Adidas Opens the Doors of its Brooklyn Farm after Allegedly Poaching Nike Talent

Two years after Nike settled the $10 million lawsuit against three of its former senior shoe designers, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets and joining rival, Adidas, in order to allegedly set up a copycat of Nike's heavily-guarded design studio, the contentious space has opened. According to a short video produced by Fast Co., which features former Nike employees, Denis Dekovic, Marc Dolce and Mark Miner, “The real reason [adidas wanted] to do something like this was how it connected to our strategy as a brand around driving culture and creative culture.”

The video debut of the Brooklyn Farm, as it has been coined by adidas, comes after Nike filed suit, claiming that Dekovic, Dolce and Miner violated their non-compete agreements by stealing years’ worth of trade secret information (think: confidential design and business documents, including drawings for unreleased shoes made for one of Nike’s sponsored athletes) and taking that info to Adidas.

The Lawsuit

In response to Nike’s suit, the three veteran designers made individual written statements acknowledging that they were in talks with Adidas before officially leaving Nike. The three also acknowledged taking examples of Nike work with them after leaving the company, but described that work as being "ancient history." They each denied that they had begun any work in connection with Adidas's Brooklyn design studio while still employed by Nike, and denied attempting to recruit other Nike employees to join them at Adidas.

According to Nike's complaint, which cited breach of contract, breach of duty of loyalty, breach of duty of good faith, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, and "civil conspiracy," among other charges, "the Defendants have expressed their desire to financially gain from exploiting the stolen trade secrets, including by promoting their knowledge of Nike's trade secrets as a means of enticing Adidas to employ them."

The Oregon-based sports giant alleged that Dekovic, Dolce and Miner's "plot sprung to life in April of 2014, when they began a campaign to promote their independent design studio venture by, among other things, buying thousands of phony social media followers to help create the false perception of buzz and popularity surrounding their design careers."

Apparently, that worked and the three began working for Adidas as consultants ("because formal employment agreements would be an obvious, blatant and overt breach of [their] agreements with Nike"), thereby signing full time employment contracts in late August after Adidas agreed to provide them with legal support and cover the legal fees "if ever Nike discovered their disloyalty and deception."

Nike's complaint went on to detail how the "conspirators" stole its trade secret information: "Dekovic told Nike his laptop had stopped working, took that broken laptop to an independent contractor, and had the contents of his Nike-issued laptop copied, including thousands of proprietary documents related to Nike's global product lines."

He then - allegedly - "returned the broken laptop to Nike without uttering a word about the copy he had made," and leading Nike to believe the laptop had not been used since early September. Moreover, "just three days before leaving Nike, Dolce sent an email to his personal email account with highly confidential design drawings related to an as-yet unreleased shoe designed for one of Nike's sponsored athletes."

Dekovic, Dolce and Miner responded to Nike’s suit by filing claims against the Oregon-based sportswear giant, accusing it of creating a "culture of distrust and intimidation" which caused them to seek employment elsewhere; hacking their phones, emails and social media accounts; and filing this "meritless" lawsuit purely as a "publicity stunt." 

The parties managed to settle the case out of court in June 2015. According to a statement released by the designers’ counsel at the time, "The case was resolved through a confidential settlement.” The settlement comes on the eve of a June 10th deposition of Nike chief executive Mark Parker, which Nike’s counsel fought, contending that the request amounted to harassment. The parties were also scheduled to head to trial on the near future, on June 22nd through the 26th. A spokeswoman for Adidas said the company would not comment. 

The Farm

According to global creative director Paul Gaudio, the Brooklyn Farm currently employs about 19 full time employees, “mainly creatives,” overseeing “storytelling, footwear product, apparel.” The site also has “people rotating in from different businesses and different functions [from with adidas],” creating what Gaudio calls “an open source creative hub.”

Apparently already in full swing, the Brooklyn Farm “is a place where our creative leadership community can come together and facilitates that collective approach.” Currently in the works, “We have product creation processes that are as far as 36 months out all the way down to say, 12 months and sometimes even shorter than that … Our teams here in Brooklyn are working on 2020.”