A peek behind the curtain with Yeezy Mafia, the social media account that’s been leaking shockingly accurate info about Yeezy and Adidas since 2016
Last week, Kim Kardashian West took to Twitter to dispel a rumor. For much of March 6th, the sneakerheads and fashion industry professionals who follow her husband Kanye West’s every move believed that the 7th collection from his label simply didn’t exist—that its production had been cancelled at the last minute due to the 40-year-old rapper/designer’s “inability to fully realize his vision.” The jokes flew fast: the emperor didn’t have any clothes. In response, Kardashian West explained to her near 60 million followers that the rumor was false—that Yeezy Season 7 did exist, and that it would be online soon. But she didn’t stop there—she also pointed out that the source of the news had no affiliation with the Yeezy brand and that it had been wrong on Yeezy news before.
Notably, the source of the rumor wasn’t a reporter, or a buyer, or even Adidas itself. It was Yeezy Mafia, a mysterious, controversial social media account that’s been leaking news about Adidas and Yeezy products since 2016. Kim’s right: the account isn’t actually affiliated with her husband’s brand. But Yeezy Mafia has somehow, bizarrely, built up enough of a fanbase and credibility to become verified on Twitter, as well as among the most trusted sources of hard-to-get sneaker info on the planet. Of course, verified accounts are intended to confirm the genuine identity of an account’s holder—yet no one knows who exactly Yeezy Mafia is.
For both branding and legal reasons, Yeezy Mafia operates in a haze of mystery. It’s a Twitter account, but it’s also a collective of folks best described as e-commerce hackers. And over time, it has become a legitimate source for all things Yeezy, hitting its 400,000-plus followers (and nearly a million more on Instagram) with exact Yeezy release dates and forthcoming colorways months ahead of time, and a running tally of remaining Yeezys on release days. Technically, there are around 50 people all over the world contributing to Yeezy Mafia, but only one of them does the real sleuthing. He’s a 20-something who was born and raised in France, and who, per his request, I’ll call “Don” for this piece.
After communicating over Twitter DM for months, Don and I finally met at GQHQ in New York City last fall. In person, Don has the physical presence of an actual don—around 6 feet tall, broad, and with an easygoing confidence. When I ask questions he’s uncomfortable answering, he chuckles. When he does answer, he’s coy: when I ask how he gets his information on upcoming releases, he pauses, then says, “I am a fortune teller.”
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Yeezy Mafia began 2016 as a members-only website that sold “carts,” which are more commonly known as sneaker bots. Bots are code that automatically add a product to your online shopping cart, and allow you to check out faster than any human could. (Before Yeezy Mafia, Don worked in the tech for various companies; in his estimation, the bots work about 70 percent of the time.) Yeezy Mafia only accepts a a few members at a time, who can then purchase a limited number of “carts” prior to release day to dramatically increase their odds of securing the sneakers. Yeezy Mafia is hardly the only service of this kind, so in 2016 Don decided to pivot, turning Yeezy Mafia into the internet’s foremost sneaker leaker. (When I asked if YM is still selling carts, he says over Twitter DM, “Not right now. Maybe for the next Yeezy release.”)
Without the carts to bring in cash, Don says he makes money from interests he describes, vaguely, as “property, trading, fashion, consulting, and design.” And he still puts his computer-whiz roots to use: though Don wouldn’t explain how he builds his bots or how he obtains information like the amount of pairs Adidas has in stock, he says, “Anyone could learn how to do it.” Of course, anyone could learn how to hotwire a car, too. But actually doing so is another matter entirely. It goes without saying that Adidas doesn’t want Don poking around quite so successfully. But they can’t—or won’t—stop him: Don relies on a network of retail buyers and factory managers in China to feed him release information. And though it’s easy to wonder if perhaps Adidas itself is feeding Don information as part of some underground marketing campaign, he maintains this isn’t the case.
In a sneaker world rife with false information and photos of fake sneakers, accuracy sets Yeezy Mafia apart. “I just want to share the truth, because so many other people get noticed for sharing fake samples or fake news, and then people get hyped for releases that are never coming out,” Don says. From this angle, Don is a sort of muckraking journalist, reporting on a subject people are desperate to know more about, and obtaining this information by any means necessary. But he doesn’t pretend to be objective—more than anything else, Don, like the hundreds of thousands of Twitter users who hoover up his posts, is first and foremost a fan. “I could release their entire release schedule for 2018 right now if I wanted to,” Don says. “But I don’t because I am a fan of Adidas and respect what they do.” He speaks warmly of the Yeezy brand, and shows me that he is wearing a Yeezy Season 5 denim jacket as proof. It’s a sweet gesture, but unnecessary: How could anyone but a superfan spend this much time and energy thinking about the inner workings of Adidas?
Adidas has not publicly condemned Yeezy Mafia, and declined to comment on them specifically for this piece. (A statement provided to GQ stated that Adidas is actively trying to fix the problem of hackers infiltrating their ecommerce platforms, but did not name Yeezy Mafia specifically.) Privately, however, Adidas is obviously aware of Yeezy Mafia. On at least once occasion, someone on Adidas’s social media team “liked” a Yeezy Mafia tweet, seemingly by accident. And Jonathan Wexler, Adidas’s Global Director of Influencer Marketing, recently fired back at the account on Twitter after Yeezy Mafia claimed that Stormzy, an Adidas-signed musician, had worn fake Yeezy Boost 350s on stage. (YM maintains that Wexler was either protecting Stormzy, or simply misinformed about the product.)
But Yeezy Mafia isn’t just a resource for sneaker news—it also provides a look into the increasingly opaque world of sneakers, serving as a resource when Adidas can’t or won’t be one. An example: Last October, dozens of pairs of the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 “Frozen Yellow” surfaced on the Instagram accounts of popular re-sellers in the North Carolina area, weeks before their planned release date in November. When I reached out,Yeezy Mafia explained that Adidas’s distribution center in Spartanburg, South Carolina had been robbed, or that its employees had been paid off to steal pairs early. Yeezy Mafia info in hand, I reached out to Adidas, which wouldn’t comment beyond saying that employees were “looking into the allegation.” The broad response made sense: a few dozen pairs of sneakers aren’t worth a PR nightmare. Still, Yeezy Mafia helped illuminate the complicated cat and mouse game Adidas and other brands have to play not just with leaked information, but with their own supply chains, as well—information Adidas wouldn’t discuss with me on the record.
Still, the age of the sneaker leak—a moment in many ways typified by Yeezy Mafia itself—has had an effect on how major sneaker companies handle release information. Today, brands like Nike and Adidas have become increasingly tight-fisted. Journalists are often left in the dark about forthcoming releases until a day or two before the info goes public. Interviews with designers and executives are watched over by PR reps who don’t hesitate to interject if a question is perceived as potentially controversial. When it comes to Yeezy releases, Adidas often won’t announce the time of a release beforehand. So it’s inevitable that this information would come from an unsanctioned source.
“I could release their entire release schedule for 2018 right now if I wanted to,” Don says. “But I don’t because I am a fan of Adidas and respect what they do.”
Legally speaking, Adidas might not be able to do much about Yeezy Mafia, anyway. The use of “carts” or “bots” is technically forbidden by the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016, which “prohibits the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events.” But Adidas can’t do much to stop pictures of their sneakers from surfacing online—Yeezy Mafia’s more recent focus. “They’re not violating any copyright of Adidas by doing that,” says Christopher Sprigman, a law professor at New York University who specializes in intellectual property law. Sprigman also explains that even if factory workers in China are sending Yeezy Mafia pictures of the shoes, it would be the factory, not Yeezy Mafia, at fault of violating any non-disclosure agreement it has with Adidas. And as for the Yeezy Mafia name itself, Sprigman says that while Adidas and Kim Kardashian West may argue that the name gives the impression that YM is affiliated or sponsored with Kanye West or Adidas, “The response [Yeezy Mafia] could use would be, ‘No, we’re using the Yeezy name descriptively. We’re not using it as an indicator that we’re a source of products, we’re using it to describe that we’re a group that’s heavily into Kanye West’s clothing line.’” Any litigation might be a waste of time and money.
Ultimately, Yeezy Mafia might even provide the best press Adidas could ask for. Following Kim Kardashian’s attack on its credibility, Yeezy Mafia issued an apology—but the account continues to release information about new Adidas releases, and major sneaker and streetwear websites continue to run with their scoops. (While we’ve cited YM as a source in the past, we always attempt to verify their information from a second source.) In many cases, Yeezy Mafia has dented Adidas’s preferred method of not confirming big-ticket releases until days before the drop. Don suggests that overall effect, though, is a net positive for Adidas, despite the Three Stripes’ stance. “When people have time to prepare for [a release], they can save their money,” he says, “and the hype builds.”
It’s only fitting that, in a sneaker universe where ugly is cool and socks are shoes, a major sportswear company and a leak account find themselves in something like a co-dependent relationship, with each party potentially benefiting. By turning a blind eye to YM, Adidas doesn’t jeopardize the Yeezy Mafia-to-sneaker site pipeline of publicity. And as long as Adidas keeps its cards close to the chest, Yeezy Mafia will have an audience thirsty for rumors, news, and photos.
But the relationship remains necessarily contentious: Don has effectively anointed himself a vice president of marketing for Adidas—only without Adidas ever hiring him or drawing up a paycheck. And though Don started Yeezy Mafia with the hope of one day collaborating with Adidas, perhaps marketing its products, he knows that’s no longer a real possibility. “They do their marketing their way, and I do it for them,” he says. “My way.”
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