Look at the feet of people walking by. Browse fashion magazines and blogs. Many people are wearing shoes that are several decades old. Not actually vintage, but some of the shoe models you see were introduced many years ago and are still alive..
One could say that longevity is counter-intuitive in the fast-paced world of fashion where trends come and go – but some products are obviously meant to stay. Why do some survive the course of time while others fall into oblivion? Unless you can look into the future to predict how society, fashion, music and many other factors will evolve, the answer is not that simple. At adidas, we do not have a crystal ball either.
To gain more insights, we spoke to Los Angeles based sneaker collectors Linda Garcia and Alfonso Ayala, as well as to some of our colleagues who work on the product. In addition, we looked at a couple of iconic silhouettes – in particular the Superstar – to carve out what it takes for a product to win a consumer’s heart in the long run.
The formula to stay alive
Making people love a brand or product sounds fairly easy, but keeping the love alive over a timeframe that spans generations depends on many components. Here is what we’ve learned:
Change the game
When aiming to create an iconic product, defining outlines, colours or material is the second step. Firstly, think about a reason why the product makes a difference to consumers. Not a marketing babble difference. A real difference. Be honest and ask yourself if the product is a true game changer.
The Superstar truly fulfils these criteria. It was launched as a basketball shoe in 1969. The design was revolutionary for professional basketball players: the ‘rugged rubber toe cap’ protected the toes while the herringbone sole provided the traction to the floor. By the mid-seventies, the Superstar was worn by almost 75% of all basketball pros.
An icon: superstar 1969
Explore new terrain
A product might have been created for a very specific purpose. That doesn’t mean it has to be confined within that very purpose. The Superstar was born in sports, but transcended its borders into the world of style when Run DMC took it to the street, making the shoe a part of the hip hop culture. Their ode to the Superstar ‘My adidas’ made it immortal. On a larger scale, adidas turned this into a business model. Once a pure sports player, the brand has grown strong off the pitch as well.
Leave room for creativity
A product never stands alone. Whoever buys it has a vision how it will help him or her shine. Therefore, keep the design clean and timeless overall, only highlight the core elements and leave enough room for people to create a unique look. With the Supercolor, Pharrell Williams played with 50 colours, giving consumers the maximum choice to live their style.
Don't rest on your laurels
Shoes like the Superstar were groundbreaking when they were released. They served a purpose and the core silhouette hasn’t changed. Authenticity is key but, to stay contemporary, it needs to be constantly injected with freshness. “Even though we might have an iconic silhouette, we try to modify the models in terms of concept and material; there might be wedges or slip-ons with different prints, welding or seamless constructions. We also play around with different materials,” explains Winfried Schieb, Director for Development Footwear.
Be seen with the right people
You have to have the right people to endorse a product at the right time. When Run DMC wrote an ode to the ‘Superstar’, influencer marketing was in its baby shoes. Nowadays, brands need to anticipate who the role models and creative minds of the future will be and work with them to inspire consumers. “The product is to be respected, but the way you launch it should always be fresh,” states Nic Galway, Vice President Design at adidas Originals. When it comes to the Superstar, Pharrell Williams, Rita Ora and David Beckham are only some of many endorsers.
Alfonso Ayala summarises what really elevates a shoe from a product to an icon: “Any brand can dish out an all-red sneaker, give it a catchy name and sell it, but when that sneaker has historical relevancy for the brand it really makes it that much more special. It’s like a moment in time and it’ll always be iconic.”