Adidas has had to deny it appointed a former Cambodian union leader as its new co-CEO and launched a Derelicte-style collection of garments pre-worn by factory workers, as a spoof launch event at Berlin fashion week sent confusion around the fashion world.
A spoof press release, written by culture jamming activist duo The Yes Men and sent to fashion bloggers from a fake Adidas email address, announced a “revolutionary plan” for the German sportswear company, designed to “own the reality” of working conditions in the south-east Asian factories where many of its clothes are made.
Cambodian former garment worker and trade union leader Vay Ya Nak Phoan was announced as a future co-CEO alongside Bjørn Gulden, the former Puma executive who took over as head of Adidas at the start of this year.
The new direction for the company was to be underlined by a new “realitywear” product range, supposedly curated by rapper Pharrell Williams, consisting of “carefully distressed” garments “upcycled from clothing worn non-stop for six months by Cambodian workers who are owed wages withheld during the pandemic”.
At a spoof launch event in central Berlin, bruised and bloodied models stumbled across the catwalk in “realitywear” garments in front of an audience that seemed to accept the collection as genuine.
A pair of Adidas slippers with spikes pushing through the soles was presented in a glass cage, as an example of the company’s new ethos.
By midday, Adidas denied it was behind the launch. “This announcement is not by Adidas and not correct,” a spokesperson said.
By then, the press release had been picked up by several fashion news websites and bloggers. “Adidas seems to have learned from past mistakes and seems interested in a serious correction of its course,” wrote news portal FashionUnited, in an article later taken offline.
Another report, picked up by MSN’s news aggregator, presented the new range as Adidas trying to “make amends” after being forced to cancel its collaboration with Kanye West over the rapper’s antisemitic comments.
“Adidas is a company close to my heart,” said Yes Men co-founder Igor Vamos, who operates under the alias Mike Bananno. “They have this history of incredible scandals they have managed to overcome. They are masters of greenwashing.
“Bjørn Gulden has talked a lot about doing the right thing – perhaps today’s stunt will nudge them into actually doing it.”
Vamos and his co-conspirator Jacques Servin have in the past posed as spokespersons for the World Trade Organization, McDonald’s, Dow Chemical, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Last summer there was industrial action at Adidas supplier factories in Cambodia, where unions said there was a rise in targeted sackings of union leaders during the Covid pandemic. Pressure groups claim that over 30,000 workers in eight factories that produce Adidas apparel across Cambodia are owed $11.7m (£9.6m).
… as 2023 begins, we have a small favour to ask. A new year means new opportunities, and we're hoping this year gives rise to some much-needed stability and progress. Whatever happens, the Guardian will be there, providing clarity and fearless, independent reporting from around the world, 24/7.
Times are tough, and we know not everyone is in a position to pay for news. But as we’re reader-funded, we rely on the ongoing generosity of those who can afford it. This vital support means millions can continue to read reliable reporting on the events shaping our world. Will you invest in the Guardian this year?
Unlike many others, we have no billionaire owner, meaning we can fearlessly chase the truth and report it with integrity. 2023 will be no different; we will work with trademark determination and passion to bring you journalism that’s always free from commercial or political interference. No one edits our editor or diverts our attention from what’s most important.
With your support, we’ll continue to keep Guardian journalism open and free for everyone to read. When access to information is made equal, greater numbers of people can understand global events and their impact on people and communities. Together, we can demand better from the powerful and fight for democracy.
Whether you give a little or a lot, your funding will power our reporting for the years to come.Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – it only takes a minute. If you can, please consider giving a regular amount each month or year. Thank you.