From basketball and tennis courts to CrossFit gyms and royal weddings, Reebok has left a lasting mark on global culture. Though now a part of the Adidas Group and effectively out of the "sneaker wars" with the big two (Nike and Adidas), Reebok is still a brand with a household name and a rich history of tech and style innovation.
1. THE COMPANY FOUNDERS WANTED A NAME THAT MEANT "NOTHING."
When choosing a name for their company in 1958, brothers Jeff and Joe Foster—grandsons of Joseph W. Foster, founder of the J.W. Foster and Sons athletic shoe company—originally settled on Mercury Sports Footwear. "We were advised to register the name Mercury and told that we needed to do this through a patent agent, who discovered Mercury was already registered," Joe Foster explained in an interview earlier this year. "He said, 'You’ll need a new name, but don’t just bring me one, bring me a dozen.' He pointed through his window at a Kodak sign and said, 'You want a name like that, it means nothing.'"
Joe shared the news with his brother and family, then pulled out his copy of Webster’s Dictionary to see what they could find. “I remember thumbing through this and coming across the word Reebok [rhebok], a light grey South African gazelle,” he said. “I put this at the top of the list, went back to our agent and said, ‘Look, here’s your names, we want this one.’ Out of all the ones we gave him, Reebok was the only one that cleared.”
2. A POSITIVE MAGAZINE REVIEW HELPED BRING THE BRAND TO THE U.S..
America was in the middle of a running boom in 1979, which is when Joe Foster met a man named Paul Fireman while exhibiting in Chicago. Fireman told Joe he could distribute Reebok’s running shoes in the U.S. if the Fosters could get their sneakers a five-star rating in Runner’s World magazine (a publication that used lab tests to rate shoes). "We got three five-star ratings, and the Aztec [shoe] was one," Joe recalled.
K-Mart was also interested in the Aztec. The mega-chain offered to make a deal if the Fosters could produce 25,000 pairs and lower their price point. Given the company's manufacturing capabilities at the time, Reebok was unable to meet those condition. "25,000 pairs was tempting, but it would take time," Joe said. So they went with Fireman, who introduced Reebok to America.
3. AEROBICS CHANGED THE GAME FOR REEBOK.
In the early 1980s, aerobics was the new fitness craze sweeping America, and Reebok wanted in. “In America, we weren’t known at all,” Joe Foster said, “so when the women saw Reebok Freestyle, they didn’t think of us as male, they didn’t think of us as sweaty, they didn’t think of us as anything more than this beautiful shoe.” Within five years of introducing the Freestyle in 1982, the company’s annual sales went from $4 million to $1.4 billion.
4. A 25-YEAR-OLD DESIGNED RIPLEY’S STOMPERS FOR ALIENS.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Tuan Le was 25 years old and fresh out of design school when he landed a job at Reebok in the early 1980s. In an interview with Highsnobiety, the designer recalled getting the assignment to create sneakers for the James Cameron-helmed sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The more experienced designers were working on aerobics shoes, so the job fell into Le’s lap. He was told that they had a deal with 20th Century Fox and that he needed to go to England to meet with the production team and get started on the sneaker.
After running through the script with the team and a quick five-minute meeting with Cameron, Le walked away with one requirement for the pair of Reeboks that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver's character) would wear: “My direction was that the shoe had to easily [slide] off her feet. That was the only requirement they told me. There were no requirements for colors, looks, or any particular theme that I had to follow. The only thing that I had to follow was that it easily came off her foot.”
When he returned back home, Le was told by his bosses at Reebok that he had to use existing basketball molds for the shoe, so he chose the BB 5600 and developed a design with a higher profile and Velcro straps.
5. THE PUMP CHANGED THE INDUSTRY.
By the end of the ‘80s, Reebok was on top of the world. Basketball was the sport of choice, and some of the best players in the NBA were running the court in innovative new Reebok models. Taking things to the next level, designer Paul Litchfield began working on a system that would give players a custom fit on the court because, as the ads said, “no two feet are alike, not even your own.” What Litchfield and the team came up with was the first ever internal inflation mechanism. After a few prototypes and some help from senior designer Paul Brown, The Reebok Pump was born in 1989.
Not everyone could afford the $170 sneakers ($330 when adjusted for inflation), but a stellar performance by a rookie player in a slam dunk contest and the futuristic tech turned The Pump into a status symbol for consumers. In just 18 months, it made the brand $500 million, and pumps found their way into nine different Reebok sport categories, from golf to tennis. The sneaker also opened the door for what Reebok and other brands could do in terms of developing performance-based technology that people would pay extra for.
6. REEBOK MADE BACON FOR PALEO DIETERS.
Reebok and CrossFit signed a 10-year partnership deal in 2010, and with that came a growing subculture of people looking to sweat, lift, and eat according to the lifestyle. The Paleo diet is a favorite diet of CrossFit devotees and one of its stars is bacon, so at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games, the brand gave some away from a “Paleo Magazine-endorsed meat provider.” The packaging featured a leaping pig marked with cutting lines, with shoes on its hooves and the slogan “We Believe in Bacon.”
7. REEBOK CLASSICS MADE AN APPEARANCE AT THE ROYAL WEDDING.
Wearing sneakers to a wedding isn't always appreciated, but when you’re a nun and the chaplain to the staff at Westminster Abbey, you can do what you want. When photos of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding circulated in the press and online, people noticed that the nun sitting next to the royal couple was wearing a pair of black Reeboks. It was decided by the internet that both nuns in attendance were either undercover agents or ninjas.
The Ninja Nun’s father later revealed her true identity to the press and said that she “has her trainers on most of the time because she finds them the most comfortable things to wear." The nun was reportedly embarrassed by the attention, but laughed when she learned of her new nickname.
8. YOU WON’T FIND WHITE BREAD OR SODA AT REEBOK HQ.
Reebok has turned the business of fitness and healthy living into a corporate mantra. In March of 2016, the company announced that as part of a company-wide health initiative, it was banning large candy bars, white bread, soda, and pasta from the kitchen and cafeteria at brand headquarters in Canton, Massachusetts. Employees are still allowed to bring the food in from home.