Adidas are left with $2 billion worth of Yeezy shoes after the partnership split

Thursday 09 March 2023

Adidas is still wrestling with how to dispose of €1.2 billion ($2b) worth of Yeezy shoes after its breakup with the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.

The split forced the German sportswear maker into a big loss at the end of last year and expectations of more pain ahead.

CEO Bjorn Gulden said selling the popular line of shoes would mean paying royalties to Ye, whom Adidas dropped five months ago after making antisemitic remarks on social media and in interviews. During an earnings call Wednesday, Gulden pointed to “many variables” about what to do with the shoes now stacked in warehouses.

Destroying them could “raise sustainability issues”, though some companies have offered recycling solutions, said Gulden, who was named CEO after the blowup over Ye’s remarks. Restitching them to hide the Yeezy brand so they could be sold “is not very honest, so it’s not an option”, he added.

Suggestions to give them away to those in need in places like earthquake-hit Syria or Turkey would mean the product would “come back again very quickly” because of its high market value, “so that’s not really an option”, Gulden said.

If Adidas does decide to sell the shoes, “I can promise you that the people that have been hurt by this will also get something good out of it and get donations and proceeds in different ways, shapes or forms”, the CEO said.

Adidas split with Ye in October, following other brands that were facing pressure to end ties with the rapper over his antisemitic and other offensive remarks. The company is now struggling to find ways to become profitable again and replace its banner Yeezy line, which analysts have said amounted to as much as 15 per cent of its net income.

The Ye breakup cost €600 million in lost sales in the last three months of 2022, helping drive the company to a net loss of €513m. The decline, also attributed to higher supply costs and slumping revenue in China, contrasts with profit of €213m in the fourth quarter of 2021.

More losses could be ahead, with the company forecasting a €500m hit to profit earnings this year if it decides not to repurpose the remaining Yeezy products in stock. The company is predicting a 2023 operating loss of €700m.

Gulden said “so many companies” were willing to buy the popular shoes but that would mean paying royalties to Ye. Rumours that the company was in talks to sell them, however, “are not true”.

He had heard from “gazillions of people that have opinions about this, and of course when you’re sitting on the inside, it looks a little bit different than it looks on the outside”.

Gulden also said Adidas is still investigating former employees’ allegations that Ye created a toxic work environment and that the sportswear company knew about his problematic behaviour and failed to protect workers.