the hype war at your feet

IN THE RACE FOR YOUR MONEY, THE ADIDAS RETRO TRAINER HAS BEEN THIS SUMMER'S FRONT RUNNER. BUT NOW NIKE ARE COMING UP ON THE INSIDE - WITH AN `EXTREME' WALKING BOOT. WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?

the two front-runners thought their lead on the pack was unassailable, but then a challenger, once written off as past it, began snapping at their heels. After years of being considered an also-ran, Europe-based Adidas became one of the biggest-selling and, more important, hippest brands of sports shoe. Since 1990, its sales of footwear have improved a daunting 39 per cent to pounds 100m. Reebok, for years the UK market leader, and Nike, the biggest-selling sports-shoe brand in the world, may not have been quaking in their boots, but they knew that Adidas was staging a coup on their territory.

The company hadn't enjoyed such popularity among style-conscious youth since the 1970s. The lucrative market, pounds 870m in 1994, had been dominated by the Americans and training shoes supposedly designed for sport. These trainers are released, like Hollywood movies, first in the States and several months later in Europe, and the hype has often been so successful that kids have queued outside stores to buy the first arrivals. When Reebok invented the Pump (in 1990), a trainer you could inflate by squeezing a valve in the shoe's tongue, it caused a sensation and sales rocketed. Nike won us over with the Visible Air Shoe that had a little window in the sole: they told us it made the shoe lighter, but we knew it was just a style statement and we bought and bought. This summer, however, the best-sellers have been re-releases of old trainers such as the Adidas Gazelle, a simple suede shoe without any gizmos.

For 15 years the market for training shoes has flourished, as dress codes have been relaxed for work and leisure. But now, with teenagers buying into the past and ignoring marketing strategies, insiders wonder whether the bull days are over.

In this fickle market, the resurgence of Adidas can be put down to a mixture of luck and planning. (A huge back-catalogue of retro trainers also helps.) The luck was in fashion picking up on the company's famous three-stripe trademark, and the unprompted adoption of retro-look Adidas trainers by such bands as Run DMC. The planning involved a huge advertising spend - more than $25m worldwide this year.

"What we have tried to do is re-establish the Adidas connection with young people who thought it was a label for dads," explains Tim Little, board account director at the advertising agency Leagas Delaney. The Adidas boom has also been aided by the style resurgence of football - which for years has been a key market for the company. "US culture and sports have helped a lot in the past but won't be so important in the future; following the impact of the World Cup, soccer is huge."

Strangely, Little's views are endorsed by Simon Taylor, marketing manager for the ultimate US brand, Nike. "We're not trying to be American but global. And football is the world's No 1 sport..."

Over the past decade Nike has proved adept at directing sports-shoe trends. It has also won favour with its strategy of using the hard lads of sport, including Eric Cantona, Ian Wright, John McEnroe, and Ian Botham, in its advertising. Taylor labels the company's attitude as "irreverence justified". This tough street mentality plus corporate muscle has helped Nike win many high-street battles. And if it has lost ground to Adidas's skilful pushing of football-inspired trainers, it is now fighting to direct trends again.

Until now a brand for the boys, Nike has started to market products to women with the aid of its new icon, the beach volleyball star Gabrielle Reece, who has the luck to look like Cindy Crawford's sister. Nike will also be sponsoring street-hockey tournaments across the UK to create an interest in the sport and develop a market for hockey shoes.

Sharon Tomkinson, marketing manager for the store chain Cobra Sports, believes that the industry giants are having trouble controlling new sporting trends which are creating a complex, fast and fashion-led market. "In the Eighties you couldn't sell a shoe unless you had performance credibility, but I'm not so sure that's the case in the Nineties. The real boom hasn't been in performance shoes but retro-trainers."

Although happy to make a profit from this fashion, the manufacturers do little to support it, because it threatens to undermine their market strategy, which relies on built-in obsolescence. If the public starts to revere the obsolete then sales could tumble. Worse, these shoes often sell at half the price of state-of-the art trainers. "The trouble seems to be that someone else apart from the marketing teams is deciding what's fashionable," says Tompkinson.

Stephen Rubin is chairman of the Pentland Group, whose labels include Ellesse and Lacoste. Regarded as a legendary figure in the trade because he bought Reebok in 1981 for $770,000 and sold it 10 years later after making $770m, he is one of the few to acknowledge that trainers are mainly bought for fashion: "I would say only 20 per cent are used for sport."

Rubin may have made a fortune from trainers, but he's convinced tough times lie ahead. "Even though sales have continued to increase, a lot of the sales are of retro styles, and they're a fashion, not a sports sale. There will always be a core of sports sales, but that's not growing. We believe the big growth area will be walking and hiking boots."

He may be right. A recent report from the market researcher Mintel said that "the most dynamic segment by far is the Great Outdoors market". What's more, the number of 15- to 24-year-olds in the UK had dropped from 9.3 million in the mid-1980s to 7.5 million by 1994. So although the training- shoe boom was started by young people, the future could rest with middle- aged folk who spend their weekends fell-walking.

Smaller companies, such as Vans, are also picking off the key players' business by concentrating on cult sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding. Others, such as the French label Chipie, make "non-performance trainers" aimed solely at the fashion market.

John Hartigan, footwear agent for Chipie, which sells to such stores as Miss Selfridge and Top Shop, says: "Unlike the sports brands, our trainers are far more female-orientated. We brought out a silver trainer two years ago that's still a huge seller." And what does he think is the future of the trainer? "Oh, they'll become less and less sport-orientated. We're going to do trainers with high heels."

! Andrew Tuck is a features editor at `Time Out'

trainer wars: a brief history

1978-80: While every schoolboy may be playing soccer in Adidas or Puma boots, Dunlop tennis shoes are the rather sad forerunners of the training shoe. But then the jogging craze arrives in Britain and running shoes by Nike are fashionable.

1981: The first Nike Air trainers are sold. They have a small air-pocket in the sole to increase comfort and reduce the weight. Such models such as Tailwind are huge sellers, but the label is still considered exclusive. Already Adidas is beginning to lose its hip status.

1982-83: Aerobics starts to ruin the nation's knees - Reebok comes to the rescue with the Freestyle, one of the first shoes designed specifically for this activity.

1985: Cross-trainers - shoes that can be used for several sports - are big business, especially if they are made by Nike. The company's hard attitude increasingly makes it a brand for urban male youth, while Reebok goes after the girls.

1987: Nike releases the Visible Air Shoe which cuts out bulky mid-sole material and inserts a small plastic window in the sole. Not to be outdone, Adidas brings out Tortion, a range of trainers that have a bar in the shoe to prevent twist.

1988: High-top heaven, with the huge boot look becoming crucial to street style. In the US kids are murdered for their trainers. Also essential for burgeoning rave culture.

1989: The Dynamic Fit System from Nike puts an inner glove inside shoes to stop seams touching your feet. The company benefits from big sales of Air Jordans, a range endorsed by Michael Jordan.

1990: Reebok launches the Pump, with air chambers in the shoe's upper which are inflated with the aid of a pump in the tongue. A huge hit with people who can't be bothered with shoes that fit.

1991: Recession bites, and loud white high-tops begin to die off. Few style points for wearing trainers outside the gym. Sports stores move into boots by Caterpillar and Timberland.

1992: Reebok puts Graphlite in its shoes: this aerospace material is said to be as strong as steel, yet lighter than the foam it replaces. Despite technological breakthroughs, the public still clings to its DMs.

1993: The retro sports-shoe look kicks in, with the Adidas Gazelle becoming an instant bestseller. Puma also manages to win a hip following. Reebok launches the Instapump, which is the same as the Pump except you now get a CO2-filled inflator; a bit sad. A return to trainers such as the Nike Air range, now available in black to pass as boots.

1994: Reebok tries to muscle in on the football market and signs a deal with Manchester United star Ryan Giggs. Nike starts to parade its football credentials but Adidas is storming ahead, making training shoes a Euro thing.

1995: New lightweight shoes promised by Nike for this summer and Reebok launches Dynamax, which involves more tricks with air cushions in the heel and forefoot. Meanwhile Adidas produces a trainer made from hemp, which is covered by the style press but has failed as yet to appear in UK stores. Will the company rename itself Adihash?

1996: Snowboarding and skateboarding will influence youth trainers, but hiker-style boots for all ages are tipped for the top. AT

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Corporate Tax Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

    Relationship Manager

    £500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

    Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

    £15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

    Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

    £250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home