It’s a sign of the times when an all-caps-laden Twitter outburst from rapper Kanye West registers as a mere blip in the news cycle.
But the amid a failed presidential run and increasingly erratic public behavior, the rapper and Yeezy creative director is continuing to demand attention, pulling eyes away from increasingly grim Covid infection numbers and heart-wrenching social unrest across the nation.
West, whose Yeezy line of sneakers has been a mainstay in the Adidas arsenal since 2013, directed a diatribe at the athleticwear brand beginning on Wednesday evening. “I’M WEARING JORDANS TILL I’M ON THE BOARD OF ADIDAS,” he tweeted, referencing competitor Nike’s famed Jordan Brand.
According to a document reviewed by Bloomberg this spring, Yeezy was valued at as much as $3 billion last year. The West-owned brand was on track to generate $1.3 billion in footwear revenue for Adidas when the figures were calculated in September, marking a 50 percent increase from the year prior. West himself earned $147 million in royalties.
Despite bringing measurable cachet to the performance apparel and footwear giant, West remains vexed by the fact that he does not hold a seat on Adidas’ board. “YE WILL BE RECOGNIZED,” he tweeted shortly thereafter, referring to himself in the third person.
West also took shots at newly minted partner Gap, which signed a multi-year deal with the musician and designer in June. “I’M NOT RELEASING NOTHING ON GAP TILL I’M ON THE BOARD,” he wrote. A collaborative collection of “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points” is set to hit stores in 2021, the brand said in an announcement at the time.
But in July, at West’s first and last presidential rally held in South Carolina, he took aim at the heritage brand, threatening to sever ties barring an offer of a seat on its board. Less than 24 hours later, Gap’s stock slumped 6 percent following the threat—an inauspicious start to a partnership that has yet to bear any product.
While the pop-culture-conscious public has largely learned to take West’s antics in stride, given that he rarely makes good on his threats to walk away from business ventures, the behavior could prove destabilizing to these brands in the long term.
West referred to himself as “the head of Adidas” amid another tweetstorm on Friday, vowing to bring his collaborator and its former sister brand, Puma, back together. Though he referred to Puma’s designs as “embarrassingly trash,” he vowed to design for both brands and “make everything ok.” And on Thursday, he tweeted, “My first pillar when I’m on the board of adidas will be an adidas Nike collaboration to support community growth.”
None of these titans of athletic wear have publicly commented on or responded to West’s demands or unorthodox views on brand strategy. But as the face of his own Yeezy brand and Gap’s highest-profile collaborator to date, the artist has considerable power to turn the tides of consumer opinion in a meaningful way.
Adidas has not emerged unscathed from Covid’s wrath. The company saw a net loss of $373 million in the second quarter ending in August, compared with a profit of $626 million in the year-ago period, while net sales fell 34 percent. Adidas remains a worldwide footwear phenom, bested only by Nike, but economic woes are likely to continue to constrain shopper spending through the fall.
Gap’s partnership with West seemed a strange yet sensible pairing. The 51-year-old mall brand famous for its casual staples could prove an optimal canvas for West, who longs to bring his minimalist, neutral-heavy designs to a wider audience. But the retailer’s net sales were down 18 percent year-over-year to $3.28 billion in the second quarter ending in August. Gap shuttered nearly all its stores during the height of the pandemic, and it is likely looking to the holidays for a much-needed boost that may or may not come.
West’s designs for Gap won’t see daylight until at least January, but in the meantime, the artist’s words about his collaborator and their relationship have evidenced the potential to spook shareholders. Only time will tell whether the bombastic artist’s celebrity is enough to drive sales worth surviving the drama.