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ADIDAS brand history

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Our story begins in the town of Herzogenaurach, near Nuremberg, Germany. As small as it is, this town has had a huge impact on the story of the training shoe. Part of the significant role played by Herzogenaurach takes place in 1948, for this is the year the aptly nicknamed ‘Godfather’ of training shoes, adidas, is launched on the world.

A cobbler working in Herzogenaurach, Adolph Dassler, decides on a name for his new company. By combining his nickname ‘Adi’ with the first three letters of his surname Dassler, the ‘adidas’ is born. Apparently Dassler decided to use a lowercase ‘a’ for the company name to further distinguish it from the competition. By the time of his death in 1978, at the age of 78, Adi Dassler held more than 700 patents related to sports shoes and other athletic equipment, and had also gaining the honor of becoming the first non-American to be inducted into the American Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame. Adidas was also a groundbreaking company away from the sports field and was the first sports brand to sponsor non-athletes (Run DMC)

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ABOVE The man himself, adidas founder Adolph (Adi) Dassler.

THE DASSLER BROTHERS

Even though adidas became into being in 1948, its history goes back to 1920. A story well known in trainer circles that is worth repeating here concerns the fact that the history of adidas and Puma are intertwined. Thus, to look at the beginnings of adidas you also have to look at the beginnings of Puma.

The story of both adidas and Puma starts back in Herzogenaurach, where Adi’s father, who was also a cobbler and Brother Rudolph (‘Rudi’), lived. Both the boys, Adi and Rudi, were keen sports enthusiasts but, the story goes, Adi was never satisfied with the fit of his sports shoes. So, being the son of a cobbler, he started to make his own. The shoes began to gain a reputation and as the orders came in and the business grew, the brothers decided to form a company, which they registered as Gebruder Dassler OHG (Dassler Brothers Ltd) on 1 July 1924.

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ABOVE The original Dassler logo used before the family split

The company’s success continued and the Dassler brothers supplied shoes for the German teams at both the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, with models such as the Waitzer and Dassler. However, one notable historic moment for the Dassler brother came when the prominent black American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of a furious Adolph Hitler. And the shoes Owens wore for these famous historic victories? Why, Dasslers, of course.

The biggest change in the fortunes of the two brothers was still to come. In 1948, a dispute broke out between Adi and Rudi. Rumors for the split abounded, the usual suspects being women and money. Whatever the real reasons, the rift provided impossible to heal and they finally decided to go their own ways. Adolph left and formed adidas while Rudi moved across town to start Puma. After a few years of legal disputes, each company developed into a worldwide brand in its own right.

In 1949 adidas added the now legendary three stripes to its trainers as a means of strengthening the shoe and providing extra stability to the foot, and a world-recognized trademark was launched.

In 1966 the first rights to distribute adidas in the United States were taking by H.B. ‘Doc” Hughes of Dallas and the brand quickly became responsible for the biggest-selling training shoes in the country. The 1960s and 70s can rightly be described as being dominated by adidas and Puma, and in 1971 yet another event of huge sporting magnitude took place – Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier both wore adidas boxing shoes in their ‘fight of the century’. In 1972, in the same year that adidas was named official supplier for the Munich Olympics, adidas introduced one of the most recognizable and much loved logos in the world – the adidas ‘trefoil’

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ABOVE The well-known trefoil (sometimes called clover) logo used by adidas is said to have come from the motif of the laurel crown given to the winners of sporting festivals in ancient Greece. The crown represent the Olympic spirit and the pursuit of victory.

Throughout the decade the adidas brand stayed strong, despite increased competition, especially that from an upstart company in business only since 1972 – Nike. After Adi’s death in 1978 the running of adidas passed to family members, but by 1987 the company had fallen into the hands of an outsider.
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ABOVE Catalogues and advertisements from 1970s and 1980s

At the start of the 1990s adidas was on the slide from its once dominant position, and the company passed to the since disgraced. Bernard Taupie, the man who had tried to buy the outcome of soccer’s prestigious European Cup Final in favor of his own Olympique Marseilles F.C.

In 1996, in an attempt to rebrand and rebuild sales, a new log was introduced, replacing the classic trefoil with the now familiar three stripes.

Since then, adidas stock has been moved about between various owners, and what started out as a German family business in now a nit of a French global concern – Solomon. Unfortunately, due to what appears to be a lack of focus in brand identity, adidas lost its way and was in urgent need of redefining.

However, throughout the history of trainer companies, market domination comes and goes. In the mid 1970s the top trainer companies were characterized as ‘adidas and the Seven Dwarves’. And even though adidas may not currently be the major player in the worldwide trainer marketplace, you need to bear the old saying ‘from its temporary, class is permanent’ firmly in mind.

Even though Converse, Dunlop and Keds were all producing sporting shoes in one form or another first, it is adidas that can rightly lay claim to being the godfather of the trainer brands.

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