Last year, the fashion and sneaker worlds were rocked when adidas severed ties with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. The decision followed significant public pressure for the brand to disassociate itself from West for his antisemitic remarks.
Now, as adidas prepares to release at least some of the Yeezy stock it still has on hand, sneakerheads and casual consumers alike are faced with a moral and ethical question: Is it problematic to wear Yeezy sneakers? Does doing so imply you're endorsing Ye’s views? If you shrug your shoulders, saying you, “don’t care,” does that mean you're passively okay with what he said, implying a level of acceptance or complicity? The question of whether one can separate the art from the artist is not new, yet it remains as relevant as ever. For some, the answer is a clear-cut “no”, believing that to support an artist's work is to validate their beliefs — in this case, antisemitic ones with the potential to cause real harm.
This philosophical conundrum has been applied to various contexts, from Pablo Picasso's paintings to Michael Jackson's music. Is it possible to appreciate a work of art while still acknowledging and condemning the behavior of its creator?
To some, the answer in this instance is a firm “no”. They argue the act of wearing Yeezys is synonymous with supporting Ye, his views, and his actions. This perspective hinges on the belief that purchasing and wearing an artist's products equates to a tacit endorsement of their beliefs and behaviors.
Others might argue the sneakers can and should be judged on their own merits. Regardless of what West has said and done, his sneakers still represent breakthroughs in design and comfort and were created by a team larger than one man alone. They might claim that they can appreciate the artistic value of the Yeezy line without supporting or agreeing with West's controversial comments.
There's also the question of if the time of the purchase has any impact. Does a purchase made four years ago have a higher moral ground than one made after West made antisemitic remarks? Should there be concern over the fact that no longer wearing a shoe you already own is wasteful? Adidas has had to grapple with the same conundrum on a much larger scale — by not selling or donating more than $1 billion worth of shoes, it's creating a gigantic amount of waste.
While much of this discussion focuses on the consumer's role, it's also important to consider the part brands play in promoting ethical consumption. By continuing to produce Yeezy sneakers without Kanye's involvement, adidas is navigating its own ethical tightrope.
Brands have a responsibility to ensure their values align with societal values and standards. When controversial figures such as Kanye West are involved, this responsibility extends to their partnerships as well. By severing ties with Kanye, adidas made a stand against his controversial views. However, by continuing to produce "Yeezy-less" Yeezys, it risks blurring the line between profit and principle.
The debate could also continue beyond the products adidas has already made with Yeezy branding, as it has the right to remove any marks connected to West going forward. adidas, which retains the patent for all Yeezy models barring the Yeezy Slides, plans to release "Yeezy-less" Yeezys in the near future. Assuming these would be the same shoes without Yeezy branding, would buying the shoes bear the same moral weight as their predecessors? Are consumers indirectly supporting West, or are they merely supporting adidas' commitment to innovative sneaker design?
What do we perceive when we see someone wearing Yeezys? Some may see a person appreciating a well-designed sneaker, while others may see someone who is indifferent to, if not supportive, of bigotry. Wearing Yeezys has evolved beyond a mere fashion statement into a potential indicator of one's principles.
This debate is a testament to the significant influence of popular culture on societal norms. As consumers, our choices shape market trends and indirectly validate or invalidate certain societal narratives. The decision to wear Yeezys, or any branded product for that matter, is a personal one that can reflect our individual values. Purchasing Yeezys is also more expensive than many other products, which affords those who do it the room to speak with their dollar more than those who can merely buy what they can afford.
As we navigate an increasingly conscious consumer culture, where each purchase can be viewed as a political statement, we must balance our aesthetic preferences with our ethical standards. This scenario underscores the importance of looking beyond a brand and considering the wider societal implications of our purchasing decisions. While these questions may not have definitive answers, engaging in these discussions can help us better understand our own values and the impact of our consumption choices.
It's also important to remember our perceptions of others based on their fashion choices can be misleading. The decision to wear Yeezys or "Yeezy-less" Yeezys is a complex one, influenced by a multitude of factors beyond just personal aesthetics. Rather than jumping to conclusions, let's use these discussions as an opportunity to foster understanding and empathy.
The Yeezy saga is more than just a sneaker story—it's a reflection of our current cultural and ethical climate. As we continue to grapple with these issues, let's strive to make conscious decisions that align with our values and promote a more ethical and inclusive society.