Adidas Voices Solidarity While Closing Its Stores

Adidas Voices Solidarity While Closing Its Stores

As protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody increased across the country last week, Adidas did what brands often do: It posted on Instagram, where the company’s account has nearly 26 million followers.

“Together is how we move forward,” one of the company’s statements read, under the word “RACISM” crossed out.

Some followers praised the German sportswear retailer, reacting with clapping and heart-eyes emojis. Others noted that the post didn’t mention Mr. Floyd or police brutality, containing mostly unspecific aphorisms.

“You did it adidas you stopped racism,” one follower sarcastically replied.

Just as sportswear companies were emerging from an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they lurched toward another as hundreds of American cities erupted in protests against racism and police brutality over the weekend. An Adidas store in an upscale neighborhood of Los Angeles was looted, and the company closed its dozens of American stores, just two weeks after reopening some of them for the first time in months.

A spokeswoman for Adidas declined to comment beyond its post on Instagram.

Brands traditionally avoid hot-button political topics in their advertising and marketing, but in recent years that has become more difficult. Consumers from the younger generation want to see their values reflected in the brands they buy.

For sportswear companies like Adidas, that has been especially true during the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Shortly after Mr. Trump was elected, New Balance faced a backlash after expressing support for his trade policies. The company’s shoes were then embraced by racists, who referred to them as the “Official Shoes of White People.” Nike signed Colin Kaepernick, the N.F.L. quarterback who began kneeling during the pregame national anthem in protest of the treatment of black people by the police, to a new endorsement contract. It later pulled a pair of sneakers with an early version of the American flag after his input, infuriating conservatives.

Companies like Adidas and Nike have long paid black entertainers and athletes to pitch their products, and it is often black teenagers in the country’s largest cities who determine which brands are fashionable and subsequently sell big in the white suburbs. This is a particular bone of contention for black employees at Adidas, a number of whom told The New York Times last year that they felt ignored and sometimes discriminated against by the company.

“In sportswear, a huge part of their consumer base, and even people who inform their brand and endorsers for their brand, is usually a lot of black people,” said James Whitner, the owner of the Whitaker Group. The Whitaker Group owns a number of fashion and sneaker retailers focused on black consumers.

Adidas-sponsored basketball players like Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics participated in protests over the weekend, and another, the Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young, organized one on Monday. The company’s highest-paid pitchman, however, is the rapper Kanye West, who has his own Yeezy line inside Adidas. Mr. West supports Mr. Trump, who has called protesters “terrorists.”

For its part, Nike released a video advertisement that inverted its trademark “Just Do It” phrase. “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America” appeared in black-and-white text as somber piano music played.

“The intent behind the film was to serve as a catalyst to inspire action,” said KeJuan Wilkins, a spokesman for Nike. “There is a deep issue in our society around racism and equalities, and we felt by putting that film out there that we could help encourage people to shape a better future.”

Mr. Wilkins, who is black, said he had led the project with Adrienne Lofton, a black woman and a former Under Armour executive who joined Nike last year as a vice president of North American marketing.

Nike has been called hypocritical in the past for projecting progressive values through its marketing that it does not practice within the company, specifically in its treatment of women. Nike publicly supported the U.S. women’s soccer team in its fight for equal pay at the same time that female employees and sponsored athletes said the company mistreated them.

In its most recent diversity and inclusion report, Nike said 56 percent of its employees in 2019, including those in its stores, were nonwhite or from “underrepresented groups.” But just 21 percent of its vice presidents were nonwhite, up from 16 percent in 2017.

Mr. Whitner called for sportswear companies to increase investments in black communities, including through donations, education, and internship and mentorship programs, saying they have a responsibility to help those they profit from.

“Everyone understands the dollars of black Americans,” Mr. Whitner said. “If you are willing to research the dollars of black America, how do you not have the time to research the plight?”

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