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Rapper and designer Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, says he’s done with his corporate partners and plans to branch out solo.
“It’s time for me to go it alone,” Ye said in a phone interview. “It’s fine. I made the companies money. The companies made me money. We created ideas that will change apparel forever. Like the round jacket, the foam runner, the slides that have changed the shoe industry. Now it’s time for Ye to make the new industry. No more companies standing in between me and the audience.”
Even with billions of dollars in revenue and two of the fashion industry’s most lucrative royalty deals at stake, Ye has shown full willingness to publicly battle the very same corporations he’s worked most closely with, but there are obstacles to a clean break. Foremost are his high-profile, long-term arrangement with Adidas AG to produce sneakers like the Yeezy Boost 350, which expires in 2026, and an apparel agreement with Gap Inc. that ends in 2030. They’ll just have to get along.
“They my new baby mamas,” said Ye. “I guess we’re just going to have to co-parent those 350s.”
Representatives for Adidas and Gap declined to comment.
Ye intends to open his own Donda campuses, named after his late mother, across the country, which will house shopping, schools, farms and dorms all together. Products sold there will be unique to Yeezy’s physical and online shops and designed by existing Yeezy staff. He said he’s working with former Adidas executive Eric Liedtke, who now runs the independent plant-based clothing operation Unless Collective. In recent weeks, he’s also been urging potential job candidates with expertise in opening retail networks to reach out to him.
He’ll also keep operating Yeezy Supply, the e-commerce shop that serves as the primary release point for new Yeezy goods, hitting the market in an endless series of product drops.
Adidas and Gap have bet big on Yeezy, counting on Ye’s label to boost their cachet among younger demographics, grab consumers’ attention and drive sales. Management shakeups are ongoing at both brands as they change CEOs. At Adidas, top executive Kasper Rorsted plans to step down next year, and Gap boss Sonia Syngal was ousted in July. Gap has an interim chief in charge as both search for the replacements who’ll inherit their relationships with Ye, who’s had problems with his corporate partners lately. He has repeatedly called out Adidas and Gap and has requested to be added to their boards without success.
“If I argue with someone broker than me, the only outcome is that I get broker,” Ye said.
Adidas, one of Ye’s longest tie-ups, manufactures and distributes Yeezy’s footwear. He’s had longstanding disagreements about how the line has been managed, especially in times where he hasn’t been consulted on planning and strategy. The latest row was over an Adidas slide design that looked similar to a Yeezy style. He said it was “blatant copying.”
“No one should be held in that position where people can steal from them and say we’re just paying you to shut up,” said Ye, who certainly hasn’t shut up in recent weeks, with a series of Instagram posts hammering Adidas executives. “That destroys innovation. That destroys creativity. That’s what destroyed Nikola Tesla.”
Gap, meanwhile, has been rolling out clothes like hoodies, anoraks and tees under the Yeezy Gap name and has billion-dollar ambitions for the line. Ye said he joined Gap in the first place because he wanted to sell his designs at a more affordable price — something they accomplished. He has complained of not being included in meetings and being shrugged off by management.
“Every step of my career there was something in the way,” said Ye. “They did the dream, but just without Ye.”
Ye has also been at odds with his bank JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he had moved his money earlier. On Instagram, he criticized executives Bill Grous at JPMorgan’s wealth management business, investment banking Vice Chair Jing Ulrich and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon. He said he couldn’t get the CEO on the phone or any deal flow. Representatives for Dimon and JPMorgan declined to comment on the matter.
“I feel like there’s a lot of controlling and handling to suppress my ability to affect the American economy and industry,” Ye said of his experience with the bank.
The saga of Ye’s finances is complex, going back several years to when he said he was saddled with millions in debt and rapped about dying broke. He has vastly turned around his fortunes since then. An unaudited balance sheet of his finances reviewed by Bloomberg last year showed that he had US$122 million in cash and stock, with billions more in other assets such as Yeezy. His Yeezy business made US$191 million in royalties from the Adidas deal alone in 2020, according to a private document prepared by UBS Group AG.
Ye recently enlisted Michael Cohen, former President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, to help him with his personal affairs. Cohen said he no longer works with Ye but is glad the artist has moved his money to JPMorgan after previously keeping it at a small Wyoming bank. That bank “was not equipped to handle his businesses or him personally,” Cohen said in a text message this month.
Ye has been cutting his ties more broadly to Wyoming, where he spent much time after moving to Cody, a small town with a population of 10,000, in 2019. He listed one of his ranches for sale late last year, around when Ye and his ex-wife Kim Kardashian were divorcing. The ranch, which includes lakes, a lodge, a horse facility, corrals and a go-kart track, according the real estate listing, has been taken off the market.
As for those brand deals, Ye wants to negotiate with Adidas to get a 20 per cent royalty on all the shoes he’s designed with the company in perpetuity and save it for his four children. How’s he going to swing that?
“If these companies, if they want to play with me — I’ve been playing nice up to this point,” said Ye.