It was a bad week for Adidas. On Wednesday, the New York Times ran a piece about the lack of diversity and inclusivity on the company’s corporate side. Then, on the very same day, the European Union’s second highest court ruled that the trademark protecting their iconic Three Stripe logo was “invalid.”
Let’s start with the allegations made in the New York Times. According to the deeply sourced, exhaustively reported piece, “the company’s predominantly white leadership [struggles] with issues of race and discrimination,” and the “relatively few black employees often [feel] marginalized and sometimes discriminated against.”
The lack of diversity is stark, to say the least. According to the internal employment figures shared with the Times, “of the nearly 1,700 Adidas employees at the Portland campus, fewer than 4.5 percent identify as black.”
The irony, of course, is that black celebrities have been making the company gobs of money as of late. As the story notes, the brand’s “ties to black stars have paid off,” both in stock price — which “has more than doubled in the past three years” — and in revenue — which has grown so substantially that “its share of the North American sports-footwear market has jumped to 11 percent from 4 percent since 2015,” the same year the first Yeezys released.
And though the brand touts a “‘zero tolerance’ policy for inappropriate behavior,” according to the more than 20 current and former employees that the Times spoke to, “race is a constant issue” on campus. One employee even let the Times view a text message in which black employees were “referred to with a common racist slur by [a white co-worker].”
Now to the trademark fiasco. According to Reuters, the General Court of the European Union upheld a 2016 decision of the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), which essentially said that the Three Stripes logo “was devoid of any distinctive character,” and therefore couldn’t be trademarked.
Adidas could still appeal the decision, the story said, but for now, the most iconic thing about the brand (the stripes, not the racism) can be freely ripped off by anyone who wants.