OP-ED: Adidas' return to respectability.


A comprehensive view of Adidas’ recent surge and return to respectability .
Words by Marianna Mukhametzyanova

Adidas is particularly strong right now. The brand is doing some impressive stuff, whether you like the NMD and Ultra Boost or not, and the quality and price of their retros is really good. Adidas is recovering from a period of falling sale figures, a weak marketing strategy and a lapse in making technological advancements. As a long-time fan of the brand I feel that it is necessary to talk about their struggle back to distinction and the reasons for their lapse. Recapping adidas’ journey is just as important as reiterating the excellence of the products placed on store shelves. It is a story that needs to be told.

Adidas is a global phenomenon for many reasons. Founded in 1949, “the three stripes company” has forged strong connections with the world of sport by earning the trust of athletes around the world from different disciplines and lifestyle choices. Records were broken under their name, medals went to those donning Adidas head-to-toe and problems were solved with their specialised solutions. The Olympics held in the 70s and 80s were Adidas’ crowning achievements.

When sneakers were first invented, their primary function was comfort and practicality. This worked for adidas: the ‘Spirit of the Games’ was their selling point and superiority in sport upheld their footwear and apparel. Quality sold over the aesthetic, the technical won. Adidas shoes sold for their touch-down energy, their cushioned traction and their flared heels that provided greater stability. They were the first to use sports promotions to make the public aware of their innovations.

Adidas’ innovations, aimed at maximising the human body’s abilities, lost their significance when people’s lifestyles and dress-codes grew increasingly casual in the mid-90s. People now had more occasion to wear sneakers than playing tennis or kicking a ball around. Adidas’ sphere of success in sport was no longer important to consumers.

As sneakers become more and more commercialised, the aesthetic form of sneakers become increasingly important. This sector was quickly dominated by Nike who, whilst also working on finding new ways of improving cushioning, flexibility, stability and support for athletes from different sectors, were gaining celebrity endorsements as part of their effective marketing strategies.

The post-Jordan era (1985 onwards) began the commodification of sneakers, which transcended the world of athletics and emerged into the cultural mainstream, beyond social groups defined by race, class, and nation. Sneakers rose to the social surface and became more recognised by the masses. The successful marketing of the Nike Air Jordan brought sneakers into the mainstream. Because sneakers turned into such a massive part of popular culture, adidas had to revaluate their stance towards their product and the ways in which they were marketing it to their consumer.

That is not to say that Adidas was never influential beyond their initial sphere of sport and athletics. They found their way into art, music and lifestyle fashion. It’s common knowledge that in 1986 Run-DMC exemplified the wearing of sneakers as a symbol of the hip-hop scene, which included graffiti artists and break-dancers. The success of their single “My adidas” signposted the close relationship between hip-hop and fashion.

Adidas lost momentum due to deteriorating quality of product, poor efforts in marketing and a complacent attitude towards the future. Rethinking their foundations was not something that appealed to the brand. While other sportswear brands copied Nike’s success by producing new, improved designs each season to encourage people to buy the latest models, Adidas stuck to a strategy of promoting heritage and history back from as early as 1928 (with a few exceptions). And while this worked for them temporarily, they later realised that to compete in the sneaker industry they would have to change their designs. Although harking back to the past had its benefits for Adidas, sneaker consumption is more than nostalgia. The new technological trend drastically transformed the way that the market operated. 

The brand has gone through several structural changes in the past few decades. The change in market and consumer expectations stressed innovation. In turn, adidas made immense breakthroughs in terms of design and function. The signature Three Stripes has also made its way into the fashion scene, shaping the new fashion style together for millennials and providing diversified sportswear for every kind of consumer.

From being the shoes that rose to stardom amongst athletic champions worldwide, to their glamorisation and incorporation into society via hip-hop and successful advertising campaigns, adidas has been a fashion staple for many generations. And while it is not the number one sneaker brand in the world right now, if it continues in a similar manner throughout next year it may find itself surpassing Nike.


Popular design collaborations and partnerships

The adidas Yeezy Boost made people talk about Adidas. Pharrell Williams’ collaboration with Adidas Originals had people doing the same thing. Adidas’ partnership with Yohji Yamamoto back in 2003 brought about the highly-regarded Y-3 brand, and in 2007 adidas teamed up with Stella McCartney to bring about Porsche Design Sport. 

The brand has gained momentum by uniting with notable figures in the fashion and music industry to give themselves a wider recognition. Sneaker fanatics thrive on exclusivity and marginality. Managing to buy the most recent Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Blue Tint or Semi Frozen Yellow is something that is very much celebrated in their community. Although such limited edition releases do not bolster up adidas’ revenue by very much, the excitement generated on social media around such novel and scarce products gives the German power-house the opportunity to raise its status. Collaborations such as those with Palace Skateboard and White Mountaineering have managed to create a lot of noise around the brand, and the praise that adidas is getting makes them more likely to give more creative freedom to their collaborators. 


Lifestyle segment

Adidas is more relevant than Nike when it comes to releasing product for the lifestyle segment. Although first and foremost a sports company, adidas has been known to home in on more fashionable products than its rival. They were the first in the industry to introduce a lifestyle segment. Take for example its collaboration with Raf Simons, or Rick Owens. Focusing on these new divisions of ‘high-fashion’ lifestyle products are driving the company’s financial statistics upwards.

It is not surprising that this is an approach that Adidas is choosing to take, seeing as its “My adidas” campaign did so well in helping the brand find a connection with its consumer. Modernity, or even post-modernity, has transformed the social meaning of fashion as well as footwear, allowing adidas to benefit heavily from their more fashion-forward collections. Adidas justifies their decision to translate sport into streetwear and fashion ‘because sport is an attitude and a lifestyle.’

The collaborative partnership between Adidas Originals and Alexander Wang is based on the pairing of the rave culture and cycling. The collections have elevated the standards of the athleisure fashion trend which promotes wearing apparel and footwear designed for exercise in day-to-day life. Adidas has always been a pioneer of this – how large is the percentage of people wearing the Adidas Stan Smith trainer outside the court rather than indoors? And really, who will be wearing their Adidas x Wang mesh polo shirt on their bike ride to work? Taking a radical approach is really playing in adidas’ favour.


Innovative concepts and designs

Fashion is becoming more about celebrating the latest products with the most advanced technologies. When tracing the invention and development of sneakers, the emphasis is always about the construction and the technological features of the shoes to achieve the maximum performance in sports. Indeed, much of adidas’ success recently has been due to the popularity of the shoes that feature BOOST, an extremely comfortable material with a streamlined and sleek look. Their energy-releasing, springy material is not only meeting market demands, but is spanning into the fashion sector.

Their BOOST technology has been used in many of their shoe lines, proving its success as a game-changing system for comfort and durability. Used in shoes such as the Yeezy BOOST, the NMD series, the EQT series, and even classics such as the Stan Smith and Superstar, BOOST has become the company’s defining trait in terms of technology, allowing them to make traction in certain markets in North America and China.

In 2015 the Ultra Boost transformed the world of running and footwear. Bringing together two of the brands latest and greatest technologies, BOOST cushioning and Primeknit construction, the shoe showed competitors where the future of running lay. In 2017, adidas released the EQT Cushion ADV, a shoe evolved from the original EQT line in order to revaluate what the brand stands for and re-inventing icons to suit the modern day wearer. The EQT Cushion features design details inspired by the 1991 original, updated with the latest materials and technologies available. The BOOST and Primeknit technologies have really revolutionised the game.


Nike’s fall-backs

For the first time in decades Nike’s grip on the sneaker world may be slipping. Re-releasing retros and Jordans may not be working as well as before for the company – recent data statistics show that Adidas has overtaken Nike’s Jordan line in terms of sales. This line is losing its popularity because consumers have slowly been moving away from basketball shoes and towards performance shoes, a market which adidas currently dominates. As with adidas’ assumed power and relevance in the athletics world prior to Nike, it may be the case that the American company has held precedence in the sneaker world for so long that a sense of indestructibility has taken over the company’s performance. Nike’s VaporMax technologies, along with the release of the HyperAdapt earlier this year, are yet to catch on in the same way that BOOST and Primeknit had. For now, Adidas is flourishing due to its technological advancements.


The Future

Adidas prides itself on ‘cater[ing] for the needs and desires of more consumers than any of our competitors.’ Their recent surge is due to new successes in the digital era, their identification of the importance of performance alongside high-fashion whilst also honouring their renowned past, and their ability to acknowledge the need for progress. Reinvention was a means of survival for the company. Adidas’ global creative director Paul Gaudio made a comment about this continuous need for improvement: “We like the reality. That really plays into the idea of a work in progress. We’re never finished. We’re never perfect.” At this level of accelerated growth and advancement, adidas is on track for continued success in 2018.

Marianna Mukhametzyanova is a contributing writer to Pages Magazine, you can contact her at mariannamukhametzyanova@gmail.com or follow here on Twitter here.

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