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adidas Swept Kanye West's Misconduct Under The Rug For Nearly a Decade

In the realm of high-profile collaborations, few reached the zenith of adidas and Kanye West, who now goes by Ye. Their partnership, flourishing over the years, ended abruptly in October 2022 when Ye's controversial comments targeting the Jewish community resulted in adidas terminating their deal.

According to an extensive investigative report from The New York Times, led by Megan Twohey, we have now been given a clearer look into what was allegedly going on behind the scenes. Twohey obtained hundreds of previously undisclosed internal records and traveled to Portland and Los Angeles to interview current and former employees of adidas and Ye. Her investigation uncovered misconduct from the artist dating all the way back to the infancy of the partnership. In 2013, at adidas' German headquarters, Ye’s strong reactions to the brand's designs had him defacing a shoe sketch with a swastika, according to the report.

Throughout their partnership, allegations surfaced of Ye’s increasingly erratic conduct. His disturbing actions ranged from forcing adidas executives to watch explicit content to bolster creativity, to making crude, sexually offensive remarks. One deeply concerning incident involved Ye advising a Jewish adidas manager to “kiss a picture of Hitler every day.” Ye also revealed that he paid a hefty settlement to a senior employee due to his praising of Hitler.

Ye even took his praise of Hitler to his music. During the making of his 2018 album, which was ultimately titled “Ye”, it was reported that a working title for the album was at one point “Hitler” and that adidas employees had known about the possible name.

The relationship wasn't one-sided. As much as adidas benefited from the skyrocketing Yeezy sales, Ye, in return, became more intertwined financially with the sportswear giant. Beyond the royalties and upfront payments, which likely amassed over $150 million, adidas promised Ye an additional $100 million annually. While this was intended for Yeezy marketing, in reality, this fund was a virtual blank check that “Mr. West could spend with less oversight.”

Behind the scenes, tensions brewed. While striving to solidify the long-term commitment, adidas also sought safeguards. The brand pushed for a morals clause, allowing it to end the partnership if Ye’s actions threatened the company’s reputation. Negotiations saw Ye finally agree to terms including felony convictions, bankruptcy, and any actions causing significant disrepute.

Despite Ye’s consistent controversial behavior, adidas' internal response was, at times, oddly compassionate. According to the report, the Yeezy team often used a “firefighting” approach, rotating employees to manage the ever-demanding and unpredictable artist. Provisions like meditation apps and group therapy-like sessions were offered to employees, hinting at the stresses of the partnership. There were also efforts made to assist Ye. adidas stepped in to handle his mismanaged Yeezy website, Yeezy Supply, which faced a hefty payout due to shipping delays.

adidas' commitment to Ye was evident in its strategic decisions. The company ramped up Yeezy production, even while exploring alternative ventures, like a collaboration with pop icon Beyoncé. Annual reports made no mention of any friction in the Yeezy partnership until 2022.

Their relationship's endgame played out in arbitration. Adidas accused Ye of damaging their collaboration with his derogatory remarks, while Ye countered, alleging adidas had undermined the Yeezy brand. However, even amidst this contention, a final agreement saw some of the remaining Yeezy inventory released, resulting in an additional more than half a billion dollars worth of Yeezy sales for adidas. Though adidas claimed that a “significant share” of the proceeds would support anti-hate and social justice organizations, the bulk of the revenue returned to adidas, with Ye pocketing his royalties.

The partnership between adidas and Ye showcased the tightrope brands walk when allying with influential yet unpredictable figures. While such collaborations can yield incredible rewards, they are not without significant risks, both to the brand's reputation and to the well-being of those involved.

Time and time again, it appeared that adidas had tolerated Ye’s erratic behavior, all while continuing to allow the money to keep flowing in. Many have been hurt by the antisemitic rhetoric displayed and rightfully are upset with adidas’ past and present actions. Still, some ignore these wrongdoings and look forward to the next chance to purchase Yeezy sneakers.

As of now, there will be no more Yeezy sneaker releases hitting shelves in 2023, as reports emerged that adidas has put a pause to these drops. With even more accusations against adidas and Ye coming to light, time will tell what happens next. Will the German sportswear giant continue profiting from Ye and abide by his misconduct? Or will they forego the potential profits and finally take the moral high ground they claim to stand on?

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