Jan 18, 2023
“Is this too good to be true?” wondered those attending a packed Adidas surprise show held outside the official schedule of the first day of Berlin Fashion Week on Monday, January 16. Stunned stares and shocked looks appeared on the faces of the dozens of guests attending the alleged presentation of the German sport giant’s new conscious, sustainable and socially responsible brand identity.
“We have been making mistakes for years and we have decided that in 2023 we will put an end to all of this. We can’t keep making bad decisions: from problems with Yeezy to anti-Semitism to the Qatar World Cup scandal,” was how a so-called senior Adidas executive opened his speech at the Platte multidisciplinary space and creative incubator, leaving everyone in the room speechless. But this was only a taste of what was to come.
Suddenly, Adidas announced the appointment of a co-CEO who would work hand in hand with the newly appointed CEO, Bjorn Gulden. The company’s new leader emerged shyly from the back of the room, clad in a black suit and shaking hands with journalists to introduce herself as Vay Ya Nak Phoan.
Her background has little or nothing to do with corporate offices or senior management, as she is a Cambodian textile worker representing a workers’ union. In her introductory speech, the ‘new leader’ recalled “the harsh working conditions, which even limit the duration of toilet breaks”.
In order to understand the situation, about which Berlin Fashion Week itself had not been fully informed beforehand, a brief press release and a website, with the Adidas logo inverted, explained the “Own the Reality, Realitywear” project, including the signing of the “Pay your workers” agreement by the two new leaders.
And without further ado, a punk guerrilla fashion show began. The aim? To fight for better work conditions for textile workers in Asia. And the masterminds behind the hoax? The Clean Clothes Campaign association and the design collectives Threads and Tits and The Yes Men.
Could Adidas really be behind all this?
Doubts over whether this initiative was a hoax lasted a few minutes, perhaps driven by the desire for change in the fashion industry. The instigators of this deception did not limit themselves to the Berlin event but also created an entire online image, taking up the graphic codes of the brand and its institutional website. Only the content differed.
The initiative aimed to highlight to the fashion industry the demands of the ‘Pay Your Workers’ group, which emerged in 2021, following blockades of textile production sites in Asia and the demands then made on major Western contractors to pay certain invoices in order to remunerate employees in those countries during that period.
The fake Adidas statement announced initiatives aimed at the subcontracted workers of the German group. No less than 15 points were presented, such as the signing of agreements with trade unions, the payment of wages considered to be owed to employees since the Covid-19 period, and the development of unemployment insurance for workers.
The show was opened by a model whose face and limbs were hot-stamped with the Adidas logo, as if she were a carcass. All the models, dressed in old customised Adidas garments, played the roles of various workers in subhuman conditions: from a child forced to beg on the streets to a homeless person living in a tent made of sports T-shirts, as well as humiliated women on their knees and people unable to breathe, drowned in plastic.
Regular collaborators of the sports brand such as Balenciaga or musicians Bad Bunny and Pharrell also received their fair share of satirical criticism as a way of demanding accountability.
The performance achieved its goal: to raise doubts and question the economic model and the responsibility of large corporations. In fact, hours later, some of the attendees were still unsure of what had happened on the ground floor of Platte.
For its part, Adidas confirmed that it was not behind the protest. “We reject the allegations. Adidas is committed to fair labor practices, fair wages and safe working conditions throughout its global supply chain for more than 25 years. Our workplace standards require our suppliers to progressively raise employee living standards through improved wage systems, benefits, welfare programs and other services. Workers employed with our contract suppliers are usually paid considerably higher than the local minimum wage,” a spokesperson told FashionNetwork.com.
It remains to be seen where the German giant, which recently lost a legal battle over its stripes logo against the American designer Thom Browne, will go from here.
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