In the highly competitive world of tennis footwear, three stripes netted adidas a place among the game’s leading brands and a major role in environmental initiative.
From humble beginnings, the adidas shoe quickly became a global success story. People in all corners of the world, both young and old, found the shoe an indispensable piece of apparel. These days, adidas also tapped into people’s social consciousness, creating shoes and clothing using discarded plastic litter from the beaches and coastal regions.
In 2015, adidas teamed up with Parley for the Oceans. The non-profit global network brings together the best minds from various industries seeking to raise awareness of the fragility of oceans, while plotting to end their destruction.
Through this partnership, adidas stemmed the tide of plastic trash reaching the oceans, while transforming waste to create high-performance athletic apparel and footwear, in a process known as upcycling. Adidas environmental awareness highlights an overarching belief that producing quality products should not come at the expense of being stewards of the planet.
The world faced a different crisis more than 90 years ago when adidas first found its footing. With the Great Depression looming on the horizon, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler developed the company blueprint in 1929 from their parents’ basement in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach.
Adi Dassler in his shoe factory (adidas-group.com)
Originally called Gebruder Dassler OHG, the new shoe company enjoyed modest success during the 1932 Olympics. It wasn’t until the 1936 games in Berlin that the company burst onto the scene. There, American superstar Jesse Owens wore a pair of the Dasslers’ track shoes en route to four gold medals.
Though business was good, the brothers could not see eye to eye, eventually parting ways in 1949. This is when Adolf Dassler, nicknamed Adi, struck out on his own to create Adidas and featured a shoe with three stripes.
Adi named his business by combining the first three letters of his nickname and last name. Rudolf tried to follow a similar format by naming his company Ruda but then changed it to Puma.
Adidas branched out to the sport of tennis during the 1960s, sponsoring two of the game’s rising stars, American Stan Smith and Romania’s Ilie Nastase.
Stan Smith Wimbledon 1972 (adidas-group.com)
The company introduced its first tennis shoe in 1963. Adi’s son, Horst, spearheaded the effort with the first-ever leather model, beginning a long line of classic designs. By 1965, adidas had gained a firm foothold in the tennis market. The Robert Haillet shoe, named after the French tennis professional, became an adidas staple.
When Haillet retired, adidas signed Smith, one of the game’s top players and the 1971 U.S. Open champion, to an endorsement deal that allowed the same shoe to continue under a different name. The Stan Smith model became wildly popular and during the 1970s, evolving into both an athletic and lifestyle shoe in the United States.
adidas Stan Smith Shoes (adidas.com)
During the 1980s and 1990s, adidas increased their reach in professional tennis by aligning their apparel and footwear lines with the game’s best players — Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Steffi Graf. During their illustrious careers, all three players had their own unique apparel designs that would be marketed to the masses.
Steffi Graf and Stefan Edberg (flickr.com)
Lendl also spent the majority of his decorated career playing with several adidas tennis racquets, primarily committing to the the iconic GTX-Pro before it evolved into the adidas GTX Pro-T.
The adidas company remained a fixture if the sport during the ensuing 20 years. In 2009, Great Britain’s Andy Murray, then ranked fourth in the world, became adidas’ highest-paid star athlete with a five-year contract worth $24.5 million.
Andy Murray (adidas.com)
Currently, adidas features several prominent players, including former women’s world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber. On the men’s side, rising stars Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem are also representative of the brand.
Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev (adidas.com)
Still headquartered in his Bavarian hometown, Adi Dassler’s vision continued long after his death in 1978. Since its formation in post-war Europe, the adidas brand has become ubiquitous, ranking as the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and the second largest around the world.