While Nike still rules supreme in the athletic shoes department, this doesn’t mean that Adidas is far behind. After all, Adidas is serious about running for number one, and that’s one of the reason it bought Reebok in 2005 for a staggering price of $3.78 billion.
The Rise of Reebok in the Eighties
It’s hard to think about Reebok as a mere supporting player in the war between Nike and Adidas today, especially if you lived through the 1980s. That’s because in many ways the Eighties belonged to Reebok. Reebok took it to Nike in such a way that Nike founder Philip Knight really hated Paul Fireman, who bought the North American rights to Reebok. Reebok was just another British manufacturer of sneakers (or trainers as the Brits called them) at the time. Fireman then proceeded to buy out the parent company of Reebok in 1984, and then he really took it to Nike. In 1981, Reebok sales were a little over $1.5 million. By 1987, Reebok shot to an astounding $1.4 billion in revenue—and they actually passed Nike to reach the summit of the US athletic shoes industry.
So how did Reebok do it? It was simple. Admittedly, Reebok introduced quite a few shoes during the decade that were popular. Even by the near end of the decade in 1989, they were producing instant hits like the Pump. These basketball shoes were inflated so that they would really form-fit on your ankles. And that’s what NBA rookie Dee Brown was wearing when he electrified the world with his Dunks during the NBA All-Star Weekend Dunking Championships.
But it wasn’t the Pump that put Reebok on the map, as the brand was already well-known by then. It was actually a pair of athletic shoes for women called Freestyle. This iconic pair of shoes became such an instant classic that it took the entire industry by storm, and even today these shoes are highly sought after by collectors.
Why Freestyle Became Popular
There are many reasons why Freestyle became popular. One of the reasons is that these shoes were perfect for aerobics, a fitness exercise that was all the rage across the US and the world in the 70s and 80s. It was fueled by the advertising campaigns and workouts by Jane Fonda, and movies such as Flashdance added to the frenzy.
More women were also beginning to enter sports in general, as they were also beginning to understand that exercise was as crucial as diet in order to look as fit and trim as their favorite TV and movie actresses. In 1971, it was estimated that only 1 in 27 girls participated in sports. That figure would eventually jump to 1 in 3, or 9 in 27 if you want to make it easy for yourself to notice the change. And Reebok jumped on that bandwagon and rode it for all it was worth. Their shoes were perfect not just for exercise and sports, but for casual wear as well. Running shoes became more acceptable for casual events, dates, and even for the workplace—a trend that’s still going on today.