In 2013, the mutually beneficial partnership between Kanye West, now Ye, and Adidas began. The launch of Ye’s clothing line brand, Yeezy, catapulted him to his billionaire status in just a few years and allowed Adidas to diversify and shift its consumer base toward streetwear fashion.
However, Ye’s success slowly lost its integrity due to controversial comments he made publicly on social media. Controversy is not new for Ye – he’s made numerous inappropriate comments about different groups and topics over the years. In 2018, Ye discussed his views in an interview with radio host Charlamagne Tha God that “slavery was a choice.” Just one of the many instances in which he directed hateful comments toward specific groups of people. In October, he was restricted on Twitter and Instagram for stating he was “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”.
Recent actions have sparked new outrage toward the artist. On October 3, Ye and his models were seen wearing “White Lives Matter” shirts at Paris Fashion Week, a phrase considered a hate statement by The Anti-Defamation League, which prompted Adidas to review its partnership. Shortly after, a video clip from a podcast episode of Drink Champs went viral on October 21. Kanye stated, “I can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what? Now what?” Since the clip started circulating, #BoycottAdidas trended on Twitter as people expressed their outrage toward the company for not speaking up about Kanye’s actions.
After the clip went viral, so did photos of a Los Angeles hate group that hung a banner reading “Honk if you know Kanye is right about the Jews.” The pictures have been circulating social media with information on combatting anti-semitism and hate speech and that there should be no excuse for Kanye just because of his status as a wealthy celebrity.
The media has been covering numerous anti-semitic remarks from Kanye over the past month, leading the general public to become outraged that Adidas still had not released a statement regarding his actions, its opinion or where the partnership stood.
As outrage grew, Adidas finally posted a press release to its website explaining they do not “tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” on October 25. The company claimed Kanye’s actions violate its values of diversity and inclusion and decided to terminate the partnership immediately. Adidas also explained that this will have an impact on the company’s finances and that they will still have the design rights to existing products as part of its partnership with Kanye.
Considering Kanye’s anti-semitic comments have been public, many employees, customers and the general public were disappointed in Adidas’ lack of accountability and failure to act quickly. Adidas willingly tolerated hate speech from its partner numerous times without acting, which brings into question its values as a company.
A LinkedIn post by Sarah Camhi, Director of Trade Marketing at Adidas, explained her point of view on the situation. Camhi is a member of the Jewish community and expressed that she could “no longer stay silent on behalf of the brand that employs [me]. Not saying anything, is saying everything.” She pointed out that Adidas has dropped partners before, but was hesitant to denounce hate speech from one of its top partners.
It is clear that silence is no longer an option for large brands. Successful companies with worldwide audiences, such as Adidas, need to be part of the movement toward social justice. Billion dollar companies have the power to set an example by being inclusive and helping communities. They have a platform and a voice that must be used in the right way. Adidas chose to stay silent during a time when they should have been loud. They stood with a partner through hate, damaging its reputation and going against its alleged values.
From a crisis perspective, Adidas waited too long to respond, showing no issue with anti-semitism, by tolerating Kanye’s derogatory comments. Instead of immediately terminating the partnership, Adidas put profits over morals and values, reputation and consumers. This resulted in what could have been an avoidable loss of brand loyalty from employees, customers and the general public. A proactive crisis plan would have helped the company tremendously in this situation.
Given Kanye’s antics over the years, his remarks didn’t come as a surprise. Adidas would have benefited from a plan on how to handle situations similar to this, in order to be better prepared to move forward with an appropriate course of action. Adidas waited for public anger to terminate its partnership with Kanye. If people did not express their opinions, would Adidas still have felt pressure to act? This poses questions regarding the company’s ethics. Tolerating injustice from others is just as bad as being the aggressor – a lesson Adidas learned the hard way.