Adidas is under pressure to ditch Kanye West

Kanye West shows his Adidas line at New York Fashion Week in 2015.
Kanye West shows his Adidas line at New York Fashion Week in 2015.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Adidas has a Kanye West-sized problem. Since the rapper told TMZ this week that 400 years of slavery in the US “sounds like a choice,” thousands of people have signed a petition demanding Adidas drop West, who designs the Yeezy limited-edition shoe line for the sportswear brand.

“Care2 is asking Adidas to drop their partnership with Mr. West and tell the world they do not want anything to do with anyone who believes that millions of Africans chose to toil the fields in bondage for 400 years,” the petition says. (Care2 is a Silicon Valley-based social networking site that organizes online advocacy efforts.)

Speaking to Bloomberg TV today, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted said there has been no discussion about ditching West, but that he planned to talk with the rapper about his public remarks, saying “there clearly are some comments we don’t support.”

“Kanye has been a very important part of our strategy, and has been a fantastic creator,” Rorsted told Bloomberg, but he declined to say how much money the Kanye collaboration is worth to Adidas’s business—just that he is important for “brand heat.” In 2016, Adidas herald the collaboration as “the most significant partnership ever created between a non-athlete and an athletic brand.”

This and other high-profile collaborations helped Adidas’s grow its North American sales by more than 20% between 2016 and 2017. Adidas officially passed Nike’s Jordan brand to become the number two shoe in the US last September.

Its collaboration with Pharrell Williams sent people into a frenzy earlier this year; the limited-edition shoes designed by the singer and producer were going for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on the resale market. However, while celebrities can give sports brands like Adidas major street cred, the Kanye West furore shows again just how quickly the halo can turn into a headache when your star goes rogue.