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In becoming a well-respected sports industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group—"I get to talk about sneakers all day and people send me checks," he says—Powell has also become something else: the best-credentialed Yeezy hater in the sneaker world. He's worked in the fashion industry for 44 years, starting at a department store after he graduated college in 1973. He worked for the short-lived MVP.com, the sporting goods retailer that was started by John Elway, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky in the late '90s. He launched his own research firm in 2000, and joined NPD as an analyst three years ago. He has a treasure trove of retail data at his fingertips and is a key resource for brands and editors alike: NPD gets numbers from a large network of retailers, so the analysts know better than basically anyone outside the actual brands how different shoes and companies are performing. Highsnobiety's editorial director Jian DeLeon calls Powell a "go-to resource" for gauging the health of a sneaker company's business; Hypebeast editor Ben Roazen agrees that the analyst is "essential reading for fashion and sneaker writers, especially." Roazen calls him an "elder statesman."
His data-driven analysis is delivered in a deep, gruff voice that buttresses his no-nonsense approach. He typically emails me back within 10 minutes with messages that could fit into a tweet. The only time I got an exclamation point out of him was when I asked him to do this story. "Sure!" He's a 66-year-old man—something that doesn't escape his followers—analyzing an industry most fervently followed by fans we describe as a compound of "boys" and a four-letter word. Reading his Twitter timeline is a lot like watching an Uncle Drew commercial.
Powell says he can't be specific about the exact brands he provides analysis for—on trends, categories that are growing and shrinking, and how millennials are shopping—but he's quick to assure me it's "all the major" ones. (It's safe to assume this includes brands like Nike, adidas, Under Armour, and Puma, among others.) His time is divided between looking at data—Powell gets access to sales broken down by the week on every broadly distributed sneaker—and talking to people. He hops on the phone with employees at sneaker companies who want to pick his brain about the business, jets off to give presentations to retailers and brands both in and out of the sportswear world, and visits stores. But while he's no doubt well-respected within his industry, he might be best known for his Twitter account—and more specifically, for the way he uses it to dump cold water on red-hot Kanye West hype.
Powell majored in sociology in college and that remains the most interesting aspect of the business to him. He says he spends a lot of time preparing brands for the shift from boomers to millennials and Gen Z. He writes about how Hispanics shopping habits are wreaking havoc on the industry. "I've always been interested in what makes groups do what they do," says Powell. This now includes the younger cohort who hoover up Kanye's every move. Kanye's Yeezys are quite possibly the most hyped sneakers ever, and Powell steadfastly preaches what most millennials don't—or won't—understand: Your mentions are pretty much worthless.