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.
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.
“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.
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Kim Kardashian and Kanye West arrive for the 2019 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2019, in New York.
ANGELA WEISS | AFP | Getty Images