Kanye West has proven to be bad business for Adidas. So, now what?
After anti-Semitic remarks and abusive behavior that have drawn praise from neo-Nazis, Adidas is the latest of Kanye's collaborators to cut ties.
“I can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me. Now, what?” boasted Kanye West, now simply known as Ye, in a clip that made the rounds online on Friday from his now-infamous “Drink Champs” interview. On Tuesday, Adidas, producers of Ye’s cult-favorite Yeezy line, proved their longtime collaborator wrong, announcing the immediate end of a partnership that has garnered both parties billions since its inception in 2016.
As stated in a press release Tuesday morning:
adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech. Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.
After a thorough review, the company has taken the decision to terminate the partnership with Ye immediately, end production of Yeezy branded products and stop all payments to Ye and his companies. Adidas will stop the Adidas Yeezy business with immediate effect.Source: Adidas
For many, the announcement may have come too late. Prior to its declaration, Adidas had been under fire for being the biggest holdout among Ye’s brand partners that had been swiftly departing since his publicity stunt during Paris Fashion Week.
Ye’s anti-Semitism proved the breaking point for many of his now-former allies, funders and collaborators, which, to date, have included Balenciaga and Gap. After Ye made a point of calling out Adidas and Gap leadership on social media, accusing them of appropriating his designs and selling unapproved colorways, Gap confirmed the termination of its 10-year Yeezy Gap deal in September — though as of this article’s posting, the retailer was still selling and promoting the label’s merchandise, presumably to sell off inventory already in production. Ye’s longstanding affiliation with Vogue is also apparently over, as the legacy media outlet promised to “stand with” editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson after she was “targeted and bullied” by Ye online.
On Monday, yet another significant divestment from the Kanye West brand occurred as powerhouse agency CAA dropped Ye as a client. Former agents UTA also denounced him and his newly hired attorneys announced they would no longer be representing him. And, in an op-ed for The Financial Times, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel called for a mass boycott of the entertainer, positing that “[t]hose who continue to do business with West are giving his misguided hate an audience.”
CAA’s announcement also coincided with the shelving of an already-completed documentary on the artist, accompanied by a pointed statement from its production studio.
“This morning, after discussion with our filmmakers and distribution partners, we made the decision not to proceed with any distribution for our recently completed documentary about Kanye West. We cannot support any content that amplifies his platform,” wrote MRC studio executives Modi Wiczyk, Asif Satchu, and Scott Tenley, according to a memo quoted by Variety on Monday. “Kanye is a producer and sampler of music. Last week he sampled and remixed a classic tune that has charted for over 3,000 years — the lie that Jews are evil and conspire to control the world for their own gain.”
As history reminds us, anti-Semitism is also a tune Adidas isn’t altogether unfamiliar with, which made its hesitation to distance itself from Ye all the more conspicuous. Three weeks after claiming to have placed its relationship with Ye “under review,” Adidas’ continued affiliation with him, however passive, was read as complicity by many, including a slew of celebs and online commenters, who encouraged a boycott of the brand, and even inspired criticism from within its ranks.
The German company’s World War II links to Hitler and the Nazi Party were also spotlighted, most notably by Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt, who, following “a number of conversations with senior Adidas executives and shareholders over the weekend to discuss Ye,” told the Washington Post: “Antisemitism should be unacceptable in any circumstance. The fact that Adidas has not made that simple point is shocking when one considers Adidas’s history as a company that once outfitted the Hitler Youth.”
In a disturbing parallel, Ye’s “White Live Matter” Yeezy T-shirts and his more recent rhetoric have served as a convenient co-sign for white supremacists and neo-Nazis. As reported by The WaPo, one such group overtook an overpass on Los Angeles’ 405 freeway on Sunday, hanging a banner encouraging drivers below to “Honk if you know Kanye is right about the Jews.”
According to Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of former Ye reps UTA, that public display was accompanied by “copies of horribly antisemitic flyers left this weekend on the doorsteps of homes in L.A. neighborhoods,” as he told Variety.
So, now what?
By its own estimation, Adidas, which states it is “the sole owner of all design rights to existing [Yeezy] products as well as previous and new colorways under the partnership,” will lose up to €250 million of its net income in the remainder of 2022 alone, given that Yeezy offerings will now be missing from the lucrative holiday shopping season. Amid its delayed response to Ye’s antics, Adidas stock took a double-digit plunge; arguably, it has lost the goodwill of much of the public.
As for Ye, with billions amassed through the Yeezy partnership, he is primed to take yet another page from the playbook of one of his proclaimed heroes, Donald Trump. Like the former president, Ye has announced plans to purchase his own social media platform, right-wing site Parler, notorious for its openly racist discourse. And after threatening to once again fund his own brand after not getting what he wanted from Adidas and Gap — his first fashion venture being now-defunct label Pastelle — Ye may do just that, once leaving the ball in our courts: Do we still want to be in the Kanye West business?
Updated: Tuesday, 10/25/22 at 4:20 p.m., ET: On Tuesday afternoon, Gap took the cancellation of its partnership with Ye a step further with a statement posted to its virtual newsroom. Responding directly to the antisemitism expressed by the mogul as of late, Gap stated it will begin immediate removal of Yeezy Gap merchandise from its physical locations as well as shutting down its online presence.
In September, Gap announced ending its Yeezy Gap partnership. Our former partner’s recent remarks and behavior further underscore why. We are taking immediate steps to remove Yeezy Gap product from our stores and we have shut down YeezyGap.com.
Antisemitism, racism and hate in any form are inexcusable and not tolerated in accordance with our values. On behalf of our customers, employees and shareholders, we are partnering with organizations that combat hate and discrimination.Source: Gap, Inc.
Forbes reports the loss of these two partnerships will also lose Ye his billionaire status. Estimated to be worth $6.6 billion in March 2021, his valuation reportedly dropped to $400 million with the loss of Adidas alone.
Additionally, an earlier version of this article referred to Ye’s relationship with Vogue as “in limbo” following his online assault of editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson in early October. However, on Friday, a Vogue spokesperson reportedly told Page Six “neither the magazine nor its editor-in-chief Anna Wintour [intends] to work with Kanye West again” following his public display of antisemitism and promotion of white supremacy via the phrase “White Lives Matter.”
Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, great books and aesthetics, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body (Words of Change series).
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