Adidas has a lot of introspecting to do.
The German sportswear brand, which partnered with rapper and designer Ye (formerly Kanye West) on the wildly popular Yeezy sneakers seven years ago, terminated the relationship on Oct. 25 after he went on an anti-semitic tirade. The brand had begun reviewing the partnership earlier that month, but only took action after many other brands severed ties, and celebrities and advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League built pressure on Adidas.
Yesterday (Nov. 24), Adidas launched an investigation into Ye’s misconduct during his seven years co-designing sneakers with the firm after receiving an anonymous letter making several allegations against him.
“It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. “However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately to address the allegations.”
The announcement to investigate Ye came two days after Rolling Stone published a report detailing multiple alleged incidents of inappropriate behavior by him toward staff and prospective employees. It included excerpts from an open letter penned by prominent former members of the Yeezy team titled “The Truth About Yeezy: A Call to Action for Adidas Leadership,” which alleges the musician used intimidation tactics with the Yeezy staff that were provocative, frequently sexualized, and often directed toward women.
The magazine gathered accounts from several employees. One complaint is that Ye showed executives porn—this moment was filmed in a 30-minute documentary uploaded to Kanye West’s YouTube last month, and reported by publications including Buzzfeed. Other include Ye making interviewees uncomfortable with private photos of now ex-wife Kim Kardashian, and berating employees, especially women.
Employees accuse Adidas of going about business as usual and ignoring complaints.
“If there was any case to defend the executive team’s inadequate action, aside from being beholden to shareholders, it appeared as if they simply didn’t know what to do or say in those jarring moments, or how to handle Kanye without further triggering him, or act in a way that didn’t jeopardize their position or the partnership. So instead, the board members and the executive team turned their moral compass off by ignoring both Kanye’s inflammatory public behavior and the Yeezy team’s complaints regarding troubling partner dynamics.” —open letter, “The Truth About Yeezy: A Call to Action for Adidas Leadership,” as seen by Rolling Stone.
The former Yeezy employees made one thing amply clear: It’s not just Ye who needs to be held accountable.
Adidas, which turned a blind eye to the problematic behavior for the sake of profiteering, has questions to answer, too. The company lacked responsibility and accountability in protecting employees during the “years of verbal abuse, vulgar tirades, and bullying attacks,” the letter alleges. A separate Wall Street Journal investigation found that employees’ concerns, raised to senior leaders and human-resources officials, fell on deaf ears.
The afflicted Adidas staff demand the brand create airtight contracts with A-list collaborators, including immediate termination for such abhorrent behavior. Also, they want the company to issue a letter of apology to former Yeezy staffers.
$2 billion: Yeezy sales in 2021
8%: How much of Adidas’ overall sales Yeezy’s comprise
€250 million ($260 million): Revised full-year guidance for Adidas net operating income, down from €500 million in October.
€300 million: Savings in royalties, marketing fees by rebranding the sneaker line
142: Employees who lost their jobs in the Adidas-Ye breakup
Adidas is undergoing a change of guard. Dealing with the fallout from the association and dissociation will fall to Bjørn Gulden, who starts as CEO at Adidas on Jan. 1. Gulden, who comes from fellow German sportswear Puma, has had some run-ins with celebrity controversies, like the backlash for using reality TV celebrity Kylie Jenner in a running campaign instead of an athlete, but the Ye challenge is likely to prove his biggest headache to date.