Adidas’s New CEO Has a $1.3 Billion Pile of Unsold Yeezy Gear

Adidas AG said it may report an operating loss of €700 million ($752 million) in 2023 as it deals with fallout from the dispute with rapper and former partner Ye.

Bjorn Gulden Photographer: Marco Rosi/Getty Images
Bjorn Gulden Photographer: Marco Rosi/Getty Images

Adidas AG shares slumped after the German shoemaker warned that it’s sitting on a €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) pile of unsold merchandise after terminating its lucrative branding deal with rapper Ye. 

The German sneaker brand said that in a worst-case scenario, if it has to write off all existing Yeezy inventory, it faces an operating loss of as much as €700 million in 2023. The stock fell as much as 11%, and it has lost half its value since mid-2021. 

“The numbers speak for themselves,” New Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Gulden said on the company’s website. “We are currently not performing the way we should.”

Gulden is looking to refresh a brand beset by crises on several fronts. He’s conducting a strategic review aimed at reigniting profitable growth by next year that could cost as much as €200 million in 2023. A loss would be the first in at least three decades.

“It seems like the new CEO wants to set the bar low and take early action in 2023 to make the changes needed” to turn around the company, Cristina Fernandez, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group, wrote by email. 

The new CEO started at Adidas in January after nearly a decade running cross-town rival Puma, where he led a turnaround that he also began by resetting profit and sales growth expectations. His main focus at Adidas will be reinvigorating the brand’s lackluster pipeline of sneakers and apparel and winning back customers in the US, Europe and China. 

Gulden will also have to figure out whether Adidas can sell or repurpose Yeezy designs to customers without the brand name. It previously flagged that profit and revenue have been hurt by the damage from ending the lucrative line, whose shoes previously fetched hundreds of dollars.

The Yeezy inventory might have brought in €1.2 billion of revenue and €500 million of operating profit had things turned out differently, the company said. If Adidas decides not to repurpose any of those products then it will write off the entire Yeezy inventory.

“We need to put the pieces back together again,” Gulden said. “I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”   

The sportswear group terminated its lucrative design partnership with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, in late October after he made a series of antisemitic and racist remarks. Adidas had become heavily dependent on the Yeezy line, which it dubbed one of the most successful in the industry’s history, and it took weeks of deliberations inside the company before it finally ended the deal. Other retailers such as Gap Inc. moved much more quickly to sever ties. 

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Deciding what to do with unsold stock can be a headache for apparel and shoe companies. In 2018, Burberry Group Plc was criticized for burning nearly £30 million ($36 million) of unsold clothes, accessories and perfume to prevent them from being stolen or sold cheaply, which could have caused damage to the brand. It no longer burns unsold stock.

Adidas sales will sink at a high-single-digit rate in 2023, the German company forecast late Thursday. That compares with the roughly 4% growth that analysts were estimating.

Bjorn GuldenPhotographer: Marco Rosi/Getty Images
Bjorn GuldenPhotographer: Marco Rosi/Getty Images

Adidas will put its full focus on consumers along with its athletes, retail partners and employees, Gulden said. The goal is to create “brand heat,” improve products, better serve distributors and become “a great and fun place to work,” he said.  

Adidas is also still facing challenges in China where demand for its shoes and clothing has fallen amid a consumer boycott and as a result of Covid restrictions. 

The weak full-year results and muted sales guidance for 2023 means the new leadership must improve execution and brand health, said Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Intelligence senior industry analyst. 

“The sales guidance is more than just the €1.2 billion in lost Yeezy sales, we believe. It reflects a struggle to draw sales and staunch market-share loss, despite a rise in demand for athleisure worldwide,” she added. 

--With assistance from and .

(Updates with Burberry unsold merchandise in 11th paragraph)

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