Reebok has positioned itself at the center of sports and culture throughout its history, creating classic footwear for the ages. Here, FN chronicles revolutionary moments that have cemented the label’s stature.
The Aerobics Boom 1982
In the early 1980s, a new West Coast fitness craze was spreading across the country. Reebok executive Angel Martinez, then a sales rep in the region, noticed during a visit to his wife’s aerobics class that there was a lack of proper footwear, so he worked with designer Paul Brown to create the Freestyle, Reebok’s first bona fide female-oriented sneaker. “This was truly a game changer when it went to market in 1982. Women who were engaged in aerobics were doing this later in life, which means they grew up prior to Title IX and are now doing group activities for the first time,” said Erin Narloch, senior archive manager.
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Through calculated placements at fitness studios, the aerobics phenomenon caught on, and the brand sold over 30,000 pairs within the first month. Even Jane Fonda adopted the shoes in her classes. Eventually, celebrities embraced the style — Cybill Shepherd famously wore them on the 1985 Emmys red carpet. As more colorways were introduced throughout the ’80s, the shoe became a hit nationwide, and the Freestyle was soon popping up all over New York’s boroughs, where the term “5411s” was coined (at that time, the shoe retailed for $49.99 and with tax came out to $54.11).
No-Look Dunk 1991
Reebok’s peak moment of convergence between sports and culture is arguably the Pump, which debuted in 1989 and was a turning point for fusing technology and footwear. The shoe was the first of its kind to utilize an internal inflation device to allow wearers a customized fit by simply pumping up the tongue. It was the brand’s answer to Nike’s Air Jordans. “When we think of the Pump in general, this is Reebok’s foray into basketball,” Narloch said. “In 1991 at the NBA All Star Weekend dunk contest, Dee Brown put us on the map when, just before his no-look dunk, he took the time to pump up his shoe. That demonstrated its benefit to a national, if not international, audience. You couldn’t have asked for anything more.” The pump became the footwear of choice for a number of athletes, including world tennis champion Michael Chang, who was endorsed by the brand. And its popular series of commercials featured some of the biggest sports names of the day, including Shaquille O’Neal, Dominique Wilkins and Dennis Rodman — and even comedian Sinbad.
Allen Iverson 1996
One of Reebok’s most powerful athletic endorsements was with NBA star and league MVP Allen Iverson. The brand beat out Nike to sign the basketball pro over 20 years ago and officially extended him a lifetime deal in 2001. “Allen was a game changer in the sense of individual style and in a category where you’re told, ‘You can only look this way.’ He broke many of those barriers, and Reebok took a risk to be alongside Allen. During the process, we created two of the most iconic basketball footwear franchises of all time: the Question and the Answer,” Narloch said. Iverson’s signature Question and Answer sneakers are the second-longest-running basketball lines in history and continue to be a hit among sneaker lovers. Rapper Cam’ron will be the latest to put his spin on the Question. Recently, he revealed images on Instagram of his Dipset-themed shoe design and stated that it will release in the fall.
The Hot Boys 1999
Reebok forged a path all its own in the 1990s when it began endorsing musicians as well as athletes. In particular, its sneakers were a mainstay on the feet of rapper Lil Wayne and other members of the Hot Boys, who prominently sported the Workout sneakers, nicknamed “Soldiers.” James Hardaway, currently global product manager for Reebok, noticed the connection in 1999 and persuaded his bosses to outfit the artists for Juvenile and Mannie Fresh’s “I Got That Fire” video that year. The willingness to bank on an untested marketing strategy — fusing the world of athletics with music — is what helped Reebok seal its cultural relevance. “No matter who you are or where you come from, you can wear Reebok and make it your own,” Narloch said. “While the Hot Boys continued to get more and more famous, Lil Wayne and Birdman continued to wear Reebok, and that’s because it was adopted [into their culture].”
Reebok x Chanel 2001
Long before streetwear infiltrated the luxury market, Reebok laid the groundwork for athletic and high-fashion sneaker collaborations. The athletic brand popped up on the runway 17 years ago through a partnership with Chanel. At the French label’s spring ’01 show, the duo debuted the Chanel x Reebok Instapump Fury, featuring the Instapump’s cagelike silhouette, accented with Chanel’s interlocking-C logo on the heel. The shoe remains a major touch point for designers in the industry and was the inspiration for a 2016 collab created by Concepts. “Reebok has always been the brand for everybody, and there is something very colorful about that,” said Narloch. “While we have worked with incredible musicians, rappers and athletes or fashion houses like Chanel, we’ve done it five to 20 years before everyone else.”
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