He’s a divisive hitmaker, fashion mogul, and political provocateur. Whether it’s buying right-wing platform Parler, going through a messy Kardasian divorce, inviting Marilyn Manson to Sunday Service, opening Balenciaga’s latest Paris runway show, or getting banned on Twitter and Instagram for anti-semetism — Kanye West just can’t keep himself out of the headlines.
The latest are not ones Ye will enjoy. Adidas, which has been working with Yeezy since 2011 on sellout sneakers, has put an end to the partnership and one of the German company’s most successful collaborations. The move will result in a net loss of $247 million in 2022, the sportswear giant reported, as it would be pulling products off shelves immediately.
Only three days ago, Balenciaga, the brand whose years-long relationship with Ye had been lucrative for both parties, cut ties with the artist. Even JPMorgan Chase halted its banking relationship with him. Ye claimed to be un-cancellable. But has he just become fashion’s persona non grata?
Ye’s rollercoaster relationship with the industry
It wasn’t always like this. Over a decade ago, his style star was on the rise. This led to partnerships with Louis Vuitton, Nike, Adidas, and Gap, the launch of his own Yeezy label, and friendships struck with the likes of Riccardo Tisci, Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour, and Demna Gvasalia. His first sneaker collab with Nike in 2008, a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes, ended up breaking the world record for the most expensive sneakers sold at auction at $1.8 million.
Then the musician/designer’s dizzying political turns — from supporting Trump and sporting MAGA hats to threatening to run for president — had the makings of an unraveling (or strange performance art). But he nonetheless managed to maintain a reputation as one of fashion’s most skilled hype-makers. Much of Ye’s work with Balenciaga helped shift the styles of the Kardashians, America’s biggest influencers, from raunchy LA socialites to edgy fashion week fodder.
But his more recent antics — namely, wearing White Lives Matter shirts with Candice Owens in Paris, slamming Black Lives Matter, and threatening the Jewish community — proved to be the tipping point. In the Western popular media landscape, Kanye has gone from divisive to distasteful.
The Adidas and Balenciaga moves are unsurprising to many. His Gap collaboration also just ended sourly. And now, Vogue is reportedly refusing to work with him in the future.
What’s China’s social media response?
Despite outrage in the west, the news failed to gain much traction in China, showing that viral topics don’t resonate the same around the world. Entertainment news blogger @会火’s post about Adidas cutting ties with Ye garnered about 37,000 likes and 2,500 replies, with most showing little surprise at the news, considering his actions.
The topic wasn’t particularly discussed on social media platforms like Weibo or Xiaohongshu. Yesterday, the most popular Balenciaga and Ye related post we could find garnered just over 700 likes and a few dozen comments. In summary, we saw that around 80 percent of those posts did not support Kanye, while 20 percent remained fans.
His supporters (mostly men) like @Shu帅Rnm stated: “Love Ye, at least he dares to speak out.”
Whereas others like @Hdbxivb speculated whether the Paris-headquartered fashion house would “come back to Ye eventually.” Others @__sssun commented that “blcg is on its way out,” and @一天一包乐事薯片 asked “how will Adidas make money without Ye in the future?”
But most Chinese netizens agreed that his words and actions were just too crazy, and were not surprised that big, established brands like Adidas and Balenciaga had dumped him. @爱狸杏菜 posted that “he had it coming because he was making statements that discriminate against minorities,” and @妳很渴嗎 simply asked, “Why does he still have fans?”
In China, the general public neither knows nor cares that much about Kanye West, and cobranded products still might fly despite his antics. But it’s clear that these Western brands find it too damaging to be linked to such an erratic, often toxic, tour de force. This case is a complex mix of publicity, perceived morality, revenue numbers, and mental health (Kanye revealed his bipolar condition years ago) so rarely seen in fashion.
Collab King no more?
His work with Balenciaga and Adidas produced some career-defining collabs that propelled the street style-high fashion crossover from fling to fully-fledged marriage. Despite this, the endings have been abrupt and unceremonious.
“Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist,” parent company Kering told WWD. Adidas put out a statement today: “Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech. Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”
In China at least, these moves have largely been welcomed by those netizens who care to comment. Because Chinese consumers pay more attention to Balenciaga’s campaigns, hot drops and local activations, this latest news is unlikely to negatively impact the brand’s revenue in the long term. Adidas however, a sportswear giant who hopes to rebound in China, might face a slightly longer uphill battle with the loss of that Yeezy collab revenue.