We looked back into the evolution of the trainer and how the different styles evolved into the global billion dollar industry that it is today.
The trainer started in the 18th century along with the resurgence of running in england, a lightweight shoe was created that could grip the ground which was separate to the everyday shoe. The running shoe, which was made out of leather was a very simple design which had the issue of stretching when it became wet, making it difficult to wear out in the rain. In 1852 Joseph William Foster had the idea to add spikes to the bottom of plimsolls which would help runners with gripping the floor, important on certain terrain such as wet grass.
The next big development was vulcanization which is the process of melting rubber and fabric together, this made the shoes lightweight quiet and flexible and led to the creation of Keds. In 1917 they started to advertise Keds as an athletic shoe or ‘sneakers’ as they could sneak around quietly. In 1920 Adolf Dassler, who was an avid soccer player, began making spiked shoes for track and field, four years later he went on to create a company that would later evolve to become adidas.
In 1982 the first athletic shoe designed for women was created by Reebok. The ‘freestyle’ was headed by the fitness professional Gin Miller and is still the number 1 selling shoe in Reebok history. Reeboks annual profit went from $1 Million in 1981 to $400 million in 1986. After the success of the women’s line a male version was created which fell under ‘fitness’ trainer. Whilst other companies scrambled to keep up, these two shoes are still the most well known.
Skate shoes differ from the regular trainer as they needed to be strong; skating wears shoes out far quicker then running. Added to that, the grip needs to be good with lightweight shoes for tricks. These shoes include a vulcanized rubber or polyurethane sole with minimal tread pattern or no pattern, a composition leather or suede upper, and double or triple stitching to extend the life of the upper material. A low, padded tongue is often included for comfort.
Before 1965 there was no specific shoe for skating, with most skaters choosing to wear Converse Chuck Taylors or even to go barefoot. In 1965, the Randolph Rubber Company created the first skateboarding sneaker, known as the Randy 720. As grip tape was still very much a thing of the future these shoes provided more traction on the deck with tougher outsoles.
Slowly following the Randy 720, the Van Doren brothers felt that they could do one better and in 1966 released the #44 Vans Deck Shoe with the first Vans retail store attached which took over as the number 1 skate shoe. Nowadays the design of the skate shoe hasn’t changed much, however the style is ever changing. Vans continue to dominate the market alongside Nike, DC and adidas with Nike releasing the first female skate shoe in October 2017.
Light, made out of leather and good traction on the bottom, the tennis shoe started off as a simple rubber soled plimsoll. Converse and Keds led the way on and off the tennis court before other brands started to take advantage of the gap in the market.
In the 1960’s Robert Haillet became the first player sponsored by adidas to wear their brand new leather shoe. The shoe had the same rubber sole but with a leather upper, providing Haillet with greater stability and support in the foot. After Haillet retired in 1971 Stan Smith took the shoe on adding a non moving tongue and the famous heel padding.
Stan Smith won both of his tennis Grand Slams wearing the leather Stan Smiths, cementing their status as the most famous tennis shoe in history. Puma and K-Swiss followed in their footsteps creating leather shoes of their own, with Nike creating their famous Wimbledon shoe.
Basketball shoes have to offer shock absorption, foot support, durability, and ankle stability, all the while remaining extremely flexible and allowing the feet to breathe. High-tops are traditional for basketball because of their ankle support, however, mid-tops are now worn by many professional basketball players and they’re usually a better choice for speed players.
Converse All star dominated on the court until the 1970s where Adidas came out with the Superstar, Pro Ked brought the Royal Master, Pony released the Topstar, Nike came out with the Blazer and the Puma Clyde was released named after the legendary Knicks point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Then came Michael Jordan’s line with Nike, the Air Jordan, arguably the most famous basketball shoe of all time.
Reebok had their own celebrity endorsed trainers, choosing to back Shaquille O’Neal and Shawn Kemp – adidas endorsed a young Kobe Bryant. Nike however, still dominates the basketball line with an impressive list of player endorsements to this day.