A Run for Their Money When Nike's Profits Went into Freefall Earlier This Year, Many Fashion Commentators Claimed That Trainers Were Dead. So What, Says Adidas, from Its Hi-Tech Laboratory in Germany: Its Shoes Are Made for Running, Not Posing. but Will They Go the Distance, Asks Richard Johnson

By Johnson, Richard | The Independent (London, England), October 24, 1998 | Go to article overview
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A Run for Their Money When Nike's Profits Went into Freefall Earlier This Year, Many Fashion Commentators Claimed That Trainers Were Dead. So What, Says Adidas, from Its Hi-Tech Laboratory in Germany: Its Shoes Are Made for Running, Not Posing. but Will They Go the Distance, Asks Richard Johnson


Johnson, Richard, The Independent (London, England)


his is a picture of eternal damnation. Twenty-four hours a day, in a sterile laboratory outside Nuremberg, training shoes are being

tormented; this is damnation on a grand, Hieronymous-Bosch scale. Rows of metal hooks swing back and forth, picking at the trainers' tongue leather. Aluminium weights press down on their soles with industrial monotony, while a woman annotates their viscosity and elasticity. From a computer terminal she instructs a steel arm to scrape them across asphalt, Astroturf and linoleum - all in the name of calculating their "friction coalition". Some style experts may say trainers are dead, but from the look of this Adidas laboratory, they will be dragged around the nine circles of Hell first.

Trainers still constitute 40 per cent of total shoe sales in the United States, and Nike is the largest shoe manufacturer in the world. But analysts are talking about market saturation. Nike's very success is starting to count against it: what cool kid wants a new pair of Nikes if that's what his dad or, worse, his grandma, is wearing? When Nike's profits and share prices tumbled in the spring, headlines declared that the $8bn (pounds 5bn) wholesale domestic American sports- shoe market was witnessing a glut of product, and a uniformity of marketing strategy. Just Do It just wasn't doing it any more. One of the things helping Adidas right now is that it's not Nike. Unsurprisingly, the people at Adidas insist that reports of the death of the trainer have been greatly exaggerated. They know that spoils in the trainer war are still considerable. They also know that the downturn has happened before. Three years ago, everybody got into Timberland boots. The trade called it the "brown shoe phenomenon" - a sudden fashion switch away from trainers to variations on work boots by brands such as Rockport and Caterpillar. It's a recognised cycle in the footwear market that just happened to coincide with the start of Nike's downturn. Adidas plans to keep investing in training- shoe research. "People first started saying that trainers were dead around the middle of this year," says Johnny Davis, associate editor at The Face. "That was because of the return of Wallabies and Clarks {popularised by The Verve and Oasis}. But it was just a backlash against the production of endless versions of Nike trainers. There's certainly no evidence that trainers are dead. Niche shops are opening up - like Offspring in Covent Garden - and there seem to be more outlets every day. The future looks good. Adidas have had better designs than Nike recently, and people are saying that the trainers out in January and February next year are the best for two years. And, as far as I can see, this could go on indefinitely." Adi Dassler first began making sports shoes in Germany in 1920. It certainly did his reputation no harm when Jesse Owens wore a pair of his spikes to win four Olympic gold medals in 1936. He formed the Adidas company in 1948, with the three stripes as his logo. (Nike was founded 25 years later, in Portland, Oregon and eventually superseded Adidas. It became the world's biggest sportswear company, with an annual turnover of $9bn - 35 per cent of the global sportswear market.) But Adidas has its past. To capture the future, it needs to trade on its history. And to stress its authenticity. That's why Catherina McKiernan, winner of the 1998 London Marathon, is running - repeatedly - across the Adidas laboratory floor. A woman in a white coat films her feet, at 500 frames per second. The frames are then frozen to show the distribution of McKiernan's body weight. Unlike a lot of runners, whose heels hit the ground at an angle, her heel lands flat, but stability isn't a problem. McKiernan runs on the forefoot of her trainer. Adidas designers assemble and confer. No, she doesn't need extra shock absorption on her heel for the Amsterdam marathon. McKiernan will run in basic road shoes.

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A Run for Their Money When Nike's Profits Went into Freefall Earlier This Year, Many Fashion Commentators Claimed That Trainers Were Dead. So What, Says Adidas, from Its Hi-Tech Laboratory in Germany: Its Shoes Are Made for Running, Not Posing. but Will They Go the Distance, Asks Richard Johnson
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