Art & Entertainment

Kanye West-Adidas Split And The Dark History Of The Sportswear Brand

Adidas has distanced itself from Kanye West after his largely condemned anti-Semitic remarks. Those, who find it as an appropriate action might suffer a 'shoe bite' if they walk miles deep into the history of the sportswear brand.

Kanye West

American rapper Kanye West, as everyone knows, is controversies' favourite child. The rapper, who was recently alleged to have shown explicit pictures of his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, to former Adidas employees, has a history of stirring the pot and issuing statements that raise eyebrows for all wrong reasons.

Similarly, Kanye has been at the receiving end of a barrage of criticism and financial losses following his anti-semitic remarks and why not? The world has witnessed what horrors anti-semitism can lead to - the loss of human life, humiliation and torture with the Jewish holocaust. Everything that could go wrong with humanity, went wrong with the sinister and gruesome practices of the Third Reich ruled by one of the most dreaded dictators in history - Adolf Hitler.

However, there’s one particular name among the array of brands and voices that are calling out Kanye or as he is known by the name Ye now, it’s that of the multinational sportswear giant, Adidas.

The company ended its almost decade-long association with the rapper after putting it under review last month. As a result, their flagship product - Yeezy which was born out of the collaboration between Ye and Adidas, has witnessed an end to its production with the Adidas Yeezy business being suspended with immediate effect.

While this may seem to be the right thing to do on Adidas’s part, a little deep dive into the corporate giant’s history will unlock the closet leading to the tumbling of skeletons from the past and perhaps that unfortunate picture of the shoe collection too that has become one of the defining pictures of the Jewish holocaust in which around 6 million Jews (as per official figures) - children, women, senior citizens, differently abled, pretty much everyone lost their lives.

Adidas, which is the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and second largest in the world after Nike, was founded in the German town of Herzogenaurach, in Bavaria state in July 1924 by the German cobbler, inventor and entrepreneur - Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler.

Germany after the first World War was battered by the Treaty of Versailles which led to economic sanctions and penalties on the Scandinavian country. As a result, Germany had to pay a huge compensation as remuneration for the war which could only be paid as gold or foreign currency.

In order to comply with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had to borrow huge loans from American Banks, which, coupled with gold depletion, led Germany to increase the printing of its currency in an attempt to buy foreign currency. This caused hyperinflation in the year 1923.

Adolf started making the shoes, a year later by scavenging army debris in the war-torn countryside as Army helmets and bread pouches supplied leather for soles, in his mother's scullery or laundry room in Herzogenaurach.

Adolf, who was later joined by his elder brother Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Dassler for their shoe factory under the name Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory), earlier served in the war much like his namesake and another Bavarian cadet - Adolf Hitler, the name that would later go on to change the face of world history.

The hyperinflation continued as the German economy continued to struggle then in 1929 all hell broke loose with the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Following the crash, the American banks called back their loans, and Germany’s economy which was already struggling collapsed. Unemployment and poverty skyrocketed, and with no option left, people became desperate.

Most dictators are born out of adversity and rise up the ranks purely based on the utopia that they promise to their masses, the rise of the other Adolf - Adolf Hitler was no different. Hitler’s popularity soared and so did the Nazi sentiment of racial nationalism. Before 1929, the Nazis had already lost 2 elections and secured barely 3.5% votes. But in 1933, the Nazis won 35% of the votes, enough to form a coalition government.

The anti-semitic propaganda put into action by the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda - Joseph Goebbels fuelled the anti-Jew hate in Germany.

By 1933, all three Dassler brothers - Adolf, Fritz and Rudolf, joined the Nazi party and also became members of the paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party - the National Socialist Motor Corps. Furthermore, Adolf took the rank of Sportwart in the Hitler Youth from 1935 until the end of the war.

During wartime, Adidas predominantly supplied the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany - the Wehrmacht with shoes. As the war advanced in 1943, the shoe production at Adidas’s last running shoe factory in Germany was forced to cease operations and the company's facilities and the workforce were used to manufacture an anti-tank weapon called the Panzerchreck (Tank Terror) – a rocket launcher capable of blowing Allied tanks into smithereens.

The factory was almost destroyed by U.S. troops in 1945, but Adi’s wife convinced the soldiers that the only thing the company was manufacturing were athletic shoes for the sake of the company's survival.

Three years after the war ended, in 1948, the Dassler brothers split with Rudolf going on to establish another sportswear brand - Puma.

It’s not just Adidas that came out unscathed from the horrors committed by the Nazi Party, other big brands such as the automobile giant Volkswagen (founded in 1937 by the German Labour Front under the Nazi Party) supplied military vehicles to the Nazi state with slave labours making up to 80% of the wartime labour force of the company.


The luxury fashion label Hugo Boss was the licensed supplier of uniforms to the Sturmabteilung (SA), Schutzstaffel, Hitler Youth, National Socialist Motor Corps, and other Nazi party organizations.

Carl Zeiss, known for its world-class lenses and optical systems, sponsored the so-called race research at the University of Jena. During World War II, it employed thousands of forced labourers, including the persecution of Jews and other minorities.

The German multinational investment bank, Deutsche Bank provided loans to the Nazis for the construction of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the building of the IG Farben plant in the neighbourhood of the concentration camp.


Worst of all, the German multinational pharma company Bayer, which merged with five other chemical companies - BASF, Hoechst, Agfa and Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron to form the IG Farben conglomerate supplied the cyanide-based pesticide - Zyklon B for the extermination of the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps.

Outside of Germany, American tech giant - IBM provided extensive technological support to Nazi Germany for 12 years as per Edwin Black's 2001 book ‘IBM and the Holocaust’ the claim is based on a trove of archived documents.

While different charges have been pressed and proven against many Nazi politicians and ministers during the Nuremberg trials after World War 2, the corporate giants have largely remained unaccountable for their actions, they survived and continue to flourish their businesses. When you have the financial power and political muscle then ‘Impossible Is Nothing’.


Perhaps, in a world that sees the rise of cancel culture, Adidas’s stance against Kanye too is a bid for survival for its business. After all, James Franco’s Aron Ralston too had to amputate his arm to survive in ‘127 Hours’.

(Disclaimer: Akshay Acharya is an Independent Filmmaker and a Senior Entertainment Journalist. Views expressed are personal.)