The billion-dollar question: what will Adidas do with all those Yeezys?


Melt them down and turn them into Crocs? Scrape off the label and hope no one notices?

What Adidas should do with all its unsold Yeezys is a €1.2bn ($1.3bn, £1bn) question that no one seems to have a very good answer for. The brand is in danger after it cut ties with Kanye West in October over his antisemitic comments.

The rapper, who now goes by Ye, was a huge profit driver for the company. A pair of his signature chunky rubber Yeezy 350 V2s went for about $220 (and was often resold for many times its retail price). Ye rescued Adidas, freshening up the brand’s image and allowing it to compete with heavy hitters like Nike’s Air Jordans. Following Ye’s series of pro-Nazi tirades, that image is a shambles, with Adidas shares plunging 10% last week after the company announced its potential loss of revenue.

It’s also ignited an ethical dilemma. How does Adidas discard the items that caused a PR nightmare without triggering another outrage over waste? It’s the first major test of leadership for the company’s new CEO, Bjørn Gulden, who is fresh off a job at Puma.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We are currently not performing the way we should,” Gulden, who started in January, said. “2023 will be a year of transition to set the base to again be a growing and profitable company.”

man bends over and looks at sneakers
Ye in Beverly Hills, 2015. Photograph: Valérie Macon/Getty Images

Adidas drew widespread criticism last fall for taking over a week to sever the deal with Ye, after he said on a podcast: “I can say antisemitic things, and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?”

Experts say what the brand does with the sneakers could be a chance to make up for its perceived lack of action. “They cannot simply discard the shoes,” said Charcy Evers, a social impact and sustainability advocate. “Adidas could use this as an opportunity to set a new standard of practice by being 100% transparent and owning this unique predicament.”

Evers said that the “common industry practice” for getting rid of excess stock was simply destroying it, but Coach, H&M and Urban Outfitters have been called out on such policies.

What else can be done with such a unique-looking sneaker with a design unavoidably linked to Ye? Alden Wicker, a journalist who covers sustainable fashion, says the shoes should be recycled responsibly. The company has launched products that aim toward repurposing waste, such as the Adidas Terrex Futurecraft Loop anorak, made out of recycled ocean plastic. Wicker suggests that Adidas use the Yeezys to test new projects. “It would be the perfect source material for testing, especially since Adidas knows exactly what the material composition is, and that is crucial information for the recycling process,” she said.

Shelton Boyd-Griffith, a contributing style editor at Essence, recommends a hybrid donation-recycling approach. “I think it would be great to repurpose the shoes to be used by other designers, or even in-house to create other shoes,” he said. The bases, or other non-identifying materials from the shoes, could be used in existing Adidas designs. “I know it’s very Frankenstein, but it could work.”

The problem with this strategy is that the value of Yeezys is tied up in the branding rather than the raw materials. If they are simply used for other projects, it may be hard to recoup the majority of the investment. Also, the sheer amount of stock might make it hard to find enough alternative gear.

One risky strategy could be to try to reclaim the narrative. If “transparency” is the true goal, some say Adidas should not shy away from tying the sneakers to Ye’s comments, or hiding its own brand history. (Though the founding of Adidas predates Nazi Germany, the two German brothers who started the company ended up playing active roles in the party, with one coaching Hitler youth sports).

Rachel Weingarten, a brand strategist and founder of the non-profit RWR Network, which supports Holocaust survivors, thinks the brand should start a charity that allocates items to survivors of disasters. The Yeezy shoes could be the first products donated, with the idea of adding more for future events. “Adidas can set up a new collection that addresses their history and Kanye’s comments, and not shy away from that,” she said. “They can rename the collection in a way that shows they are allies, and not some tarnished brand.”

Could Yeezys be branded as Holocaust memorial shoes? It’s a strategy bizarrely close to one delivered in an episode of Nathan Fielder’s parody business advice show Nathan for You. After discovering the jacket he’s been wearing on screen was made by a company that had proud links to Holocaust deniers, Fielder created his own line of jackets that he described as “the first outdoor apparel company to promote the true story of the Holocaust”.

Weingarten says it’s not such a crazy idea, and that Adidas needs to do more than just release another statement standing against a blanket idea of hate. “There is so much Holocaust misinformation out there, history is being rewritten as we speak, and by not addressing it, many see Adidas as condoning it,” she said.

woman crosses street
Anna Winter wears Yeezy sandals in Berlin, 2021. Photograph: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

It’s a near impossible line for Adidas to tread; one wrong move could be a PR disaster. One bellwether to consider is what people who already own lots of Yeezys are doing with their sneakers.

Zeke Hannula is a San Francisco-based sneakerhead who owns about 80 pairs of Yeezys . He doubts that a recycling project on this scale could ever be sustainable, and he says that plenty of fans would buy the products if they ever hit shelves again. He think Yeezys aren’t really about Ye any more.

“The vast majority of people who wear Yeezys don’t really care about Ye having anything to do with the sneakers,” Hannula said. “In the last few years, they’ve become really mainstream. You see parents wearing them because they’re comfortable.”

Half of Hannula’s family is Jewish, and he was “really disappointed” by Ye’s bigoted comments. That hasn’t stopped him from wearing the sneakers himself. “I don’t feel like it’s a political statement to wear them – Yeezy’s are pretty nondescript, and not flashy, and most people don’t really notice them,” he said. “I know a lot of the designers behind the shoes, and I am sad for the people I know who worked at Yeezy, lost their jobs and don’t get to see their designs come out.”

Anyone who wanted to get rid of their Yeezys after Ye’s comments could sell them – Hannula said he had not seen angry fans burning or destroying their shoes in protest, as some Dolce & Gabbana shoppers did after the Italian label weathered its own racism scandal in 2018. “I’ve seen some people make customs, or paint over the labels,” he said.

That’s a move many sneaker collectors are trying out. On the resale site StockX, Yeezys continue to sell at pace – more than 200 pairs of bone-colored Yeezy slides have sold in the past three days, often for about three times as much as the original price ($60). Though expensive, it is significantly less than what the shoes would sell for before Adidas dumped Ye. And 150 of the shoes are listed as “below retail price” – meaning resellers are not making a profit.

Hannula believes the easiest thing to do would be for Adidas to just sell the shoes, “but for a discount, and make no profit off of them. Just so they don’t have that massive stock. I think they are going to lose money no matter what.”

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( With inputs from : )


TheNewsCaravan News Desk

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