Real Talk: With adidas Absent, It’s Now Time for a Reebok Revival
It may not have made as many headlines as Kanye and Kim, but adidas’ decision to sell their subsidiary Reebok is undoubtedly the sneakersphere’s most high-profile split in recent memory. Adopting the ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ approach, the German sportswear giant decided that both parties will be better served treading separate paths after a somewhat stale 15-year relationship.
Admittedly, Reebok weren’t the force they used to be when they were acquired by adidas in 2005. However, news of the new Three Stripes partnership had many thinking Reebok would be able to rekindle that old spark – the one that saw them rise to prominence in the late-80s. While those aspirations never really materialised, it certainly isn’t too late for the England-founded sneaker stalwart to recapture that past glory.
Could this breakup be a boon for the ‘Bok?
Founded in England in 1958, Reebok’s popularity snowballed after it was bought out by American businessman Paul Fireman in 1979. In fact, by 1988, the brand had grown to become arguably the biggest sneaker brand in the world, boasting approximately $1.8 billion in annual sales compared to Nike’s $1.2 billion. How times have changed.
Riding off success on the tennis court, thanks largely to stars like Boris Becker, John McEnroe, and later Michael Chang, Reebok began to shift focus to the basketball court in the 1990s. Battling the Beaverton juggernaut head-on, the brand recovered from a slow start to finally release the uber-successful Pump in 1991, before signing megastars Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Kemp, and later Allen Iverson, all now key figures in Reebok’s sneaker legacy. Sure, Nike had MJ, but consumers appreciated Reebok’s flamboyant flair, which came through in their playing roster as well as their advertisements.
Spruiking taglines such as ‘Pump up and Air out’, Reebok even went as far as to suggest that if you wore Nikes while bungee jumping, you’d die… Unsurprisingly, that commercial was banned.
Where did it all go wrong? Reebok’s slide wasn’t a rapid descent by any means, but it was clear the brand’s image and market share were waning once we rolled into the 2000s. Keen to branch out into new realms, the brand’s ambitions led them to stray too far from their core categories, and it wasn’t long before sneakerheads and casual consumers began to lose interest.
Despite signing a huge deal with the National Football League, and tapping into the hip hop scene via collaborations with Jay-Z and 50 Cent, the brand simply couldn’t translate niche success into interest across the mass market. By the time adidas took over, things certainly weren’t beyond saving. However, what many had hoped would be a ‘Bok bounce back turned into a rather forgettable 15-year stanza.
Instead of embracing what brought them to the fore, Reebok signed deals with the UFC and CrossFit, continuing the path of divergence. The brand went all-in on fitness, even changing their logo to suit. Unsurprisingly, ,with creative director Swizz Beatz on board, the lifestyle category also suffered. Guess the sneakersphere wasn’t ready for a Conor McGregor sneaker collaboration after all…
With Reebok currently for sale, the future of the brand remains up in the air. Nevertheless, the optimists among us hang onto hopes of a Reebok revival.
In the past 12 months, we’ve seen killer collaborations with the likes of Awake NY, BAPE, JJJJound, Packer, Patta, PLEASURES, Brain Dead, Palace, and Dime, just to name a few. It’s clear that the sneaker and streetwear worlds haven’t lost their love for the ‘Bok just yet. Meanwhile, a mini-resurgence of their throwback basketball silhouettes like the Question Mid and Omni Zone 2 have provided a timely reminder of their deep hardwood heritage.
We’re not expecting Reebok to rise to the summit of the sneaker world like they did back in the late-80s, but looking back at what got them there may be the first step towards moving on from this messy breakup with Team Trefoil. As they say, sometimes a broken heart can fix your vision.