Kanye and Adidas: money, misconduct and the price of appeasement

The Adidas team was huddled with Kanye West, pitching ideas for the first shoe they would create together. It was 2013, and the rapper and the sportswear brand had just agreed to become partners. The Adidas employees, thrilled to get started, had arrayed sneakers and fabric swatches on a long table near a mood board pinned with images.

But nothing they showed that day at the company’s German headquarters captured the vision Mr. West had shared. To convey how offensive he considered the designs, he grabbed a sketch of a shoe and took a marker to the toe, according to two participants. Then he drew a swastika.

Adidas knew who they were getting into bed with. This story - from the very beginning of their collaboration with Ye - demonstrates just how much the brand enabled and forgave blatant and dehumanising anti-Sematism in pursuit of profit.

Over the years, as West made increasingly inflammatory comments, including promoting anti-Semitic views and conspiracy theories, Adidas faced growing pressure to cut ties. Instead, the shoe giant continued the lucrative Yeezy collaboration, issuing mild rebukes but taking no substantive action.

Adidas was willing to overlook the extremes of West's offensive behavior as long as the partnership remained profitable, prioritizing business interests over taking a stand. Only after public pressure mounted following West's remarks literally defending Adolf Hitler in the clearest of terms did Adidas finally terminate the partnership.

Adidas enabled West's problematic views for too long through its inaction. The company emboldened West by failing to set clear boundaries or create consequences. Adidas now faces questions over its corporate values and whether stock market performance took priority over stemming the tide of hate speech.

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