Air Jordan…Part II

28 04 2010

Along with the series of Air Jordan sneakers was the extreme marketing by Nike.  The sneakers were featured in new, revolutionary commercials and ads.  This impacted the demand for the sneakers and had fans interestingly awaiting them.  At times, the lines between advertising and entertainment blurred.  The Air Jordan series really changed the marketing strategies of sportswear and crossed sports with pop culture.

Here is an example of those new, revolutionary commercials mentioned.  This particular commercial features Spike Lee.  The combination of Jordan and Lee was a marketing campaign put forth by Nike.

Here is an example of how Air Jordans crossed into entertainment and pop culture.  They were featured in a film called Do The Right Thing.  I think this skit really exemplifies the iconic stature Air Jordans have.

In 1997, the Air Jordan line created another first when Nike unveiled a new marketing plan.  Jordan became a sub brand of Nike and started to feature different lines of sneakers.  From that point, Jordan Brand no longer featured the Nike name or Nike Swoosh.

Jordan Brand Logo

Air Jordan shoes have consistently been among the best selling basketball shoes since their debut in 1985.  The Jordan Brand is a household name, people of all ages and social strata line up eagerly for the release of the latest model.  Starting in the early 90s and even today, the Air Jordan sneaker became a status symbol and an icon of a flamboyant lifestyle.  Some of this success can be attributed to the fact that the shoes, from the Jordan III to the most recent model, have always started with their namesake, Michael Jordan.  The designers take his ideas, hobbies, and life into account and incorporate these elements into the shoes.  Each pair of Air Jordan sneakers has a unique design and some have even been designed after Jordan’s cars.

The series has extended to the Air Jordan XXIII, the same as Jordan’s jersey number.  For the past two and a half decades, the brand and its tradition of quality, high-fashion basketball and athletic shoes continued to be the premier sneakers.

For the complete story behind every sneaker, visit the History of Flight.


Air Jordan…Part I

24 04 2010

Michael Jordan and his sneakers completely changed the dynamics of the sneaker industry.  They literally took flight and were able to transcend the sneaker subculture into what we see today.  There were many advances with the sneakers; everything from shoe design to marketing was reinvented.  With the most influential player in basketball came the most influential sneakers for an industry.  Many say the footwear industry was knocked off its feet (pun intended) with the emergence of the Air Jordan sneaker.  In the next two posts I will attempt to highlight the story behind those influential sneakers.

By 1984, Nike was a struggling shoe company in terms of market share.  It was seen primarily as a running shoe company and had little credibility in the basketball footwear market.  Although it had numerous endorsements with professional basketball athletes, the company was still lagging behind Converse, Reebok, and Adidas in the market.  In an attempt to appeal to another market segment, Nike was looking to revitalize and reinvent themselves.  In the same year, Michael Jordan was a rookie entering the NBA.  He came in as the College Player of the Year and a promising young talent.  Nike recognized his talent and saw something special in Jordan.  They saw an opportunity and hoped that his appeal would generate sales for the company.  Nike decided to put all their eggs in one basket and offered Jordan his own line of sneakers along with matching sports apparel.  However, Jordan was reluctant to sign a sneaker endorsement with Nike and actually preferred wearing Adidas and Converse brands.  But those two companies were not very interested in endorsing the young star.  Despite his reluctance, Jordan signed a 5 year deal worth $2.5 million with Nike and the rest was history.

After the deal, a legacy was born and Nike released the Air Jordan I.  The concept of an athlete’s signature series, releasing every season, was new at the time.  This paved the way for future stars and endorsement deals, and is common nowadays.  Also, the Air Jordan I made history by becoming the first sneaker to bold black and red colors.  Prior, most basketball sneakers were primarily all white.  This caused the NBA to ban the sneaker, fining Jordan $5,000 a game for wearing them.  The controversy surrounding the sneaker and Jordan’s spectacular numbers that year kept Air Jordans in the public eye.

Air Jordan Sneakers Banned From the NBA

With the release of the Air Jordan II came another first.  The sneaker was the first to not feature the company’s logo on it; making one of the world’s most recognizable brands a non factor.  This was a very radical move by Nike at the time because reaction to the Air Jordan II hadn’t been stellar.  This would also prove to be a critical time for the company and the Air Jordan sneaker.  It was at this time that designer Tinker Hatfield stepped in and helped out.  He did something new and unheard at that time; he sat down with Jordan and asked for his input in the design of the sneaker.  At Jordan’s request, the sneaker was ¾ cut basketball shoe made out of high quality, lighter than average materials.  This non standard approach to the process of designing a sneaker led the Air Jordan III to rocket with sales and popularity.  After Jordan won the 1987 Slam Dunk contest, the Jordan logo changed to the recognizable Jumpman logo of today and was featured on the Air Jordan III.  Both Hatfield and Jordan worked on designing the Air Jordan line up until the XV.  When asked about his work with the Air Jordan series, Hatfield is quoted as saying:

Part of the strategy is in the product design, it’s in the personality of Michael Jordan, and it’s in how we design everything.  But it really also extended into the communication process.

I find it very interesting that he noted all these factors in the design process of the Air Jordan sneakers.  I think it is this basic strategy that proved to be fundamental in the sneakers becoming popular.  Ultimately, I feel like it is this idea that allows people to identify with sneakers and wear them as an extension of one’s self.  Thus, leading to the sneaker subculture we have today.

Michael Jordan Alongside Designer Tinker Hatfield

My Adidas

17 04 2010

In a previous post, I exposed the strong influence of one of the elements of hip hop culture on sneakers.  Now, I would like to discuss how a hip hop group of MCs single handedly made sneakers a cultural movement.  Aside from the sport of basketball, Run-DMC had the most impact in creating a culture of sneakers and making them an iconic style.

The hip hop group had a deep admiration of a particular Adidas sneaker called the Superstar, or known as Shell Toes.  Before the group’s emergence on the scene in 1983, the Adidas Superstar sneaker was not heavily popular in the market.  However with the group becoming popular and sporting the sneakers, the black and white rubber sneaker skyrocketed in sales.  The group’s featured song, My Adidas, helped resurrect the Adidas sneakers and catapulted the culture movement in the 80s.  Much of the success of Adidas at that time was due to the group’s popularity and rise in pop charts.  Run-DMC is said to have been “the voice that spoke for a whole generation.

First verse of the hit song, My Adidas:

My Adidas
walked through concert doors
and roamed all over coliseum floors
I stepped on stage, at Live Aid
All the people gave and the poor got paid
And out of speakers I did speak
I wore my sneakers but I’m not a sneak
My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land
with mic in hand I cold took command
my Adidas and me, close as can be
we make a mean team, my Adidas
and me
we get around together, rhyme forever
and we won’t be mad when worn in bad weather
My Adidas
My Adidas
My Adidas

Kids identified with the group and mimicked what the group displayed, Adidas sneakers (with no shoe laces) and Adidas apparel.  It was this huge success that made corporate brands aware of the sheer scope of the affection urban youths had for their sneakers.  Run-DMC became the first group of individuals outside of professional athletes to be sponsored by a footwear company when Adidas signed them for a million dollars in 1986.  This Run-DMC promotion instantly boosted sells for the Adidas company with 382,000 pairs of Superstars sold in the same year.  It was also reported that $22 million of Adidas product was sold in one weekend during that time.

Run-DMC in Adidas

The promotion of Adidas and Run-DMC is, to this day, the most famous collaboration between fashion, sneakers, and inner city culture.  Adidas played a large role in sneaker history by not only merging popular music and shoes, but also awakening big footwear companies.  Companies began to realize the importance of what is popular was what the youth were wearing, targeting a new customer base.  The decision to tap into the youth and hip hop culture paid off and could be seen by increasing sales.

Sneakers That Divided a Town

7 04 2010

The Dassler brothers, Rudolf and Adolf, made significant contributions to sneakers and the footwear industry.  Both grew up in the small town of Herzogenaurach, Germany; population 24,000.  Their significant contributions began in the 1920s as they began a shoe business in their mother’s laundry room.  The small business was known as Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik and quickly became successful.  By 1936, the sneakers produced by the brothers were put on a world stage when American Jessie Owens won four gold medals in them.

Dassler Brothers

However, in 1948 the two of them had a falling out and could no longer work side by side causing their business to split into two.  Rudolf went on to create the Puma brand of sneakers, while Adolf created the three stripe brand:  Adidas.  Adolph got the name Adidas from his nick name, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name Dassler.  With the family feud, the town was split into two.

More of less in the middle of the night, Rudolf Dassler packed his bags and moved on the other side of the little river.  He established Puma on the other side. From there on in, the town was really split in two like a sort of mini Berlin with this little river as a partition in the middle.

To learn the full life story of the two brothers and their respective brands, click on the photo below.

Complete story on the family feud.

The feud between the two never did get resolved, and by 1978 both brothers had passed away.  Nonetheless, they left behind significant contributions to footwear by establishing well-known brands.  Also, they made many advances in improving athletic performance footwear.

B-boying in Sneakers

31 03 2010

The late 70s in New York City saw the emergence of hip hop culture.  While the culture is composed of four elements, I would like to focus on one in particular, breaking or b-boying.  I believe this component is relevant to the discussion of sneakers because of its strong influences.

Breaking is a street style of dance that is danced to mostly hip hop music, often remixed to prolong the musical breaks.  The dance techniques of breaking include toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes/suicides.  Sneakers became associated with b-boying because those who participated in the dance chose to wear them for their comfort.  Thus, it became a standard to wear sneakers for those breaking.  It was that standard and those individuals participating in breaking that was responsible for making sneakers a staple style.  Others took notice to what the “hip” people wore.

*Example of the style of dance.  If you look close, you can spot Puma sneakers on some dancers.

Among popular sneakers for breaking was the Puma sneaker brand.  Not only were they comfortable to dance in but they came in different flashy colors, making sneakers the focal point of an individual’s attire.  This influence made sneakers desirable to many people because it gave them a sense of style and individuality to express themselves freely.  During those rough times of the late 70s in the inner city, many individuals found an outlet through freely expressing themselves, and sneakers allowed them to do so.  This led way to a wide adoption of sneakers and the beginning of a subculture into itself.

Puma sneakers that were popularized by b-boying.

An All Star

24 03 2010

In my previous post I mentioned how the sneaker company, Converse, revolutionized the game of basketball and played a critical role in the success of sneakers.  However, I did not mention how the lifelong work of a man behind the company was at the forefront of such change.  You may or may not have heard of the name Charles H. Taylor, most people knew him by the name Chuck Taylor.  With nearly 800 million pairs of sneakers sold, Taylor’s signature is arguably the single most successful endorsement of sports equipment anywhere in the world, ever.  This endorsement would later pave the way for future sneaker endorsements by professional athlete’s as we see today.

Throughout the early 1900s, Chuck Taylor was nationally known as a former professional basketball player but probably more important, as a teacher who put on thousands of “Fundamentals of Basketball” clinics in high school and college gyms across the country.  His lifelong devotion to the game of basketball enabled him to reach audiences, across all levels and across the country, involved in the sport of basketball.  As a young high school basketball player from Indiana, Chuck Taylor wore the Converse All Star sneaker.  He loved the sneaker so much, and its potential for the sport of basketball, he joined the Converse sales team in 1921.  Taylor used his clinics and network within the sport as a platform to promote the All Star sneaker.  His personal salesmanship and clever marketing led to the successful acceptance of the All Star sneaker in the game of basketball.

Chuck would also personally call on retail sporting goods stores across the country-that personal service, along with his clinics, is what really made his name and made Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes so popular.

As a result, in 1923 Chuck Taylor’s signature was added to the Converse All Star and was renamed Converse Chuck Taylor All Star.

Further, Taylor went on to make great contributions to the sneaker.  He helped make important changes to the original shoe and designed the optical white high top model for the 1936 Olympics.  Also, during World War II, Taylor served as a captain in the Air Force and coached basketball teams.  It is no surprise that his white high top “Chucks” became the official sneaker of the U.S. Armed Forces.  By the 1960s, the Chuck Taylor All Star became the choice of sneakers by basketball athletes and youths at the time.  Converse enjoyed 80% of the U.S. sneaker market share at the time.

Converse All Star No. 1

In 1968, Chuck Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and labeled as the “Ambassador to Basketball”.  Sadly, a year later he passed away.  His name lives on with the imprint of his signature on the sneaker, and has become a cultural icon by becoming the most famous name in sports.  Although the sneaker is approaching its century long existence, it has not changed one bit from its original design and continues to be the most widely sold sneaker.

For more on the true story of the man behind the most famous sneaker in history, click on the photo below.

Chuck Taylor Story

Sneaky History

17 03 2010

Plimsoll High

Plimsoll Low


To understand the present, we must first examine the past.  Thus, we must go back, way back to over a century ago to learn about the origins of sneakers.  By the mid 1800’s, the first rubber-soled shoes, called plimsoll, were being manufactured in the UK.  Meanwhile, it wasn’t until the late 1890’s that Goodyear Shoe Co., then a division of the U.S. Rubber Company, began to manufacture rubber and canvas shoes in the US under different names.  The company finally decided to settle on Keds as the best name.  By 1916, Keds created an American Classic by becoming the first mass marketed athletic shoes. This shoe was coined “sneakers” by Henry Nelson McKinney because the soles were quiet and allowed someone to “sneak” up silently.  Also very important during this time, Marquis Mills Converse started a rubber shoe company in 1908 by passing a rubber trust that prevented most companies from doing business directly with their retailers.  The renowned company, Converse, revolutionized the game of basketball by releasing the world’s first performance basketball shoe in 1917, the Converse All Star.

Converse All Star and Keds Champion

From this point forward, the athletic footwear industry or “sneakers” continued to grow and evolve.  Both Keds and Converse were pivotal in the success of sneakers.