Kanye West and adidas called it quits in October 2022, and it was a breakup heard around the sneaker world. While it may have seemed like a sudden decision based on Kanye’s controversial behavior, a recent investigation by Megan Twohey for the New York Times reveals that there were underlying issues in the partnership from the very beginning.
According to Twohey, Kanye had a history of making offensive and inappropriate comments, displaying erratic behavior, and making escalating demands throughout the partnership. Despite these red flags, adidas leaders turned a blind eye to his misconduct in their pursuit of profits.
From 2013 to 2022, Kanye and adidas released over 250 pairs of Yeezy sneakers, including popular styles like the Yeezy Boost 350 V2, Yeezy Slides, Yeezy Boost 700, and Yeezy Foam Runners. The decision to frequently restock these sneakers was not only to meet the demand but also driven by economic considerations.
In fact, Yeezy had become a billion-dollar business by 2021, with net sales of $65 million five years earlier. Kanye himself was reaping the benefits of this success, earning a 15% royalty on net sales and at least $10 million guaranteed each year. Forbes even declared him a billionaire, thanks to the value of his adidas Yeezy line.
However, behind the scenes, tensions were high between Kanye and adidas. In 2016, the brand tried to draft a new contract that would protect its reputation by including a clause that would allow them to end the deal if Kanye’s behavior jeopardized their image. Despite this clause, adidas executives were more focused on what Kanye brought to the brand rather than his controversial statements.
But eventually, adidas had had enough. Two months after the departure of former-adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted, the brand terminated its contract with Kanye. It was later confirmed by Chief Financial Officer Harm Ohlmeyer that adidas owned all the intellectual property, designs, and versions of Yeezys, making it possible for them to sell the sneakers without Kanye.
Bjørn Gulden, the new CEO, took charge of the Yeezy situation and faced the challenge of selling over $500 million worth of unsold inventory. In May, adidas made the decision to sell Yeezys again, with royalties going to Kanye and part of the revenue being donated to organizations combating issues like antisemitism and racism that Kanye himself had been guilty of.
While restocks of Yeezys received criticism, they still managed to sell out. However, Gulden made it clear that the future of adidas would not involve rehashing popular Yeezys. The brand is now focusing on heritage styles like the adidas Samba, high-profile collaborations, and sustainable products.
Looking back, it’s clear that adidas Yeezy had its fair share of challenges. Kanye’s controversial behavior was a cause for concern from the start, but adidas chose to prioritize his design genius. Now, the brand will have to find a way to recapture some of the magic without him. It remains to be seen if they can succeed with their new strategies and ventures in the sneaker world.