Megan Twohey has an investigative report into the relationship between Kanye West (who now goes by the name Ye) and shoe maker Adidas. It is astonishing the extent to which the company was willing to overlook Ye’s behavior because he was bringing in money.
For almost 10 years, Adidas looked past West’s misconduct as profits soared. The partnership, which began in 2013, boosted company profits and made West a billionaire. But West subjected employees to antisemitic and other abusive comments. And though their contract for years had a clause allowing Adidas to end the agreement if West’s behavior harmed the company’s reputation, it’s not clear that executives ever considered invoking it before terminating the deal last year.
West showed a troubling fixation on Jews and Hitler. At a 2013 meeting with Adidas designers at the company’s headquarters in Germany, he drew a swastika on one of their sketches. He later told a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a portrait of Hitler every day. And West told Adidas colleagues that he admired Hitler’s command of propaganda.
He brought pornography and crude comments into the workplace. Weeks before the swastika episode, West made Adidas executives watch pornography during a meeting at his Manhattan apartment. Last year, he ambushed Adidas executives in Los Angeles with a pornographic film. Staff members also complained to top executives that he had made angry, sexually offensive comments to them.
Big demands and mood swings weighed on the relationship. West, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at times rejected the assessment and resisted treatment. Tears were common; so was fury. In 2019, he abruptly moved the operation designing his shoes, called Yeezys, to remote Cody, Wyo., and ordered the Adidas team to relocate. In a meeting with company leaders that year to discuss his demands, he hurled shoes around the room.
Adidas adapted to West’s behavior. Managers and top executives started a group text chain, called the “Yzy hotline,” to address matters involving West. The Adidas team working on Yeezys adopted a strategy they likened to firefighting, rotating members on and off the front lines of dealing with the artist.
I am not naive about the extent to which corporate America makes everything subservient to its search for profits but usually they try to avoid those things that might harm the corporate brand and turn off customers. But here it seems like anything Ye said and did, however outrageous, was tolerated and worked around, like the indulgent parents of a a spoiled toddler. Surely they must have known that these things would eventually come to light.