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Adidas, Mum on Balenciaga, Probes Ye Abuse Claims

Reports are surfacing that Adidas had an ongoing HR problem with the artist formerly known as Kanye West long before his infamous antisemitic implosion in late October, and now the German athletic giant has announced it is launching an internal investigation into its own actions—or inactions—in response to complaints about West’s behavior over their decade-long partnership.

“We have been and continue to be actively engaged in conversations with our employees about the events that lead to our decision to end the partnership. They have our full support and as we’re working through the details of the termination,” Adidas said in a statement to Sourcing Journal. “It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true. 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.”

Rolling Stone reported in November that West was regularly abusive toward employees and would routinely watch pornography at work. This behavior went on for more than a decade, and new reporting suggests that not only was Adidas aware of the problem, but it also actively looked for avenues to distance itself from the “Donda” rapper.

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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that in 2018, after high-level Adidas staff wrote a strongly worded open letter to the company board detailing West’s behavior, the company proposed ways of lessening the risk of staff being exposed to him. Those ways included getting Ye out of the office by separating the Yeezy brand as a standalone alongside Adidas, and just altogether buying out the Yeezy brand, which is estimated to bring in more than $1 billion in sales per year. According to the Wall Street Journal, West’s licensing deal entitled him to 15 percent of sales.

View of the Adidas Store in Soho where the new Kanye West Adidas Originals ‘Yeezy Boost’ sneakers are on display in the window on February 10, 2015 in New York City. Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images

Adidas said it expects to lose $246 million in profits without the Yeezy line.

West’s tirade against Jews in late October gave Adidas the cover to cut ties with him once and for all, but what becomes of the trademark and sales of what was the Yeezy brand is still uncertain.

Adidas Interim CEO Harm Ohlmeyer says his company has the intellectual property rights for the design, but not the Yeezy name. With that, the company is strongly considering the idea of rolling out Ye-less Yeezys in 2023.

“… we believe interesting plans are coming to fruition in 2023 and that’s what we’re working to,” Ohlmeyer said in a media call last month. “[We] intend to make use of these rights as early as 2023.”

Initial responses to these plans have not been kind, with some fans going so far on social media as to calling them ‘Walmart Shoes‘ and others accusing Adidas of hypocrisy and creative theft.

West, whose Yeezy brand was also cut by Balenciaga and Gap in the fallout from his antisemitic meltdown, says he plans to manufacture and sell Yeezy hoodies himself in any event.

“We got the Balenciaga right here but it’s the Ye24 merch on it,” West said in a video from his Los Angeles production facility. “I’ve cut up 100 hoodies from Yeezy, from Balenciaga, from the stuff we did at Gap, from the stuff we did at Adidas, and everything we do is going to cost $20.”

Regarding West’s L.A. operation, NBC News reported Wednesday that Yeezy Apparel received three separate tax lien notices dating back to July of 2021 totaling more than $600,000 in taxes owed. Last year the company paid $950,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing Yeezy of failing to meet shipping requirements.

Adidas, meanwhile, continues to receive criticism over its collaboration with French fashion house Balenciaga on a line of BDSM Teddy Bears, the ad campaign for which sparked an international uproar due to children being featured among bondage items. Some have insinuated Balenciaga-Adidas were trying to normalize or even promote the idea of child sexuality or exploitation with the photographs.

Others on social media claim hypocrisy for the brands condemning West’s antisemitism, all the while perpetrating an ad campaign that has been roundly criticized as inappropriate and problematic.