Millennials and young kids of today might only know Reebok from its cool collaboration with supermodel Gigi Hadid, introducing them to a brand that has a lot of fashion perspective in the fitness niche it is a part of. Yet with more than 200 years of history that Reebok has, its current aesthetic is just a tiny portion of who it is as a brand.
Alongside the most famous sneaker brands in the history—Nike, Adidas, Puma—Reebok has morphed into a brand with designs that evolved as the demands of the consumers changed as well. It is a trait that allow Reebok to remain among the industry’s best, despite a long journey of more than 200 years from the time it was launched back in 1985.However, Reebok wasn’t always called Reebok, and was actually founded in Bolton, England by Joseph William Foster who named it after himself in 1895.
From J.W. Foster to Reebok
Reebok wasn’t exactly known as such when it started in Bolton, England. Its founder, Joseph William Foster, created the sneaker brand as an eponymous label, naming it ‘J.W. Foster’. When his sons joined the company, the name evolved into ‘J.W. Foster and Sons’, the name that started becoming known to athletes. Back then, the label, through its factory called Olympic works, pioneered adding spikes on running shoes, immediately garnering attention from the sports industry.
That push to fame was used strategically by the brand, with J.W. Williams handcrafting shoes and distributing them to the best athletes across the UK. One of the standout athletes who has worn a pair from the brand was Harold Abrahams who was the champion for the 100m category during the Summer Olympics 1924. Years later, Joe and Jeff Foster, the grandsons of the original founder of the brand, started a sister company they named ‘Reebok’. The name was gotten from a South African dictionary, the Afrikaan word for a kind of antelope.
During an International Sneaker Trade Show in Chicago, Paul Fireman, an outdoor goods businessman got drawn into Reebok. He later on negotiated and closed a deal that licensed him to distribute the different pairs of the brand to the United States. That deal started the Reebok USA Ltd division, which amped up the sales of the brand up to $1.5 million dollars.
The strategy of the company that time was to focus on three main categories: women in sports, exercise, and street wear. For women, it launched the Reebok Freestyle, the shoe that appealed hugely to women in aerobics. It was a change of perception to the commonly viewed masculine, sweaty and male-only sneakers of that time, boosting both the reputation and the sales of the brand.
For exercise, it has expanded its reach to different kinds of sports, including tennis, basketball, and running, while for street wear, it started manufacturing sports clothing by 1980s. Such move led to the expansion of its territory to college athletes and pro sports arena, while designs of the shoes become more incorporated with casual wear vibes to appeal to a larger market. As 1980s ended, Reebok has grown into a huge brand that was respected all throughout the world, yet their eagerness to bring in further technologies in their designs made them even more relevant during the modern times.
The more recent successes of the brand weren’t only all about new designs and technologies, but a lot of partnerships with big names in different industries. For sports, both Allen Iverson and Venus Williams became ‘athletic heroes’ for Reebok. It started a frenzy among sports fans, but the brand did not stop there. They have eventually partnered with NFL and became the official manufacturer and seller of all merchandise licensed by the NFL. The agreement included footwear and uniform for all teams, which lasted for 10 whole years.
Outside of the sports arena, Reebok made an iconic moment when it was able to sign a partnership agreement with Jay-Z, establishing the S. Carter brand. While this created a massive positive impact to the reputation and standing of the brand, they did not rest in their efforts in the athletic field. Included in their efforts is them being the exclusive apparel supplier to a total of 29 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for a total of 10 years. By 2004, the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s uniform had the Reebok vector logo in them, another aspect of the brand’s deal with the NBA.
In that same year, Reebok bought CCM, the official National Hockey League sponsor. Right away, all authentic and replica NHL jerseys have shown the Reebok logo instead of the CCM names, which lasted until the partnership became Reebok-CCM Hockey and then in 2015, all hockey equipment have been officially transferred to CCM.
Joining the Adidas family
Reebok finally became a subsidiary brand of another sports shoes brand, Adidas, when the latter acquired all the shares of the former. Although the two brands are marketed and operated separately, maintaining their own names, Adidas took over some of the original Reebok partnerships. Adidas became NBA’s official supplier of uniform and other apparel starting 2006.
Other changes that happened within the brand include the replacement of its former President, Paul Fireman with a new President and CEO, Paul Harrington. For a long time, Harrington served as the SVP for Global Operations of the brand, as well as its Chief Supply Chain Officer, making him a non-stranger in the operations and management of the brand.
Currently, Reebok, under the management of Adidas, continues to boost its presence in both sports and fashion arena, with multiple partnerships including the earlier mentioned partnership with model Gigi Hadid. With the flexibility and versatility of the brand to conform to what the trends are, just like its partnership with CrossFit back in 2010, its presence in Yoga industry, and even its support for Paleo Diet, Reebok has a lot more to offer to the population of sneaker and apparel users, both fans and non-fans alike.