There are scores of footwear brands in the world, but few hold as much cachet in sports, fashion, lifestyle, and popular culture as the one with the three stripes. With a legacy that spans nearly seven decades, adidas has had its ups and downs in the sneaker market. The brand came dangerously close to filing for bankruptcy in the early 1990s, but emerged victorious and has since continued to do battle with other industry powerhouses for the top spot—and released several iconic models that have forever changed how the world views footwear.
1. THE BRAND WAS BORN OUT OF A SIBLING RIVALRY.
After working together for years at the family company called Gebrüder Dassler, Adi Dassler and his older brother Rudolf began to bump heads. They split the company and its assets and, in the late 1940s, formed two separate companies: adidas and Puma. The feud carried on for decades, up until a symbolic soccer game in 2009.
2. IT WAS ALMOST CALLED ADDAS.
The company’s founder and namesake, Adolf “Adi” Dassler, wanted his brand to be called “Addas” after the split with his brother Rudi. But according to Barbara Smit’s book Sneaker Wars, his registration was turned down because there was already a German children’s shoe company with that name. The addition of a single vowel made all the difference. Similarly, his brother wanted to register his new company as “Ruda” but it was thought to be “inelegant and plump,” Smit wrote, so he went with "Puma" instead.
3. JESSE OWENS WAS AN EARLY ADOPTER.
Before the birth of adidas (which is usually spelled with all lowercase letters, in contrast to PUMA's all caps), Adi’s focus was on spiked shoes for sports, which were more or less early cleats, but with nails driven through the soles. During the 1936 Olympic Games, Adi knew that German athletes would be wearing his spikes, but he was determined to have the phenom Jesse Owens try them on, even though he would be competing against the Germans.
After trying on a third pair, Owens was hooked; he stated that “he wanted those shoes or none at all." The athlete proceeded to win four gold medals.
4. THE ICONIC THREE STRIPES CAME FROM ANOTHER BRAND.
The world recognizes the three stripes as the trademark for adidas now, but the stripes were not Dassler’s until 1951, when he purchased them from the Finnish shoe brand Karhu. Smit wrote that two stripes were used back at Gebrüder Dassler, so they were out, and four stripes seemed “too busy.” The story goes that Karhu sold the trademark to adidas for two bottles of whiskey and €1600.
When adidas expanded into apparel, it adopted the trefoil as its logo. The trefoil is a clover-like plant with three-lobed leaves, which fit with the brand’s existing stripe motif. Nuremberg-based designer Hans Fick is credited with incorporating the stripes into the leaf logo.
5. ADIDAS INVENTED SHOWER SHOES.
According to the adidas blog, the German football team came to the company in the 1960s because they wanted shoes for their players to wear in the showers and in changing rooms so that they could be protected from the gross things that grow in those places. After a few design changes, what the world knows as the Adilette was released in 1972. It's still a popular choice for athletes and dorm-dwellers.
6. THEY SOLD THEIR FIRST TRACKSUIT IN 1967.
The brand took its first steps into the world of apparel with the Franz Beckenbauer tracksuit, named after the legendary German footballer. According to recent sales reports, the company's athletic apparel division made close to $2 billion in the first quarter of 2016.
7. IT INTRODUCED A SMART SHOE BACK IN THE 1980S.
Counting steps is a job for smartphones and wearables now, but in 1984, adidas dreamt up a sneaker that had a pedometer stitched into the tongue. Called the Micropacer, the model was gone by 1987, but adidas brought it back for the 30th anniversary in 2014.
8. THE COMPANY COULD HAVE SIGNED MICHAEL JORDAN.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Jordan wanted to sign with adidas when he was drafted in 1984. Distributors reportedly wanted to make it happen, but executives wanted taller players to represent the brand on court. Converse was ready to offer him $100,000 per year, but they didn’t have any new ideas. Nike offered Jordan a $500,000 per year contract, which he took back to adidas to see if they could “come anywhere close,” but the brand had to pass.
Missing out on Jordan was—and still is—one of the biggest missteps in adidas’ history, but the company had its share of smart plays, too. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the brand's first contracted basketball player, while tennis star Stan Smith made sales soar when he signed on and got a silhouette named after him. Over the years, dozens of other individuals across just about every sport or athletic event have inked deals with the brand. History was made in 1986 when adidas signed Run DMC to an unprecedented $1 million endorsement deal, which paved the way for other non-athlete musicians like Missy Elliot, Big Sean, and Kanye West to sign with the brand.
9. DAVID BECKHAM HAS A LIFETIME ENDORSEMENT DEAL.
The former soccer star hasn’t played in a professional game since 2013, but he is still a part of the adidas family—and will be forever. In 2003, he signed a lifetime deal worth $160.8 million with the brand, which was unheard of at the time. Beckham received half of the money up front, and now that he is retired, he represents adidas as a brand ambassador.
10. ANYONE CAN ACCESS AN ONLINE ARCHIVE OF THEIR PRODUCTS.
In 2013, adidas launched an archive to give fans a closer look at the brand’s history. The site operates more like an online museum and features photos of old footwear models, scans of vintage catalogs, curated exhibitions, and tons of information about the people and products that have made the company what it is today.
11. A SCHOOL IN THE UK HAS BANNED ADIDAS STAN SMITHS.
Separate of its sporty origins, the Stan Smith model has become a staple in the fashion industry, but students at Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton, England are not allowed to follow that particular trend. A uniform rule at the beginning of the 2016 school year stated that students must wear black leather lace-up sneakers, which should have included the all-black version of the Stan Smiths.
Parents were upset because students had been wearing the sneakers for months and the new rule was not established until the last six weeks of school. “We are speaking with individual parents to resolve any ongoing issues,” read a statement from the school. “In cases of extreme hardship the school always offers to support parents until such a time that they can afford to purchase items themselves ... We have high standards and expectations which we are proud of and which we constantly strive to achieve.”
12. THE BRAND IS HEADED TO SPACE IN 2017.
Y-3 (adidas' fashion design label) and designer Yohji Yamamoto announced in January that passengers aboard the first commercial flight to space with Virgin Galactic (including Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson) will wear jumpsuits and boots from the brand. Prototypes of the one-piece suits and boots were made of leather and fire-retardant materials, and the Y-3 team will continue to test and make improvements to the designs until the launch date, which has not yet been determined.