As a consequence of the anti-Semitic remarks made by Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) brands like Balenciaga, adidas and Gap are cutting ties with him. Here’s a brief look at the timeline of the events and why fashion brands and the community speaking up really does matter.
Not speaking up has often been seen as the fashion industry’s biggest folly. Brushing things under the carpet or selective activism has earned the industry much disservice. The pandemic years, especially the BLM movement, changed this narrative as fashion became a powerful and far-reaching tool. Fast forward to 2022, and Ye (Kanye West) debuts his “White Lives Matter” t-shirts for the Yeezy Season 9 show at Paris Fashion Week. Yes, the intent was ironic but the effect was the reverse as it dismissed the work done and came across as a ‘white supremacist hate slogan’. Everything from there has been a downward spiral. Facing backlash, he went on to tweet that he’d go “death con 3 on Jewish people” whereby his Twitter account was suspended for violating community guidelines. It’s been a blame game since, spewing hatred on everyone from ex-wife Kim Kardashian, anyone attempting to criticize his collection and even brands he’s long held lucrative partnerships with cutting ties and associations.
Vogue’s global fashion editor and stylist, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson was the first to be at the receiving end of Ye’s hate charade after she highlighted the flaws in his PFW collection. She was one of the first to call out the rapper “There is no excuse, there is no art here,” she said at the time. “I do think if you asked Ye, he’d say there was art, and revolution, and all of the things in that T-shirt. There isn’t.” An immediate statement of support appeared on Vogue’s page and since then its been reported that their Editor-In-Chief has severed personal and professional ties. While one might expect the media to be the first to speak up against injustice, often issues like this are brushed under the carpet because of long term associations and the massive amounts of investments these brands have at stake.
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The first fashion label to bite the bullet was Balenciaga. Yes, the very label known for some of Ye’s greatest out-of-the-box looks including the zippered Balenciaga gimp mask. He and creative director Demna Gvasalia might have been regular collaborators and text buddies but Balenciaga’s parent company Kering were quick to issue a statement confirming the end of its professional relationship. Thereby setting a precedent for other fashion brands to follow.
The brand with the most at stake when it comes to Ye’s billion-dollar fashion empire has been adidas. According to reports, the sportswear giant’s partnership generated about $1.7 billion in 2021 which is nearly 7 percent of its annual revenue. It’s not just adidas that has a lot to lose but also Ye (Kanye West) whose tie-up with adidas is said to be $1.5 billion of his net worth. Yet, that didn’t stop him from challenging the brand on social media and in interviews by saying, “I can say antisemitic s—- and Adidas cannot drop me.” So what does adidas do, it drops Ye and yes the news is about as internet breaking as a Yeezy drop.
After almost a month-long wait of ‘will they, won’t they’, the company in a statement said, “Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech”. Thereby ending one of its most successful partnerships. The financial implications of this move might be great but the message it sends out to the masses is even greater. With brands not tolerating the artist’s notoriety and erratic behaviour, it’s perhaps a second wind for the fashion industry to do more than pay lip service.