Another day, another fashion update from Kanye West.
For years, West operated Yeezy out of its Calabasas headquarters, but as he spends increasing amounts of time in Wyoming—where he records music and films videos, occasionally hosts Sunday Service, and owns a $14 million ranch with Kim Kardashian—the mogul has apparently considered bringing his business up north a little more permanently.
According to reports from WWD, West is in the process of building an Adidas/Yeezy Sample Lab in a small Wyoming town called Cody. The proposal for the site includes converting a warehouse that spans 11,300 square feet and constructing a 1,056 square foot facility adjacent to it, which could house anywhere between 10 to 20 employees when it opens.
WWD also reports that right now there are already roughly 30 people from out of town who have moved to Cody to work for Adidas-Yeezy. Todd Stowell, Cody’s city planner, expects that the zoning and planning board will approve the request to build a Yeezy facility in Wyoming.
Cody, which is home to about 10,000 residents, is reportedly a summer tourism hot spot because of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park. It is estimated that 800,000 people visit the town every summer, and James Klessman—the property owner of the pre-existing warehouse West reportedly wishes to acquire—cites tourism as the very reason why Cody was built in the first place. “We have a regular fleet of tourists that travel through us to Yellowstone,” he told WWD. It’s part of why “Buffalo Bill” Cody built this town — the tourism aspect, the first national park in America, the first national forest is right here. There are a lot of reasons why this is an appealing area for people to come visit.”
A few years back, Levi’s developed the Eureka Innovation Lab, which is located near the company’s San Francisco headquarters. At this tester facility, the brand is able to develop denim prototypes faster, and its close proximity to the corporate headquarters reduces sample shipping impact. But is West’s Yeezy sample lab—which is essentially a facility that would develop prototypes and be a creative think tank for the label—an attempt at incorporating “sustainability” into the company’s ethos, or just another excuse for West to move his entire family up to Wyoming? And how successful would an $890 million revenue-generating company like Yeezy be at boosting the local Cody economy and bringing more tourists to town?
West’s business model does appear to be similar to that of Brunello Cucinelli, who turned a ruined castle in a depopulated Medieval Italian village called Solomeo into his business headquarters 37 years ago. By 2000, he had built facilities all around Solomeo which created jobs for the local residents, and reinvested his profits back into the town (a practice the designer calls “humanistic capitalism”). So far, this plan has worked for Solomeo, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that West might see himself as some sort of feudal lord who could save Cody from economic decline by building a utopian Yeezy empire that invests in the community.
And what are the Cody residents saying? Well, they’re really quite excited about the prospect of more Yeezy coming to town, and plan to welcome him with open arms. A writer for the local newspaper The Cody Enterprise called Yeezy’s relocation “welcome news” and said “it is exciting to hear of the employment possibilities” that Yeezy could bring to a town that lost some jobs earlier in the year. “If a community is not expanding its economic base, that community is declining,” he wrote. “Too many smaller towns in Wyoming have been experiencing that situation. Many Wyoming towns have seen main streets dry up and people leave town to find a job. We are thankful Cody is not one of them.”
Another local Cody resident wrote a letter to The Cody Enterprise editors titled “Kanye West could be good for people returning from prison system.” The incarcerated writer informed the editor that a heavily discussed topic within the prison system is the Yeezy sample lab that could be built in Cody. “Rumor has it he’s trying to help out the felon population as well as the homeless,” he wrote. “To put it simply – Cody is not and has not been receptive or welcoming to anyone with a past. There are quite a few of us here at the Casper Therapeutic Community from Cody, trying to change our lives – but afraid of being turned away in order to become the sons, brothers, spouses and fathers our families deserve; we need the help of our community.”
Adidas and West have not provided specifics on the potential sample lab, but Klessman told WWD what he knows. “I know this prototyping center that they are doing in the building that we own is really to bring a design team, and to work through some of those pieces. As the economic development guy for Cody, I would dearly love it if they would go full-scale manufacturing,” he said. “Those are conversations yet to be had. Right now there are a lot of moving pieces within the Kanye West Enterprises and again I’m not privy to a lot of them. I am simply a help, when asked, and I get out of the way, when I’m not. They’ve got a lot of very capable people in the organization and I’ve got a lot of other projects that I work on as well.”
Whether or not West intends to invest in the local economy, the Yeezy sample lab could also just end up being similar to the new Louis Vuitton Rochambeau Ranch—which is just a factory located in Keene, Texas that will provide a workshop for the luxury fashion house to create leather goods made in the U.S.A., not necessarily a prototype hub created with the intent to make the brand more sustainable when it comes to the price and carbon footprint of shipping out product samples.