Berlin fashion spoof causes chaos as Adidas denies involvement

German sportswear company says event announcing new co-CEO and ‘realitywear’ nothing to do with it

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.

Vay Ya Nak Phoan.
Vay Ya Nak Phoan, a former garment worker and union leader, was named as a future ‘co-CEO’ of the company. Photograph: Realitywear

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”.

Adidas x Philllllthy Realitywear.
Adidas x Philllllthy Realitywear. Photograph: axl_jansen

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.

Adidas x Pharrell Williams Pokey Sliders
Adidas x Pharrell Williams Pokey Sliders. Photograph: Realitywear

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).


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Xinjiang cotton found in Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss tops, researchers say
Traces in shirts and T-shirts appear to contradict German firms’ promises to revise supply chains

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

05, May, 2022 @3:58 PM

Article image
German sandal maker Birkenstock taken over by LVMH-backed group
Family investment firm of French billionaire Bernard Arnault, and L Catterton agree €4bn deal

Sarah Butler

26, Feb, 2021 @1:03 PM

Article image
British manufacturing: back in fashion
Designer Patrick Grant is breathing life into our beleaguered clothing manufacturing industry with a social enterprise and ethical label

Scarlett Conlon

28, Sep, 2019 @11:05 PM

Article image
Ethical fashion: saving South Africa’s clothing industry
Strong unions and a new generation of environmentally conscious designers may be the key to ending factory closures, says Tansy Hoskins

Tansy Hoskins

02, Feb, 2015 @4:27 PM

Article image
Marks & Spencer hopes eco-fashion brand will boost clothing arm
Nobody’s Child label begins sales on retailer’s website as part of plan to widen appeal

Zoe Wood

01, Oct, 2020 @4:55 PM

Article image
Why the new era of British fashion is all about the factory
As consumers’ environmental awareness grows, designers are beginning to share the spotlight with those who make the clothes

Jess Cartner-Morley

14, Aug, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Franca Fendi, inheritor of Italian fashion house, dies aged 87
Fendi and her sisters took luxury brand to new creative heights by bringing in Karl Lagerfeld in 1960s

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

05, Oct, 2022 @5:09 PM

Article image
From wrecked cars to catwalk: the fashion hothouse born in a row of lock-ups
It’s had Huguenot weavers, Jewish traders and Bangladeshi tailors. But east London is not the clothing powerhouse it was. Could a £6m startup built from garages in Poplar see it sashaying back?

Oliver Wainwright

26, Jun, 2020 @1:35 PM

Article image
Ethical lobby to target fashion retailers with supply chain campaign

Fashion Revolution Day, to be held on Thursday 24 April, a year after the Rana Plaza disaster, aims to shake up complacent fashion brands on the ethics of the manufacturing process, writes Tracy McVeigh

Tracy McVeigh

19, Apr, 2014 @7:00 PM

Article image
Stars and stripes: will Kanye West bring Adidas back into fashion?
The world’s second-biggest sportswear brand is lagging behind its American rival Nike. As the latest Yeezy trainer hit stores, what are its chances of catching up?

Julia Löhr

05, Nov, 2015 @7:15 PM