Four Things brands can learn from Kanye West’s feud with adidas and GAP

Alina Amin


Fashion     News     Report     

Stealing &
paying to shut up

“No one should be held in that position where people can steal from them and say we’re just paying you to shut up,” told Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, to Bloomberg in an exclusive phone interview a couple of days ago.

The musician, designer, and self-proclaimed genius is currently battling his business-partners adidas and GAP. There are multiple reasons and some of those problems have been existing for a while now.

One might think that this is just one of those times, where Kanye starts being really *loud*. But there’s more to Ye’s now deleted Instagram posts about adidas execs.

For a while now, Kanye has been publicly calling out adidas for excluding him in business decisions, not consulting him on planning and strategy, and “stealing” his designs. Apart from the stealing thing, similar problems arose with GAP, with whom he’s now planning to terminate the contract – due to the “substantial noncompliance” of their agreement.

The news is huge. For Ye, working with GAP was basically a dream come true. The contract (possibly) coming to an end like this, is pretty bad – especially for GAP, since they are struggling financially.

The power of Ye

But this is not about them. This is about Kanye West and the way that these brands are seemingly treating him. In this day and age, securing a deal with Kanye West is basically guaranteed success. He has the influence, the power, and the creative mind that inspires thousands, if not millions, of people. So one would assume that once you get Yeezy to be on your team, you wouldn’t want to lose him.

Well, seems like keeping Kanye on the team wasn’t such a big priority after all. Call it a misunderstanding or different visions – but there are a couple of things that could’ve gone better for a huge and important project like this.

1. Don’t just value the ideas, value the person

One of Kanye’s many complaints is that both adidas and GAP have kept him out of the loop. He seems to have requested to be added to their boards without success. Moreover, Ye has explained that he regularly was excluded from meetings, which he did complain about – only to be shrugged off by management.

Both adidas and GAP are brands that create streetwear products. Ye and his brand Yeezy were the perfect partners: They gave both corporations newfound credibility in street culture, access to a new group of customers, and, arguably most important, ideas. 

Kanye was always known for his love for fashion, and when he first created Yeezy, it kick-started a whole movement of Kanye-fied streetwear. Albeit mainstream, Yeezy was and is hugely celebrated – and thus made new things possible for its long-term partner, adidas. 

Yeezy x adidas was always a lucrative deal, but over the years – with the rising popularity of Yeezy – it got even bigger. By 2019, sales for Yeezy’s Adidas sneakers generated $1.3 billion in annual revenue.

Kanye knows his sh*t, but both brands don’t seem to actually believe that. If they did, they would’ve cared more about including him on his own project. Taking all of his ideas, his brand, and even his personality – because Yeezy is and always was still mostly about Kanye – was what allowed them to make all of that money in the first place. Not including Kanye in the business of things speaks of sheer disrespect – or at least, not enough appreciation.

When working with people from the culture, it’s important to actually value them as, well, people. Value, what they have to say, and their unique perspective of things. Not doing that will make you look like you don’t actually care about culture. And that will drive people away from your brand.

2. Give credit where credit is due

This one should be obvious, but don’t steal things. From an ethical perspective, stealing the intellectual property of people is pretty sh*tty. And it gets even worse when you’re stealing from your actual business partner – probably to avoid paying them.

It’s no secret that numerous fashion companies steal designs and ideas to avoid working with the owners of said designs. Fast fashion companies like SheIn or Pretty Little Thing are guilty of it; Zara and H&M do it too. While that is all pretty bad on its own, the whole thing just gets even worse when you’re working with the person you’re stealing from.

Kanye’s deal with adidas isn’t just about sharing ideas. It’s also about giving access; Access to his fanbase, the culture, and credibility. Let’s presume they actually did steal his designs. By doing that, they would only demonstrate that they don’t care about Kanye or the culture, which would massively hurt their image since the brand is all about being *street*.

For brands looking to work with somebody like Kanye, this is just another example of how to not treat your business partner.

3. Don’t underestimate your customers

This one’s kind of connected to the previous one: Don’t underestimate your customers. When it comes to Yeezy, people know their thing. They understand how Yeezy looks and what makes something a Yeezy product. Because Yeezy isn’t just a brand, there’s an entire culture surrounding it.
Again, presuming that this happened: creating a knock-off of something that everybody already knows lowers your credibility. Let us explain.

Yeezy is a company. But they got Kanye as the founder and face of the whole project, who gives it a soul. adidas, on the other hand, is a company without a face. Sure, it’s adidas, but as a faceless corporation, their cultural credibility will always be tied to its collaborators and partners.
When a company like that steals a design, they also make their customers feel played.
“Did they really think we could fall for that?” – we don’t know, but it often seems like it when things like these happen.

What does that teach us? Don’t underestimate your customers – especially when working with culture. People know their way around their favorite brands and creatives.

4. … meet your obligations?

This should be a no-brainer, but since it is not, we shall include it in our list. Ye is currently trying to terminate the contract with GAP and is stating that the company didn’t meet their obligations.

Of course, nobody really knows what happened behind the scenes. But let’s be honest: Kanye, with his platform, following, and influence, has a lot of power to sway public opinion to his favor. By underperforming (if Kanye’s reasoning is true), they just lost their whole coolness. 

Kanye, who seems to be ready to do the solo thing (“It’s time for me to go it alone,”), isn’t exactly mourning his losses: 

“It’s fine. I made the company’s money. The companies made me money. We created ideas that will change apparel forever. Like the round jacket, the foam runner, and the slides that have changed the shoe industry. Now it’s time for Ye to make the new industry. No more companies standing in between me and the audience.”

And fans aren’t mad about it, either. GAP might need Kanye, but he doesn’t need them. 

Ultimately, this whole thing is a learning lesson for big brands that try to profit from the culture without valuing the people or history behind it. Kanye – at least according to his side of the story – wasn’t treated like a person who people actually take seriously. And now he’s leaving. But not without utilizing the influence he has to make sure that everybody knows what went down.