How we created a giant splash in Adidas's home country

Creating a really big splash in a company's country of origin can be leveraged by ongoing campaigns — and those campaigns are what really brings about change.

At the hottest Berlin Fashion Week event yet, "Adidas" made history by introducing their new Co-CEO: a Cambodian garment worker. Vay Ya Nak Phoan gave an impassioned speech about the deplorable conditions in their supply chain, and pledged that the mega brand would henceforth treat workers fairly with the binding Pay Your Workers agreement—which she proudly signed on the back of kowtowed "upper management." 

This was the start of the runway debut of adidas REALITYWEAR: a promise to "Own the Reality" of worker abuse in their factories. Sadly, it was not actually adidas. The culprits in this impersonation were The Yes Men, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Berlin designers Threads and Tits.

The hoax began with a surprise announcement from "adidas" that promised to upend power in the garment industry. The news about adidas' plan to “top from the bottom” was picked up as real by well-intended international press like Yahoo! Life and Financial Review, as well as industry outlets like Fashion United and Just Style

Moments later, a second announcement from a different adidas site heralded the new line of “suffering-forward Realitywear” reflecting the plight of adidas workers in production countries. The missive, complete with elaborate photographic evidence, presented a bold new streetwear collection made from “carefully distressed” clothes that Cambodian garment workers “pre-wore for at least six months."

By evening, it exploded into the fashion world with an outrageous Berlin Fashion Week kickoff at PLATTE Berlin. The real adidas denied involvement, but could not erase it from the minds of the gob-smacked dandies who in some cases cried tears of sympathy while beholding the spectacle—a gruesome parade of torn spandex and ripped Polytard® displayed on limping, crawling, bruised catwalk models smeared in filth, skin permanently scarred with literal adidas brands. Photos of the fashion crime ricocheted all over the world, direct from the influencers in the front row and echoed in press worldwide after scoops in The Guardian and Der Spiegel revealed the misfits behind it all. See just a snippet of the extensive press coverage here.

The “real” adidas denied the whole campaign from inside what must have been a frenzied PR war room in their German headquarters, spin-doctoring the factual assertions brought to light in the action. An overdefensive adidas comms team seemingly issued a stern rebuttal, which itself got picked up in the press but turned out to be yet another part of the multi-layered hoax—further opportunity for the activists to enumerate adidas' “diabolical sextet” of human rights violations and indiscretions, ranging from its Nazi roots and decades-long bankrolling of FIFA corruption to the mass slaughter of wild kangaroos.

The real, real adidas issued a few dodgy statements in their defense: for example, they said they sometimes pay minimum wages within supplier countries. In Cambodia the minimum wage was just raised to $200 a month for a 6-day, 48 hour work week. In other words, less than a dollar an hour. 

“The Yes Men have presented an alternative future, one where adidas takes ethical conduct seriously enough to invest in it financially. We call on Bjørn Gulden to make this vision a reality by signing the Pay Your Workers agreement. Words are not enough, workers need real action now,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign.

Get involved with Clean Clothes Campaign. Tell adidas to sign the Pay Your Workers agreement. When you pass an adidas store, stop in and politely ask if they’ve got any Pokey Sliders in stock. With enough coordinated pressure, we just might be able to make them Own the Reality, for real.