Adidas Grappled With Its Kanye Problem for Years But Took Little Action, Report Reveals

Kanye Adidas report

Photo Credit: Cosmopolitan UK / CC by 3.0

A new report reveals that Adidas grappled with its Kanye problem for years but took little action.

Adidas’ chief and senior executives in Germany discussed the risk of continuing a working relationship with Kanye West as far back as four years ago, documents reveal in a new report by The Wall Street Journal. According to those familiar with the situation, executives feared the situation with West could “blow up at any moment.”

In a 2018 presentation to the Adidas executive board, including CEO Kasper Rorsted and the head of human resources, risks for employees interacting with West were highlighted, and mitigation strategies for the relationship were detailed, including cutting ties with the rapper and designer. But instead of parting ways when employees raised concerns, senior executives had management share various proposals to maintain the Yeezy partnership, which accounts for an estimated 8% of annual sales.

Employees raised concerns to executives about Ye’s behavior in early 2018 when the rapper appeared on TMZ, saying that slavery “sounds like a choice.” At the meeting, which included executive board members, the focus shifted from concerns about Kanye’s behavior to complaints about how the company handled the controversy internally.

In late 2018, Adidas executives conducted a deep dive into the Yeezy partnership presented to leaders based in Germany, including CEO Kasper Rorsted. The presentation reviewed options for dealing with West, who was asking, among other things, to be named creative director of Adidas. 

Among the proposed solutions was to run Yeezy as a stand-alone brand, similar to Nike’s Jordan brand, limiting Kanye’s exposure to the rest of the company. Other solutions included buying the Yeezy trademark and running the brand without him or calling for “immediate mitigation” by selling off remaining Yeezy products and severing ties with West. Regardless, the executive board decided to continue its arrangement with Ye.

It wasn’t until October 6, 2021, that Adidas placed the partnership under review — days after Ye wore a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt to a Paris fashion show. Adidas executives discussed how Kanye’s behavior could work in the company’s favor as grounds to terminate the deal by invoking a moral clause. Finally, on October 25, Adidas said it was ending the partnership, walking away without the Yeezy brand, though Kanye also did not receive the $1 billion payout he was seeking.