Former Adidas Yeezy GM Jon Wexler Is Joining Shopify

Wexler will be VP of Shopify's creator and influencer program. In this interview, the former Yeezy GM explains his plans for his new role.

Jon Wexler Adidas ComplexCon
Complex Original

Image via David Cabrera for Sole Collector

Jon Wexler Adidas ComplexCon

Shopify announces today that Jon Wexler, the longtime Adidas executive who most recently served as the GM of Kanye West's Yeezy line, will be joining the Canadian e-commerce company as VP of its creator and influencer program.

Wexler, who worked with some of the biggest entertainers in the world during his combined 18 years at Adidas, will begin his new role on Sept. 14. The news comes after Adidas confirmed Wexler's departure on Monday.

In his new position at Shopify, Wexler will aim to expand the company's partnerships with creators and artists, enabling scalable entrepreneurship for a whole new set of small businesses. Ahead of Shopify's announcement of the new hire, Complex spoke with Wexler and Loren Padelford, VP and GM at Shopify, about the past, present, and future of their partnership. A lightly edited version of the conversation appears below.

Wex, how long has this been in the works?
Wexler: My conversations with Shopify go back quite a while. I've been aware of what they were doing for quite some time. I've been following them for a number of years. I think the first time I interacted with them was back in 2017 at their Shopify Open event here in Portland, in fact. 

From my very first convos with their leadership there was a clear shared vision, and we both believed strongly in the mission of enabling entrepreneurs. It was obviously something I was super fascinated in. As a person who, myself being a connector, the idea of making commerce better for people and providing that platform for more people, enabling that, was something really powerful to me. You know me pretty well, so you know that that's something that's true to who I am.

Loren, what about Wex's work first caught Shopify's attention?
Padelford: As Jon said, we started interacting—it's hard to be involved in streetwear or sneakers, supporting that industry, without knowing who Jon is. Seeing the work he's done at Adidas and seeing the innovation at Adidas with their influencer program and looking at creators in a unique way.

It just became a natural conversation where creators and influencers are a very special, unique type of entrepreneur, and our mission is to empower entrepreneurs. So what Jon was doing with that community and that group of creators was so interesting, we just started talking about what options looked like. How they think about the world. It really became this obvious, "Hey man, there's a lot we could do here. There's a lot of white space here around commerce and influence and creators that isn't being tapped and looked at strategically." [That] started a long conversation around what could be and everything. I think it was, as Jon alluded to, it was mutual attraction from the standpoint of innovation and folks who are thinking about things in a different way, and that's what we like. That's what we were excited by when we were talking to him.

Wex's name is associated with so many superstars—Pharrell, Beyonce, Kanye West—through their work at Adidas. Is this work at Shopify, in terms of empowering people, focusing on names of that caliber? Are we talking about partnering up with global superstars or are we talking everyday people who want to start their own brands?
Padelford: It's a great question. We look at creators and influencers across the entire spectrum of what the long tail of folks just getting started, starting to create their communities, starting to create their own brands, to those global superstars. All of them have different needs, all of them are looking at how they translate that influence into something bigger, whether that's a brand or legacy or product. For us, it isn't about any one section of that community. It's about that community as a whole. How do you help enable creators and influencers to go beyond their influence? And to create their next community engagement model. There's a huge long tail, and Shopify loves startups and loves the small entrepreneurs. We have Beyonce and Pharrell and Kanye on Shopify now. It's going deeper and working with those global superstars as well to engage their communities in different ways. I don't think it's any one group. It's looking at it from an entire spectrum of entrepreneurship.

Wexler: That is the case that, yes, the associations with those global icons [exist] today, but from the conception, it's always been about that bandwidth that Loren spoke to. Very, very excited and comfortable with that. The bandwidth of people, from people pioneering new efforts and the impact that they're gonna have in a broad way one, two, three years from now. Shopify's a huge bridge to their consumers and helping them pinpoint them. I'm really thrilled to be joining that team.

Loren are you an Adidas Yeezy fan, do you have some of the sneakers?
Padelford: I joke a lot that I am not cool. Shopify is full of Adidas fans and Yeezy fans and sneakerheads. I particularly, I don't have any of them and I chalk it up to being not cool enough to wear any of them. I think if I was wearing them around, people would be like, "What are you doing?" My kids would probably be like, "Hey dad, you're not cool enough for this. Take those off."

Wex, I have to ask, how did you break the news that you were leaving to Kanye West?
Wexler: I shared with him that I would no longer be working on things and moved on. The last note I got from him was very positive and supportive—checking in on me personally as well as professionally.

What do you think your biggest impact at Adidas was outside of the Yeezy business?
Wexler: I would just like to think I left a legacy with the brand that put it in a better place than it was when I found it. I think that helping them pioneer this effort in the non-athlete community and bringing in influencers and showing what power of the community of people outside of the sport realm can bring. In addition to the people that play on the field. I hope that I helped them do great things and that it mattered to people and created meaningful connections with people. Just wanted to have a deeper conversation. And the whole point of working with influencers and creators is that they can bring in new audiences and help to connect with people at a deeper level.

I have the opportunity to turn that on at Shopify in a deeper way. Like Loren said, a lot of those prolific creators are already on the platform. It's about forging deeper connections with them and additionally bringing in new and unique people that are pioneering different points of view.

Loren, what do you hope Wex's biggest impact will be at Shopify?
Padelford: I like the way actually he just said. I hope he makes it better than he found it. I don't think Wex gets enough credit for just how transformative not being so focused on athletes was for Adidas. Focusing on those creators and that community that had been left aside and not paid attention to from this industry. That, to me, was such a great insight. If you look at Shopify and you look at the potential of what Shopify can bring to a creative mind who wants to expand. I think, my hope is, and I have no doubt this will happen, Jon will bring that same innovation and creative insight to the business. And connect what is this huge access and capability and breadth and scope that is Shopify to the creators who are changing commerce and changing society and influencing everyday life. And putting those two things together where one plus one equals eleven. I really think that's our opportunity and the time is now. Having Jon here leading this and building this with us is super exciting.

Jon, are you going to help Shopify battle the sneaker bots at all? I know that's not exactly what you're here to do but it seems like you have some experience with it.
Wexler: [Laughs] I will leave that to the experts at Shopify, but I'm always down to take the feedback.

Do you see yourself still paying attention to what's going on in sneakers? It seems like you're a shoe dog at this point even though you're leaving the industry.
Wexler: Obviously I was a sneaker aficionado before the term "sneakerhead" existed. It's something I will always be passionate about: sneakers, basketball, and hip-hop. That intersection is always gonna be a driving force for me personally. It's something that's in my heart. So, yeah, of course I'll pay attention.

The sneaker industry as a whole, those people are so influential across so many different boundaries. It's transcended so many cultures that to not pay attention to that, I would be doing a disservice to the entire community of people that I'm trying to serve.

Padelford: I'll just add to that. He's not leaving. Shopify is powering Kith and DSM and Anti-Social. All these sneaker brands and drops are happening primarily on Shopify in an increasing manner. Our CTO is testing things in his own sneaker drops. There isn't a "Jon's leaving sneakers." Sneakers are just on Shopify. That influence, that community still exists. We want to double down into that and get better at it and be a better platform for those types of creators who are doing those insane drops.

Wexler: That's a tremendous point. To Loren's point, I'm not leaving sneakers, I'm more just becoming more agnostic about different categories and trying to help people explore what their creative visions are across the board.

That means you might have to help people sell some Nikes.
Wexler: I am keenly aware of that as well.

Loren, how big are sneakers for Shopify?
Padelford: Look, some of the biggest sneaker drops in the world are happening on Shopify on a regular basis. So it's a big business. It's an exciting business. It's a business that pushes technology right to its edge. Right when the whole world's trying to buy a thousand pairs of shoes at the same time, that forces software to be really, really good. And Shopify is really, really good at building software. It's a big business that we care about a lot—it's one of the things that has driven Shopify to be so good as a platform for these high-volume sellers, whether it's a sneaker drop or a makeup drop or a clothing drop. If you look at the biggest flash sales in the world, they're happening on Shopify. And it's because we have this great community pushing us so hard to get better.

You talk about the bots, right? If you follow our CTO, JML, he's constantly engaging that bot community and there's a little bit of competition. It's an arms race, and we think we can win. It's an important space for us because it pushes the boundaries of technology and pushes the boundaries of commerce. The sneaker companies, the retailers, are also just innovative creators. They approach things in a unique way. So I think having Jon here just puts us deeper into that, lets us better understand it. Hopefully shows that community that we're serious about this and we want to be the best platform in the world for these creative outlets to do crazy things, online and off.

Jon, when you were at Adidas, how much were you paying attention to those kind of executions on the e-commerce side? I know you're at a high level, you're tasked with creating these partnerships with superstars, but how much were you focused on a release day? As Loren mentions, the whole world trying to buy a pair of shoes.
Wexler: I was as connected to that as you can possibly be, both in terms of the feedback I was getting directly from the community of people trying to purchase the sneakers as well as on the inside, seeing what we were doing from an internal standpoint to combat and provide a better consumer experience. Every time, getting better with each drop. So, yes, I was so in the epicenter of that on launch days. Constant communication, every single possible type of threat and attack that occurred, I was getting extremely detailed information on throughout. But obviously there's teams that were tackling that and handling it front-on, I was more on the awareness level.

It's almost like that was your training for this gig.
Wexler: Everything was training for this gig. I think about what we're about to embark on and it's really just harnessing and synthesizing everything that's led up to this point that I've been working on. And taking that, all those codes, into this. Through the exposure I've had through all those creators that were mentioned previously to the various brilliant people I've been exposed to in all facets of my career. Here we are. We're about to turn it on.

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