What will happen to the glut of unsold Adidas and Gap Yeezy products? The options might be rapidly narrowing.
Even the secondary market, where fashion purveyors frequently offload unsold stock, is beginning to shun artist and entrepreneur Ye, who has drawn significant backlash in recent weeks for embracing white supremacist ideology and making antisemitic remarks, including a threat to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.”
Balenciaga was the first to drop the erstwhile Kanye West, then Vogue, talent agency CAA and the film studio MRC, which was planning to make a documentary about him. On Tuesday, Adidas terminated its decade-long relationship with the “Jesus Walks” hitmaker, a move that it said would knock 250 million euros ($249 million) from this year’s profits. While Gap’s partnership had ended before the controversies began, the retailer said Tuesday that it was taking “immediate steps” to remove Yeezy Gap products from its stores. It also pulled the plug on YeezyGap.com.
Shortly after, Foot Locker declared that it will not only not support any future Yeezy drops but that it has also instructed its retail operators to “pull any existing product from our shelves and digital sites.”
“Foot Locker, Inc. does not tolerate any form of antisemitism, or hateful and discriminatory behavior,” it added.
On Wednesday, TJX, which operates discount retailers TJ Maxx and Marshalls, announced that it, too, was boycotting all things Yeezy.
“At TJX we do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or hate of any kind,” the HomeGoods owner said. “We have instructed our buying teams not to purchase this merchandise for sale in any of our stores globally.” The company did not answer a follow-up question about whether there was existing merchandise and, if so, where it could end up.
When asked about the leftover products, Adidas said it didn’t have a response beyond its earlier statement. Gap told Sourcing Journal that it was still finalizing plans on how to deal with its Yeezy x Gap inventory, including a recent Balenciaga-“engineered” lineup that it sold out of giant garbage bags, which critics slammed for appearing to mock the homeless. Foot Locker has told store employees to stash existing boxes of Yeezy sneakers “until further notice,” according to the New York Post.
Writing on Instagram on Wednesday, TheRealReal said that resellers would no longer be able to list Yeezy items going forward, though existing items will remain available “out of fairness” to its consignors.
“Since our founding, we’ve been committed to creating a safe space for every employee, consignor and customer—regardless of age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and race—and we will not tolerate any disparaging remarks that demonstrate discrimination or calls for violence,” the secondhand platform wrote. “Kanye West’s recent behavior at Paris Fashion Week and the violent comments he made regarding the Jewish community are not only offensive, but are harmful and go against everything we believe in. For this reason, we are no longer accepting items associated with Kanye or his brand, including Yeezy and Yeezy x Adidas.” The site currently offers hundreds of Yeezy listings.
Ebay, Goat Group, Grailed and StockX did not respond to emails about the status of the Yeezy products on their websites, while ThredUp said it didn’t have anything to share “at this time.” Depop, meanwhile, said that it won’t be taking action to ban the sale of Yeezy products as “they do not violate our policies.” The platform told Sourcing Journal that it classifies discrimination and hate speech as the sale of items “which contain or encourage hate speech or discrimination, and content or behavior that discriminates against other users or contains hate speech in listing descriptions, comments, direct messages or any other part of the app.”
Right now, the resale trajectory is simply too slippery to peg: On StockX, the prices of some of the most popular Yeezy items, such as the Adidas Yeezy slide, were up by as much as 36 percent. Others, like the Adidas Yeezy 700 V3, were down by 22 percent.
There are signs that people are eager to rid themselves of any Yeezys they already own, however. On the same day that Adidas gave Ye the kiss-off, Google searches for “sell Yeezy” skyrocketed by 581 percent, according to Celeb Tattler.
“[It] seems like the people from all over the world have flocked to the internet to sell their Yeezy products, either because they no longer wish to support their inventor, or because they thought that since Adidas won’t be producing them anymore, the value of said items might increase in the next few months and years,” a spokesperson for the outlet said.
Rachel Kibbe, founder of circularity consultancy Circular Services Group, expects to see other resale platforms, along with more off-price retailers, take a position against reseller Ye-related products. Not all of them will, however.
“From my seat, it’s unclear if the outrage is primarily domestic, or if it’s global and to what extent, because that will inform the number of markets these items will find B2B value in commercially,” she said.
Kibbe speculates that Adidas will at least try to recoup some of its profits by using traditional off-price retailers, both domestically and abroad, or tapping into anonymous resellers on peer-to-peer platforms. Finally, the German giant might export these items to parts of the world where markets for them still exist, or failing that, destroy them.
“This is just another example of why it’s so important that we stand up apparel and footwear recycling systems, which don’t yet exist here in the U.S. at a meaningful scale, and why my firm is so focused on inserting textile reuse and recycling into domestic policy,” Kibbe said. “Generally, environmental and social concerns go hand in hand, and one benefits the other. However, this is a case where the social issues bump up against the environment. What I mean by that is there’s an existential question that if these products aren’t resold, should they be incinerated or downcycled into insulation, knowing what we know about how bad that is for the planet?”
Liz Ricketts, co-founder and executive director of Shein partner The Or Foundation, which works with issues surrounding textile waste in the global South, said the question of what happens to the products is almost moot.
“I doubt brands will donate whatever remains—they will probably destroy it, which is a policy failure,” she told Sourcing Journal. “But I am less concerned about where the material ends up at this point.”
Ricketts said that she already sees plenty of Adidas and Gap castoffs end up in Ghana, home to West Africa’s largest secondhand clothing market. In fact, it’s a rare day that she doesn’t find Adidas items among the waste that washes up on the country’s beaches.
“For me, this is about mental health which is tied to overconsumption and waste,” she said. “People, especially youth, are addicted to consumption in part because they have nothing better to do with their time so I would like to see Gap and Adidas take the marketing budgets they had dedicated to these partnerships and use that money to build parks and community centers, to help us clean up the beaches here or to support school psychologists in America.”
Because of the way products are manufactured today, brands don’t have a lot of options when it comes to disposing of products that can’t—or won’t—be reworn, said Caroline Priebe, a sustainability strategist and founder of New York’s Center for the Advancement of Garment Making.
The vast majority of footwear, for instance, isn’t designed for disassembly or cyclability, so any kind of effective recycling at scale is iffy. While raw materials can at least be funneled elsewhere, the best-case scenario for most finished products is downcycling into building materials or playground flooring. Though Adidas has been experimenting with monomaterial and closed-loop design through its “Made to be Remade” initiative, its Yeezy products were largely created using conventional means.
“Clothes and footwear have long been designed with no thought as to how they will be disassembled, how well the material will recycle or how the dyes and chemicals in the raw materials will render recycling or composting impossible,” Priebe said. “These goods weren’t designed for a circular economy. They cannot be recycled. Maybe there are some all-cotton or poly/cotton tees and sweats and they could partner with Circ to try and recycle them.”
Still, for the “solutions-driven” Patrick Duffy, founder of sustainability nonprofit Global Fashion Exchange, Adidas and Gap can still turn “s*** into champagne” if they want to.
“I don’t think we should let one man’s supremely distorted perspective cause more negative impact than it already has,” he said. “We can’t forget that there were so many people and resources that were employed to create the clothing, right?”
Duffy proposes that Yeezy become Re:uzy, a large-scale campaign to bring awareness to the fact that racism and antisemitism are still major problems the world over. Existing Yeezy products, he said, can be remade and redesigned by emerging artists and designers who “want to help create awareness and a huge positive impact.” These can then be sold via the Adidas and Gap platforms, with 100 percent of the profits channeled to “things we really need to care about like protecting people from guns, antisemitism eradication, social and climate justice and more.”
“Also, take the money they were going to pay him and put it to good use the same way. People need help, the world needs help and funding is needed to help catalyze this change,” Duffy said. “We can’t ever forget the terrible history like the Holocaust or slavery. It’s so important that people know and understand history to prevent these egregious actions from ever happening again.”
For Ye himself, another corporate partnership might not be in the cards any time soon. Skechers revealed Wednesday evening that the Donda Academy founder arrived at its Los Angeles office “unannounced and without invitation.” After a brief conversation, he was promptly escorted out by two of the footwear maker’s executives.
“Skechers is not considering and has no intention of working with West,” the pickleball-supporting company, which was founded by Jewish businessman Robert Greenberg in 1992, said, adding that Ye was “engaged in unauthorized filming.”
“We condemn his recent divisive remarks and do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hate speech,” it said. “The company would like to again stress that West showed up unannounced and uninvited to Skechers corporate offices.”