Friday , Nov , 08 , 2013 C.Y. Ellis

The History of Reebok in the Sneaker Industry

Reebok is one of the true innovators in the sneaker game. How they became a player.

HoopsVibe's Very Quick Call: The history of a sneaker company is a wild ride.

The history of Reebok in the sneaker industry


The Reebok shoe company is like a streaky jump shooter; when they are hot they are hot, but when they are not nobody is interested. This has been a way of life for the Reebok brand since its inception. They wow the sneaker industry one year, just to turn around and lay an egg the next.

The Reebok brand got its beginnings back in 1958 when it branched out as a sister company to JW Foster and Sons. Beginning in 1895, JW Foster and Sons started to manufacture shoes and sell them all over the United Kingdom. Even though they never garnered much attention, they were successful enough to be worn by the athletes in the 1924 Summer Olympics. 

Then in 1958, Foster’s grandsons decided to branch out to form a new company which they would call Reebok. They picked the name Reebok, which means African Gazelle, because they wanted to depict speed, style, and grace. Even though the company was selling the shoes at a decent rate in the United Kingdom, they were still having a hard time getting the shoes noticed on a world wide scale. 

But in 1979 this would all change. At the Chicago International sneaker trade show, Paul Fireman took notice of the Reebok brand. At the time, Fireman was working for an outdoor sporting goods distributor, and immediately saw great potential in the Reebok brand. He was drawn in by the customization of each shoe, as well as the high quality. Fireman felt that those two qualities alone would make this brand a hit with the North American population. Without wasting anytime, Fireman negotiated a deal to license and distributes the Reebok brand in the United States; it was at this time that Reebok USA was born. 

That same year, Fireman introduced three running shoes to the market.  He had so much confidence in the product that he priced the shoe at $60 which made it the highest priced offering on the market. By 1981, Reebok USA had exceeded $1.5 million in sales; and this was all done by selling simple track shoes.

In 1982, the company made a move that took the sneaker industry by surprise, and sent sales through the roof. Reebok introduced the first athletic shoe for women. This move helped Reebok grab the majority of the market share in the early 1980’s

Then in 1989, Reebok introduced the Pump to the basketball world. These shoes were designed specifically with basketball in mind. The shoe used an air bladder which could be inflated by a small pump that was located on the tongue of the shoe. The pump was in the shape of a basketball, and when pushed it would inflate the bladder so that the shoe would conform tightly around the ankle. This shoe was designed to take on the “Nike Air”, and debuted with a sticker price of $170; nearly double the price of other basketball shoes.  But despite the huge price difference Reebok had a hit. Over a four year period they sold over 20 million pairs worldwide.

The history of Reebok in the sneaker industry

These enormous sales numbers were aided by Boston Celtic rookie Dee Brown in the 1991 All-Star weekend Slam Dunk contest. Brown came out for the competition sporting the black, white, and orange Pumps. In a moment that will forever be remembered by basketball fans, before Brown took off for his final dunk he leaned over and pumped up his Reeboks. After throwing down the contest clinching dunk (covering his eyes with his arm) he bent forward and deflated his pumps. The crowd went wild, and the Reebok Pumps gained instant notoriety as kids everywhere felt like this sneaker could take their game to the game level.  

But just as quickly as it took off, the Pumps began to fade out of the public eye. This left Reebok without a number one seller, and scrambling for another big break through. 

As sales continued to decline throughout the 90’s, Reebok was looking for a way to regain a share of the market that was being dominated by Nike. After numerous efforts failed to produce results, Reebok decided to look for endorsements as a way to increase brand awareness.

In 1996, they pegged NBA newcomer Allen Iverson as a target. From 1996 to 2000, Iverson and Reebok had a lot of success promoting the brand both on and off the court. With Iverson quickly becoming an NBA superstar, his shoe which was known as “The Answer” was selling at a fast pace and helping to bring Reebok back to the forefront of the industry. In 2001, Reebok made a huge commitment to Iverson by signing him to a life long contract which guarantees that he sports the brand until his days in the NBA are over.

Then in 2005, during NBA All-Star weekend Reebok introduced the new ATR (Above the Rim) Pump. This shoe is based off of the same technology as the original Pump, but this time the pump is located on the outer ankle of the shoe. It again allows for the athlete to get a perfect fit. During the 2005 All-Star game, NBA superstars Allen Iverson and Yao Ming showcased the ATR Pump to the world. This gave the industry their first look at the new Pump in action. In addition to Iverson and Ming, superstars Steve Francis, Baron Davis, and Jerome Williams are also wearing the new Pumps.

Shortly after the new ATR Pump debuted, Reebok was shook up once again. They were bought out by Germany’s Adidas-Salomon for $3.78 billion. The reason for this merger is quite clear to everyone in the sneaker industry. Reebok and Adidas were constantly dueling it out for second place behind sneaker giant Nike. They feel that by joining forces, they may be able to overthrow Nike and become the number one sneaker manufacturer in the world. But they still have a long way to go before this comes to fruition. In 2004, Nike had approximately 36% market share in the United States shoe industry; where as Adidas and Reebok combined for about 21%.

With Reebok joining hands with Adidas, they are looking to regain the popularity that they experienced in the early 90’s. By continuing to build and market products around NBA superstars, Reebok kicks will soon again be popular among ballers all over the world.

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Photo Credit: Reebok.

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