Just recently, an investigative report from The New York Times revealed that fewer than 4.5 per cent of workers at Adidas’s North American headquarters identify as black.
The news was something of a shock to those outside the industry – consumers, fans, sneaker aficionados alike – as the company has built its reputation and sales through its association with black stars.
Run-DMC gave Adidas something like cultural cachet in the song, “My Adidas,” while athletes from the likes of James Harden and Candace Parker endorse the products. Just as recently as April, Adidas announced a new partnership with Beyoncé who took to Instagram to announce the news with an image of her reclining on a pile of Adidas sneakers, wearing a red Adidas bodysuit.
All of this makes for powerful advertising, but for black employees the North American headquarters are anything but empowering nor supportive. In The New York Times pieces, interviews with more than 20 current or former Adidas employees revealed the company’s predominantly white leadership struggle with issues of race and discrimination. Those who do belong to the 4.5 per cent, say they feel marginalised and even discriminated against.
And yet, despite all of this, ironically for Adidas it’s the black stars upon which they have established a name for themselves. Just look at Kanye West’s hugely successful Yeezy collaboration.
Adidas has positioned West’s Yeezy brand as its own category inside the company. Sources have revealed that West earns 5 per cent royalties on net sales of his shoes and apparel, with Yeezy sales expected to top $1.3 billion. This would put him on course to earn something around $65 million directly in royalties for this financial year.
In an interview with trade publication Footwear News in 2016, Mark King, then head of Adidas North America, said of the significance of West’s Yeezy line, “The association with Kanye West and how he sees himself as an artist – with design, music, and culture – said this Adidas brand is not just a typical sports brand. It’s one that looks at creativity and considers both sports and culture.”
This has led to West accruing quite the net worth, which is reportedly around a billion dollars according to The Blast. When West debuted his new album Ye in June 2018, the drop was accompanied with a release of Yeezy merch, including a line of T-shirts and hoodies. In just 30 minutes, West sold $500,000 worth of merch.
It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, West revealed he was in financial trouble. In a 2016 post to Twitter, West revealed that he was in $53 million personal debt and asked for help from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: “Mark Zuckerberg invest 1 billion dollars into kanye West ideas.”
Zuckerberg didn’t respond, but it seems he didn’t need to in the end.