The man walking around our office has his face hidden, with black sunglasses and a cap pulled low masking his identity. He’s in all black, down to the Yeezy sneakers on his feet. It’s not a terribly uncommon sight in New York City media circles, but this guy different. He’s wearing black gloves too, the accessory looking like a signifier that he intends to leave no evidence of his presence behind. And he doesn’t want me to use his real name.
Why the spy act? The man in black is a thorn in the side of Adidas as the leader of Yeezy Mafia, an online group dedicated to leaking release dates and info for high-profile shoes (like those from Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy Boost line) months before the brand announces them. Since its start in December, 2015, the group has amassed 140,000 followers on Twitter and 233,000 on Instagram. Its members are staying anonymous to avoid detection by Adidas, which could threaten the team’s ability to access sneaker info so early.
While the social media accounts Yeezy Mafia runs are public services of sorts, there’s a profit aspect involved. For one, it sells add-to-cart services for releases that help people trick websites and buy shoes more easily. Mafia members also resell some of the Yeezys they buy, and there are occasional merch offerings. But the man representing the group sees what he’s doing as a net plus for the community.
“It’s exciting to do because, besides us, there are very few leaks concerning Adidas,” he tells Sole Collector in a foreign accent. “That’s really, really confidential. I think we’re bringing something positive to the game ‘cause people can plan their upcoming months. We all have lives.”
What, then, is the life this shadowy spokesperson leads outside of the internet? As with most topics, he’s not saying much. He used to work as a developer, but left that career behind to dedicate more time to the pursuit of shoes. He decided to quit after discovering an exploit on a sneaker site and realizing the potential for profit that acquiring and reselling hyped sneakers through online trickery represented.
“I copped like four or five pairs on the same website, it was revealing to me,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘Damn, if I could just use my knowledge to get some pairs and make money off that…’”
His interest in Yeezys is relatively new—he used to collect Jordans, but started buying Yeezys at the 2015 release of the “Moonrock” Adidas Yeezy Boost 350. He says that he’s been able to buy most Yeezys since. A lot of them too—the Mafia’s founder claims to have purchased around 40 pairs of the 2016 "Beluga" Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2, which represents an initial investment of $8,800 that would be worth around $34,000 on the resale market today.
He asserts that none of the advantages he uses to purchase pairs or leak info come from a personal connection to Adidas and that nobody in the Yeezy Mafia works for the brand. Where does all the info come from? He is cryptic again on this point: “We just got a crystal ball, that’s it. We are fortune-tellers.”
Yeezy Mafia’s crystal ball has been unable to accurately predict the future a few times, the group is willing to admit that. It’s tough to tell though when they legitimately had bad info and when Adidas has merely moved dates in response to leaked info. Or if any of the other things that can delay a shoe—production issues, shipping delays, etc.—caused dates to move. Take the black and white “Oreo” Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 for example, a sneaker that the Mafia pegged as a November release in several tweets. November came and went without the shoes, which eventually arrived in the middle of December.
“We’ve been wrong, especially for the ‘Oreo’ release,” says the Mafia member visiting our office. “We got a few info saying the release was going to be on the fifth of November, or 29th, or something like that. Release was delayed.” But he doesn’t want to completely take the blame. “I don’t think it was our fault. Maybe we gave the info too early [and] it wasn’t confirmed.”
The anonymity feels like a bit much for something as ultimately trivial as sneaker leaks. It is inherently silly to take Snowden-like measures when dealing with footwear, but there’s a cult following around Adidas product right now. A decade ago young sneakerheads might have flocked to NikeTalk to discuss all things Swoosh; now they follow dedicated Adidas pages on social media and pledge allegiance to the brand’s Boost cushioning. That cult translates to people helping push its product: Yeezy Mafia has a strong, very active social media following, and that makes them genuine persons of interest. Perhaps the best indicator of how much people care about the figures behind the leaks came on Sole Collector’s streamed interview with the Yeezy Mafia member described here, who requested that his face be censored out.
At one point, his face peeked beyond the black space obscuring him, exposing him for moments. Minutes later, screenshots were posted on Twitter, with users showing that they genuinely cared by taking the time to try and reveal his identity.
Regardless of how one feels about all the identity concealing, the Yeezy Mafia team certainly are consistent about it. Their website is even registered through Privacy Protection, a company that hides the contact info of site owners from the public WHOIS database.
How Adidas feels about Yeezy Mafia and groups of its ilk isn’t entirely public, and the brand declined to comment on the matter for this piece. On one hand, it has to enjoy the free publicity. But on the other, it can’t be fond of the wrinkles they create in product rollout plans. Both of those sides have been apparent in the brand’s documented social media interactions with Yeezy Mafia.
In 2016, an official Adidas Twitter account liked one of Yeezy Mafia’s tweets, a move they interpreted as a stamp of approval. The like was later removed, but there’s still the screenshot to prove that it happened. Adidas exec Jon Wexler, who is closely involved with Kanye West and his Adidas deal, has gone back and forth with the Mafia on Twitter, sometimes mocking them for bad info. There are also tweets from Adidas Originals’ official account directed at the Yeezy Mafia, one of them featuring the “Why You Always Lyin’?” meme.
How do the superstars who are close to the product feel about the group? Von Miller, who helped debut the Yeezy Cleats in 2016, was spotted in a Yeezy Mafia hat. There’s not been any documented correspondence with West himself, the mind behind the footwear all of this obsession is centered around, but one Mafia member says he met him, unbeknownst to the rapper. He also heard that West was irked by them leaking an Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 sample.
Despite the obvious Adidas and Yeezy fandom the group is built around, they are not shy about how broken the brand’s ways of releasing limited product online are. To hear the Yeezy Mafia’s founder tell it, pedestrian users have almost no chance at purchasing these sort of sneakers, a notion that has no doubt become apparent to many shoppers who’ve left Saturday morning launches empty-handed. He calls Adidas’ Confirmed app, which aims to level the playing field for Yeezys and the like, “10 percent random, 90 percent skills.”
He even claims that those who buy bots to cheat checkouts are only halfway there. Users need to actually know how to operate the bot and when to have it ready. Computing skills are a necessity—the programs aren’t the most user-friendly and there are edges for those that have a background in coding.
Yes, you have to put in a lot of extra work if you want to buy limited sneakers in 2017. You will have to follow social media accounts of stores to get up-to-the-minute alerts on when product drops. You will have to diligently research the best ways of checking out the fastest on websites and have an autofill setup to put in your credit card number immediately at the very least. You may even have to pay someone for a bot to try and give yourself a real shot at getting the sneakers you want. For better or worse, this state was inevitable given the fervor around shoes that built on the post-millennium internet via messages boards, social media, and sites like this one.
And yes, strange as it may seem, so intense is this state that there’s an anonymous group like Yeezy Mafia with an audience of hundreds of thousands patiently awaiting their next tweets. Its leader sees his collective as a natural response to the state of footwear today. “If we’re here,” he says, “it’s ‘cause of the people.”