Kanye West’s show at Paris Fashion Week dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The controversial designer has been on a self-induced rollercoaster, publicly ending his 10-year deal with Gap after only a year, continuing his feuds with friends and family alike on social media, and bashing his remaining partner Adidas. But nothing topped the firestorm that ignited after West’s Paris show. There, both he and his models wore shirts with the slogan “White Lives Matter.” And in his Instagram Stories, he both said the Black Lives Matter movement was a scam and blamed LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault for “killing” Virgil Abloh.
West’s rhetoric has drawn criticism before, but it has always been outweighed by the success of his fashion lines. Months before the end of his partnership with Gap, his threats against ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her then-boyfriend Pete Davidson drew accusations of misogyny and stalking. Meanwhile, his partners Adidas and Gap stayed silent while collaborations with Balenciaga continued without comment from the company.
But now, the tide may turn. The Paris show drew criticism from across the fashion world. Jaden Smith and Kendall Jenner walked out of the show in protest. Gigi Hadid called West a “bully” and “a joke” in an Instagram comment due to West’s attack on Vogue editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson. That attack also drew public condemnation from Vogue owner Condé Nast. After Karefa-Johnson criticized the show on her Instagram story, West called her a “droid” and “not a fashion person.” Supreme’s creative director Tremaine Emory posted his own criticism on Instagram of West’s invoking of Abloh, who Emory said West called “a disgrace to the black community” before his death last year.
West’s past controversies have led to increased demand for his products. At the height of the Kanye-Kardashian-Davidson debacle, demand for Yeezy sneakers spiked by 56%, according to data from British sneaker marketplace Sole Supplier. But West has made his ambition clear: He wants Yeezy to operate as an independent brand free of brand partnerships that he feels have stifled his creative freedom. Still, Yeezy sneakers generated $1.3 billion in revenue in 2020 and $1.7 billion in 2021, accounting for close to 10% of Adidas’s revenue. The Yeezy x Gap line, even though it was shut down early in its run, was already showing signs of success. The first drop in June 2021 gave Gap its single best e-commerce sales day ever; Gap expected the line to generate $1 billion annually by 2025. Going at it alone, without the backing of Gap or Adidas, will be difficult if West continues to alienate his audience and collaborators.
For instance, in the wake of the Paris show, Yeezy’s head of media and partnerships, Jason Lee, cut ties with West, leaving the brand without a head of PR. Representatives for the Yeezy brand did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
While it is too early to say if the Paris show has negatively impacted sales of Yeezy apparel — according to a representative from StockX there haven’t yet been any changes to Yeezy sales on the platform — there are some indications of consumers dropping Yeezy over West’s actions. On the /r/sneakers subreddit, one of the largest sneaker forums in the world with 3 million members, several users have posted asking about alternatives to Yeezys in the last week, citing a desire to distance themselves from West.