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The three stripes brand faces allegations of racism and a lack of diversity.
The popularity of the Adidas brand has ebbed and flowed over the years, but at one time they dominated the urban shoe market thanks to Run DMC.
From “My Adidas” by Run DMC, LL Cool J’s love for Troop jackets and sneakers and hip-hop’s early love affair with Pumas, to KRS-One’s lambasting of Pumas on “The Bridge is Over”, the manner in which black culture has been the single most important catalyst to the sales numbers of major shoe companies cannot be refuted.
The company, who has been battling Nike for decades, has seen a recent resurgence thanks to names like James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Kanye West. Yet despite the culture driving the style and demand for sneakers from companies such as Adidas, it’s become apparent that Black support is a one way street at the company as a scathing new story from The NY Times has cast a negative light on their hiring practices and corporate culture.
According to the story, racial insensitivity and a lack of diversity have plagued the company’s North American headquarters in Portland.
There were the proposed campaigns of the aforementioned Harden and Lillard, where, as part of their “Uncaged” campaign in 2016, Harden would break out of a prison cell. Lillard, in their “All Rise” campaign, would have been placed in a courtroom as a defendant.
Both campaigns were deaded, but the tone was set.
The Times’ story details the accounts of over 20 current and former anonymous Adidas employees, who decry the brand’s image of inclusion and diversity and instead paint a picture of a hostile work environment where stereotypes and racism surfaced in meetings and discussions.
Per the Times:
“Two black employees said they had been referred to with a common racist slur by white co-workers, one verbally and one in a text message seen by The Times. In both instances, the people believed the slur was intended as a joke, which they felt only highlighted the company’s skewed perspective on race.”
But this has occurred before at the company. As recently as 2018, an anonymous letter purported to represent the company’s minorities was published revealing racial tensions at Adidas North America.
“Internal hallway chatter has coined [North America] leadership and a group of select individuals as the ‘Mafia,’” the letter said. “The assumption is that this nickname is not playful in nature and represents a culture that embodies the opposite of inclusivity, rooted in personal relationships, racial bias and not necessarily on experience or qualifications.”
As is inline with historic precedent whenever a company is pulled into a PR nightmare, particularly when it relates to race, the brand began to add powerful Black faces to their roster. From Kanye, Pharrell and Pusha T. to the Queen Bey, Beyonce , the three stripes brand has been making moves to address the issue of inclusion. When fewer than 5 percent of your company’s 1,700 employees identify as black, that’s a priority.
And it’s one that needs to be addressed in the boardroom, not just on billboards.
The marketing missteps that Adidas had in 2012, and nearly had in 2016, could have easily been avoided by simply having more black faces in the room. Having more cultural presence and awareness in brand pitches would help address the ignorance which seeped into the conversations at the company.
Though all of the major sneaker brands are lead and staffed by a predominantly white staff, we all know who ultimately helps them move product. Unfortunately, like most other historic paradigm of race and capitalism in America, Black people create the trends and white business profits off of them.
Karen Parkin, Adidas’ global head of human resources, told the Times that while they know they have work to do, they do maintain a “zero tolerance” policy in regards to incidents like this.
“We want to be humble,” said Parkin. “We’re not where we need to be in all of the locations around the world. But we’re not afraid to have the conversation, either.”
In response to the story, Adidas sent sneaker site, Sole Collector, an official statement regarding the allegations mentioned in the story:
“We are committed to fostering a respectful, equitable, and inclusive environment for all Adidas employees around the world. It’s crucial that we have and support a diverse workforce that represents a variety of ideas, strengths, interests and backgrounds and that we promote an open culture where all of our people can fully contribute. We value all of our employees, are stronger because of their unique perspectives and are dedicated to achieving greater diversity at every level of the company.
We actively evaluate and seek to strengthen our programs and policies to ensure we are recruiting, retaining, and advancing a diverse team. Recently, we have expanded our Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to focus on underrepresented communities in our workforce across the talent lifecycle; and we conduct ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America. Our North American diversity strategy also includes programs to help bring new employees from diverse backgrounds to positions at the company’s corporate headquarters. While we have made progress in these areas, we recognize there is much more to be done, and we are committed to doing it.”
Harden, Pharrell, Kanye West, and Beyonce are the melanin that provides adrenaline to shoe sales in America. But until there are discernable numbers of Black people in management and decision making positions, anything these major brands say to refute claims of exclusion and discriminatory behavior is simply billboard talk.
Hopefully, the conversation prompts real change.