes in, the podcast is currently targeted to the sneakerhead community, but Yeezy Busta said his goal is to expand the reach by including a variety of guests, from famous YouTubers to core sneaker industry people.
“People are confused by why certain sneakers cost so much, so I hope to expand my audience,” he said. “But for right now, it’s mainly my fan base who is listening.”
Hosting a podcast had been a goal of Yeezy Busta’s for a while, but it didn’t become a reality until he was approached at Sneaker Con by “Dr. Dave” Kolin, an EVP at iHeart Media and one of the executive producers of “Legit Check.”
“I initially became interested in sneaker culture because it is mind-boggling,” Kolin said. “I came into it by accident because most of the jocks on the radio stations we support in the iHeart family are sneaker obsessed. Everyone from Ryan Seacrest to Bobby Bones and a lot of other people in the iHeart family absolutely love sneakers and sneaker fashion.”
Kolin’s curiosity was further peaked when he tried to throw away a pair of his son’s old sneakers, but his son stopped him, saying that he could sell the old shoes for $200.
“I was like, ‘You can sell these things you’ve been wearing for a year for $200?’” Kolin recalled. “I told him if he could do that, then I’d take him to Sneaker Con and stake him in his sneaker-buying-and-selling business. Sure enough, I’m out $1,000, as they are starting to buy, sell and trade their sneaker collections. I am fascinated by it, as are thousands of people. These sneaker influencers have millions of followers.”
Kolin said he approached Yeezy Busta because he was the expert on authenticating sneakers, had a massive social media presence and because “he’s a joy to work with.”
For his part, Yeezy said his aim is to prevent sneaker culture from becoming superficial. “I want people to know the story on why things cost so much,” he said. “I want to take an in-depth look at sneakers. I’d love to have guests who have had a tremendous impact on the sneaker game.”
The Fight Against Fakes
Athletic shoe brands have been pumping out must-have footwear for decades, but in the last 10 years, the market has exploded in terms of demand for the latest, coolest kicks.
Major drops from Nike and Jordan Brand sparked mall riots in the early 2010s. Meanwhile, Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas on the Yeezy went supernova as soon as it debuted in 2014 — and today, the sneakers remain highly sought-after and quite expensive.
With the intense popularity of these shoes has come a wave of counterfeits that not only defraud consumers but hurt the footwear industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the direct economic impact of counterfeiting on global sporting goods and sportswear is nearly $50 billion each year.
And the problem is widespread: According to a recent report from the World Customs Organization, 43 countries have reported seizing counterfeit footwear.
For retailers and consumers, the fake shoes can be hard to spot.
“It’s not as easy as looking for one thing or another,” said Yeezy Busta. “Every sneaker, every variation and color look different. One of the top things I look for is the smell. Fake factories use a different type of glue and it smells different. I also look for quality. The Travis Scott Jordan 1 is a $175 retail shoe. It’s made with good leather and good suede. The fake ones don’t use the same materials. If you are going to buy a sneaker and the price is too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”
Aside from helping sneaker fans identify counterfeits, Yeezy Busta is also interested in demystifying the pricing and economics of today’s resale market.
Take, for instance, the Travis Scott Jordan 1, one of the hottest sneakers of 2019: “They sell at retail for $175, but they go for upwards of $2,000 because [Travis] is one of the biggest artists right now,” said Yeezy. “Celebrities were wearing it early and there was a super-limited supply. It was meant to sell out, which is what drove the price up. Demand needs to be high in order for it to be worth something. The backstory is super important. Then the hype and who is wearing it come into play.”
He credits much of the growth in the resale industry over the last four years to Kanye West for breathing new life into the subculture.
“The Yeezy Boost really brought sneaker culture into mainstream culture,” Yeezy said. “Ten years ago, it was very niche. The people who liked sneakers liked them for their history, which mostly revolved around Michael Jordan and his sneakers.”
Which is exactly the kind of topic Yeezy Busta hopes to discuss with fellow sneaker experts on “Legit Check.”
“It’s nice because it is a raw conversation with people in the industry and those who have been around sneakers their whole life,” he said. “All I can say is I am going to have a lot of cool guests on the podcast. I hope it will bring a different perspective to not only myself but to the sneaker culture as a whole.”
His dream guest?
Kanye, of course.
“If he came on, it would be a dream come true,” said Yeezy. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Yeezy Busta would not have existed without the Yeezy shoe. I’m a fan of his music, which is what got me into his sneakers. I’ve never met him, but he would definitely be the most insane person to have on.”
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