“Abusive.” “Toxic.” “Chaotic clusterfuck.” Those were just some of the words used to describe the Yeezy work environment.
An extensive new Rolling Stone report penned by Cheyenne Roundtree sheds more light on Kanye West’s fashion brand and the alleged mistreatment of its staffers and contractors. Numerous sources said they accepted positions believing they had landed a dream job; however, they quickly found themselves in a “cult-like atmosphere” that came with 12- to 15-hour work days, inconsistent or delayed payments, and abrupt firings for innocuous missteps.
“Nothing has ever compared to the amount of chaos, the amount of stress and [the amount of] anxiety you go through working for Yeezy,” an Adidas x Yeezy senior team member told the magazine.
One ex-staffer described a 2015 incident at the Yeezy studio, just weeks before Kanye would unveil the brand’s inaugural collection. The source claimed West had a habit of playing his own music in the space, but asked for other recommendations after someone suggested he play something else. Ye allegedly scanned the room before singling out an employee and asking what they wanted to hear.
“I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a rapper, I should probably mention some rap,’” said the ex-staffer, who ultimately proposed Drake music. “Big mistake—the next day I was fired.”
A Yeezy executive also recalled a time when a top creative was called out for wearing a yellow sweater to work. The staffer was allegedly told to “dress for the palette or you dress in black,” and was subsequently fired. Another claimed they were forced to leave their own product review because they were wearing a gray tee.
One employee said the constant firings may stem from Kanye’s mistrust, particularly toward his inner circle. “Everyone’s always on the verge of losing their job, so the dynamics are total chaos,” the former staffer said. “He doesn’t necessarily have people that he can trust around him.”
Another contractor echoed the theory. “The biggest issue is that he doesn’t appear to have high-level operational people that he trusts,” they explained. “Without the operational backbone, no company can really exist for a super long time. You can’t build a multi-billion-dollar brand without an operations director who stays in the job for more than six months. … He needs professionals that don’t give a shit that he’s Kanye West.”
Others said payment was a constant issue within the company, as some would have to wait months before their Yeezy checks went through. At one point, the situation became so frustrating that disgruntled employees went on a “mini strike” until they were properly compensated. It’s alleged some employees are still awaiting money.
A former Yeezy staffer suspected Kanye’s ego is was what ultimately led to the delayed payments, as he appeared to push back against Adidas’ demands by withholding funds. “I’m not sure he ever realized that people in his orbit weren’t getting paid,” the individual said. “I think he just thought, ‘I’m not approving this stuff because I’m pissed for XYZ, so I’m just gonna put a halt on whatever [Adidas] bring[s] to us for payment.’ I really don’t know that he ever looked deep enough to know that it was affecting his own people.”
Insiders also supported previous reports about Kanye’s alleged fascination with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. One employee described being in the Yeezy Los Angeles showroom as the team prepared for the infamous Season 9 presentation, which included “White Lives Matter” tees. While West was going through the collection’s designs, he allegedly told the room that “skinheads and Nazis were his greatest inspiration.”
“It’s a point of inspiration for him because I think there’s so much pain that comes from that place, especially for Black people,” a staffer said. “The minute he turns it around, uses it, [and] puts himself in a position of making money off of it, I feel like he does something to it—he takes ownership over it.”
Some said they were completely blindsided by the “White Lives Matter” design and believed it was a slap in the face to those who had put so much time and energy into the rest of the collection.
“It was like, ‘What the fuck?’” one employee said. “It was definitely a topic of conversation among everyone. A lot of us were very uncomfortable with it. It was professionally frustrating for everybody who had worked really hard and then for the talk of the whole thing to be the shirt.”
Another person said the team was brainstorming a shirt that included a message about race, possibly one that made “fun of white people.” One idea was to emblazon the pieces with the phrase: “We Are N***erish.”
“It was definitely supposed to be something that called on race,” the employee said. “White Lives Matter [and] Candace Owens in combination just made it political, and just stupid.”
Elsewhere in the report, staffers describe having to spend their weeks at Kanye’s Wyoming properties, his highly publicized fallout with Gap and Adidas, as well as his lofty—at times irrational—expectations from his staffers.
“When you work for somebody with that much vision and that much money, you really can make incredible change,” said one Yeezy contractor, who also described the gig as “both the worst job I’ve ever had and the best job I’ve ever had, concurrently. Everything he does is a giant mess of vacuuming up all of people’s time—just consuming their entire lives and then the output just gets left on the side of the road somewhere.”
Rolling Stone’s full story is available here.