When Adidas and Kanye West formed a partnership in 2013, it led to the second-most-profitable sneaker partnership of all time, right behind Nike's team-up with Michael Jordan. And it made sense; at the time, West was at the height of his popularity. He had just released Yeezus, the experimental follow-up to his collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne. He was also engaged to Kim Kardashian, who he would marry just a year later. From the outside, the nearly-nine-year venture looked unstoppable. But after West made a series of troubling and antisemitic statements in late 2022, both his billion-dollar business and marriage swiftly collapsed.
The public timeline, though, may not show the full picture. A new report in The New York Times alleges that Adidas tolerated the rapper’s misconduct for nearly a decade before the split. The story details a scene from the athletic brand's German headquarters in 2013, in which West is so angry with the design team's initial suggestions for Yeezy shoes that he scrawls a swastika on the toe. Elsewhere in the report, many former Adidas employees allege that the company's executives strengthened their bond with the rapper throughout their partnership—despite complaints about his toxic beliefs. Through hundreds of emails, internal records, text messages, and various financial documents, The New York Times uncovered a timeline of events that shows the relationship was troubled the from start.
According to the report, West forced Adidas executives to watch pornography at his Manhattan apartment a week before the swastika incident. In 2015, during New York Fashion Week, former staffers reportedly complained about his sexually crude comments. During meetings, West allegedly threw shoes at Adidas higher-ups and accused them of “slavery.” One Jewish Adidas member even alleged that West told him to kiss a photo of Hitler every day. Plus, a former chief executive was reportedly paid a seven-figure settlement in 2018, after accusing the rapper of commending the former Nazi party leader and creating a hostile work environment.
Former employees also detailed the rapper’s alleged struggles with bipolar disorder and resistance to treatment. The report says he often went days without sleep, would drink at work, and even fought to include adult film actresses in his Yeezy advertisement campaign videos. Years later, the rapper revealed his addictions to porn and alcohol to the public, calling his bipolar disorder a "superpower."
A group of executives at Adidas reportedly had a text message chain titled “Yzy hotline,” which served as a place where they could address problems they had with West. Instead of cutting ties, the NYT claims, management texted the group to vent and share details of his behavior. According to the report, in one text, Yeezy general manager Jim Anfuso wrote “code red” with three fire alarm emojis, sharing that “the front line is completely exhausted and don’t feel supported or comfortable” after West moved his Yeezy production to Wyoming.
According to the bombshell report, these incidents—all reported to the company’s upper management—were largely kept under wraps. In 2016, when Adidas updated their initial deal with West, Forbes reported that a host of incentives in the contract made the deal more lucrative than his music assets. In a class-action lawsuit filed just this past April, The New York Times reported that shareholders "accused Adidas executives of failing to disclose the risk a toxic partner posed to the company." An internal letter also claimed that employees were worried that Adidas executives “turned their moral compass off.”
In a statement sent to The New York Times, Adidas refuted the claims of the lawsuit, which argued that an internal investigation had not substantiated many of the allegations regarding West’s antisemitism and toxic behavior. Even so, Adidas remains firm that, “Our decision to end our partnership with Ye because of his unacceptable comments and behavior was the right one.”
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