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Kanye West’s Comments on Slavery Probably Won’t Hurt His Clothing Brand

His controversial statements might not spell the end of Yeezy.

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Since Kanye West’s bizarre appearance on TMZ Live this past Tuesday, he’s faced the ire of the black community, concerns about his mental health, and calls to boycott his music and fashion brand. West’s Yeezy x 2XU collection, featuring shorts and scuba leggings for upward of $400, debuts Saturday, but there’s a chance sales could suffer in the wake of the uproar he’s created because of his insensitive take on slavery.

”When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” he told TMZ. “Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of you all?”

His comments prompted a swift backlash and the Twitter hashtag #IfSlaveryWereAChoice. A “Boycott Kanye West” petition on Change.org with more than 400 signatures states that it’s necessary to put the rapper “in timeout.” And a Care2 petition with more than 8,000 signatures is demanding that Adidas, the parent company to the Yeezy brand, dump West.

“Care2 is asking Adidas to drop their partnership with Mr. West and tell the world they do not want anything to do with anyone who believes that millions of Africans chose to toil the fields in bondage for 400 years,” the petition states.

Kanye West and  Donald Trump
Kanye West met with Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Today, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted told Bloomberg that the company plans to speak with West about his controversial statements. However, it has not discussed parting ways with him, according to Rorsted.

“There clearly are some comments we don’t support,” he said. But he reportedly went on to say that West is important to Adidas’s strategy.

This is the second week of scandal for West. Last week, he upset many fans by declaring his support of Donald Trump on Twitter. But his comments about slavery have particularly struck a nerve. Despite the public outcry over West’s remarks — even celebrities like Wendy Williams, Will.i.am, the rapper Eve, and Whoopi Goldberg called him out — not everyone thinks his comments spell doom for the Yeezy brand, which West plugged late Wednesday in a series of short video clips posted to Twitter.

Erik Bernstein, vice president of Bernstein Crisis Management, a public relations firm in suburban Los Angeles, expects that Yeezy fans will keep supporting the brand.

“When you’re somebody like Kanye, the same rules don’t necessarily apply to you,” Bernstein says. “If you’re buying $700 sweatpants or whatever he’s putting out next, you’re doing it because you want people to know you’re wearing a super-high-end piece of clothing. I think [the controversy] will impact him but not as much as most people expect.”

Adidas does not release sales information, so it’s difficult to determine how the backlash against West has affected Yeezy sales. It did come in ninth in an index of the “hottest brands” ranked last month by the Business of Fashion and Lyst. The index predicted it could become one of the three hottest brands by year’s end.

On April 25, West claimed that Yeezy would “hit a billion dollars” in 2018 and was on its way to becoming a “decacorn” — a business valued over $10 billion. Retail analysts doubted those projections. But the negative publicity West has generated may actually be helping his brand.

When West posted a picture of himself to Twitter in a Make America Great Again hat and announced his admiration of Trump, search traffic for the Yeezy brand jumped by 25 percent, GQ reported. On the resale site Grailed, offers for Yeezys rose by 15 percent as well; before the incident, prices for Yeezys had been down 30 percent compared to early 2017.

West’s history of outlandish behavior — Twitter rants against exes, storming awards show stages — means people aren’t necessarily shocked by his recent behavior, Bernstein says. People largely view him as an eccentric “character” and generally don’t judge entertainers and athletes as harshly as they do other public figures, he contends.

However, “it was a very poor choice of wording,” he says of West’s remarks. “It seems like he didn’t have talking points. He really let it fly.”

Bernstein doubts West’s handlers can manage him easily. “I don’t think a PR person could tell Kanye to stop talking. I wouldn’t want to be that guy.”

While Bernstein doubts this scandal will end Kanye West, television journalist and pop culture commentator Jawn Murray predicts that the black community won’t easily forget or forgive the rapper’s remarks.

“I do think his brand will take a negative hit,” Murray says. “When consumers tell you you’re in a dangerous direction, the end result is your inability to have a demand.”

He points out that the African-American community has a buying power of $1.2 trillion annually, and they have turned their backs on other entertainers who have supported Trump.

“I don’t know if he has the mental and emotional capacity to reengage with the black community,” Murray says.

But not all of West’s fans are black, and West might actually score some new fans in light of his public support for Trump. Murray acknowledges that West’s behavior in recent weeks will likely not be his undoing.

“There are lots of people who have issues with Michael Jordan and some of the personal choices he’s made,” Murray says. “They don’t believe he’s done enough to give back to his community. Yet his Jordan sneakers still sell well, so there’s a segment who will buy Kanye’s shoes just because they like his shoes. Even if his sneakers take somewhat of a hit, I don’t think this will be the end of the line for him.”

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