Kanye West is widely regarded as one of the most influential producers, rappers, and style icons of his generation. Until recently, some may even have referenced him as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, crediting his incredible foresight in trend and culture. He has publicly hailed himself a genius, or a “Jeen-yuhs” to use his own neologism, which has also become the title of the most recent Netflix documentary charting his life. However, this latter proclamation, equating him to somewhat of a philosopher, has become particularly thorny and contrived with his recent discriminatory comments and antisemitic statements. Kanye West, although perhaps not permanently, has temporarily fallen victim to cancel culture. But, what does this mean for the collections that have been branded and marketed under his name and image, will these too be dragged down in infamy?
Kanye’s demise all began at the start of October with his provocative “White Lives Matter” t-shirt that he decided to wear during his Yeezy Show at Paris Fashion Week. On October the 3rd, the fashion figurehead confidently donned the provocative garment, and horrified onlookers who were quick to comment on his allusions to neo-nazi and white supremacist maxims. Fashion has certainly been used as a political vehicle throughout the years, and in the majority of instances it has been a platform useful for fore-fronting progressive voices. This subversive and almost mocking stance against the recent Black Lives Matter movement however, unsurprisingly, went down in ill-taste. Yet, Kanye’s discriminatory rampage continued with his aggressive tweet just 5 days later, making direct death threats towards the Jewish community.
Celebrity demise is of great fascination in popular culture, but what is also deeply interesting is the severed ties between Kanye and the brands he has become intrinsically related to. As a consequence of his actions, the creative was dropped by big brands Balenciaga, Adidas and Gap, and contracts for his designs all swiftly aborted. Both Adidas and Gap have decided to remove existing Yeezy products from stores, and Adidas have terminated the production of any future Yeezy products in motion. The sportswear label publicly announced that they will not tolerate hate speech and that Ye’s actions violate their company policies of diversity, inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.
These brands are attempting to completely bleach out their association with the figurehead, wanting no part in his discrimination. But ultimately, this complete obsoleting of the Yeezy brand, is entirely implausible. Adidas are asking individual store owners to retract Yeezy products from their shop floors, citing their morality and want to disassociate with the range.
But, is this a fair ask and instruction? Yes, store owners may stand in opposition with Kanye’s remarks and actions, but buying into the Yeezy brand was a monetary investment for them. There is profit held in their stock, and quite frankly a significant amount, seen as the Yeezy shoes have seen immense popularity and have created huge turnover. Why should independent store owners take detrimental financial hits, as a result of one inflated man’s unethical actions?
There is also a scepticism over how effective any attempted wipe-out will be, the sneakers can be produced and shipped up to months in advance, and there are thousands making their way along the global supply chain as we speak. To wind down a product of such immense gravity and influence, will be much more of a process than anything immediate. The situation screams of the need for some kind of innovative redesign project, where Yeezys already in production are perhaps re-envisioned, imprinted with designs rooted in anti-discrimination sentiment. Although perhaps a provocative suggestion, and one that Kanye would never allow, some sort of project that up-cycled the materials and skeleton structures of the Yeezy products, to make an environmental and ideological stance, would surely be a moment of brilliance in the wake of a saddening situation.
Ultimately, the cost of Adidas’ decision to part with Kanye West, however heralded by the public, will undoubtedly cost independent business owners. It is not only the store owners aforementioned who will suffer, but also the thousands of internal workers at Adidas who work solely on the Yeezy range. Pausing the distribution for now under the pretence of ‘discontinuation’ is all well and good, but whether the sportswear giant will see through this termination is more complicated.
And what about the existing Yeezys that are being worn on feet all around the globe? It will be intriguing to see whether these once avant-garde sneakers, that signified the most fashion conscious of our generation, will become “cancelled” like Kanye himself. Will wearing Yeezys become a “distasteful” fashion choice?
To some extent, Yeezy has now become to represent a whole host of beliefs vocalized by Kanye. The brand now quite literally tells a story and a message, and the offensive tweets and WLM phrasing will certainly ring in the back of peoples’ minds for the foreseeable. Has personality become too entwined with clothing? Can shoes become so entrenched in bigotry, that people may become fearful of wearing them?
Many people may say such an assertion is ridiculous, and shoes are just shoes, but there is some reality in the fact that your actions, and where you place your money, are outward markers of your politics. One could argue that those who continue to partake in the Yeezy image, are communicating that antisemitism isn’t enough of a dealbreaker for them to part with the brand. In the same breath, one could say that those who buy from ultra-fast fashion labels associated with labour abuses, are communicating that these atrocities aren’t enough of a dealbreaker for them. Of course, this sweeping statement neglects all issues of affordability and the nuance of shaming shoppers, which is another can of worms entirely. But, the notion that in the 21st century you vote with your money, is definitely something relevant to this case.
Conversely, has this drama given Yeezy re-sellers the green light to suddenly boost their prices? Marketing is marketing, after all, whether positive or deeply negative. To some extent, the name is taking up space.. Our capitalist world sometimes values, and even idolizes, provocative marketing over anything. Perhaps, somewhat , Yeezy has now become even more cool and hip, by being shrouded in contention. And, despite being a huge critic of the Kanye myth myself, it does beg the question, is this all the unsettling workings of a true “jeen-yuhs”?
The future of Kanye and his eponymous brand is uncertain. What is clear, is that whatever happens next, will reveal an awful lot about the state of consumerism today.
Edited by GLITCH Team