WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
Shop this style: Reebok DMX Trail Hydrex High-Top Trainers
Though Reebok’s current CrossFit-adjacent ‘Delta’ logo seems fitting for the all-American brand that sponsors sporting events like the UFC, the origins of the now Boston-based brand are hinted towards in the Union Jack that’s commonly seen on classic Reebok trainers. In 1895, before Reebok was Reebok, it was a small family-run operation in Bolton named J.W. Foster that was famed for developing one of the first leather track spikes. In fact, Foster’s running pumps were so well respected that they were the preferred footwear amongst British athletes and were famously worn by Harold Abrahams during his gold medal 100m winning performance at the Paris Olympics (as depicted in ‘Chariots of Fire’). By 1955, founder Joseph William’s two sons Joe and Jeff were onboard and inspired by the Dassler brothers who founded adidas and Puma wanted to launch their own footwear company.
Originally called ‘Mercury Sports Footwear’, the name was changed to Reebok some 18 months later after founder Joe discovered a species of African antelope –– the Grey Rhebok –– in a South African dictionary he owned. Continuing on from the tradition set by their father, Reebok mainly produced running spikes for the England market during the sixties and seventies. But, in 1979 whilst exhibiting at the Chicago International Sneaker Trade Show the Foster brothers would meet the man who would change their fortunes.
Paul Fireman was an American outdoor equipment wholesaler attending the show who was so enamoured with Reebok’s product, that he acquired the exclusive distribution rights for North America right then and there. After learning of the growing trend for women's aerobics sweeping the States, Fireman expanded Reebok’s product offerings from track spikes to include casual athletic footwear for fitness enthusiasts –– and so the Freestyle, the first of the classic Reebok trainers was born. With Gin Miller as the face of the brand and Jane Fonda helping take aerobics into the home of every housewife across the country, the Freestyle was a runaway success. The desire for fashionable footwear that looked just as good on the tennis courts of America’s country clubs, as well as during post-workout drinks would fuel Reebok’s second period of success.
By 1984, Fireman had bought out the Foster brothers and moved the Reebok HQ to Boston, Massachusetts allowing him to further capitalise on the fitness revolution turning everyday men and women into amateur athletes. Keen for a fresh start and a new look, Fireman would also change Reebok’s logo history by replacing the British flag still found on most classic Reebok trainers with the now-iconic vector logo. By 1986, Reebok’s tactic of focusing on the neglected women's market had made them the top athletic footwear brand in North America, helped in no-part by designing a custom sneaker for Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley in the movie ‘Aliens’.
But, in 1989 fortunes would change. Nike begins to gain traction with style-conscious sneakerheads, a segment that classic Reebok trainers used to dominate. So, not ones to sit still, Reebok begins to encroach on the Swoosh’s territory –– by focusing on technology and rebranding itself as a performance footwear company. Innovative shoe tech like inflatable chambers that give a custom fit and DMX would see the brand go toe-to-toe with its competitors in the sports of basketball and running. Sports athlete signings like Shaquille O'Neal and Venus Williams would see Reebok dominate with big licensing deals with organisations like the NFL and NBA. In 2003, Reebok even gave Jay-Z his own shoe, the ‘S. Carter’ which was the first partnership of its kind.
Now, after being acquired by adidas in 2005, Reebok has established itself as a genuine technology-driven brand. Seeing CrossFit as the modern-day equivalent of the aerobics/tennis boom that spurred the company’s growth in the eighties, Reebok is keen to re-establish itself as the brand of choice for celebrity trainers and fitness influencers. But that doesn’t mean it’s lost its connections to culture.
Shop this style: Reebok Question Low BBC Ice Cream Purple Toe Trainers
Though the third biggest sportswear brand has always had a strong affiliation with sports superstars, collaborations on the classic Reebok sneakers had always been more niche working with brands like BORNXRAISED or retailers like Beauty & Youth or Garbstore. But, in 2015 with the thirst for retro Reebok trainers evident, the company began to flirt with some of the legends in music and fashion in their first big time collaborations. Kendric Lamar reworked two silhouettes. Adidas released the Kanye designed ‘Calabasas’ model that looked suspiciously like it was lifted right out of Reebok’s archives. Collaborations with Palace Skateboards and Comme des Garçons-backed Gosha Rubchinskiy would see Reebok trainers regain relevance with the fashion crowd.
Seeking to regain their former glory by uniting performance with high-fashion, Reebok has also worked with a variety of high-end designers on their Delta logo mainline as opposed to their more retro Classics label. Brands like Vetements and Cottweiler, alongside designers like Victoria Beckham and Pyer Moss have all worked with Reebok to create sportswear of the future. What the brand has done so perfectly with its collaborations is to highlight their illustrious history through retros of classic Reebok trainers, while creating something aesthetically new with its more high-end releases, all while remaining dedicated to furthering the fitness industry. At present, the brand is working with Cardi B, Maison Margiela, BBC, Dime and KANGHYUK.
Shop this style: Reebok Classic 1983 TV Sneakers
One mention of white Reebok sneakers and the ‘Classic’ comes to mind. Originally dubbed the ‘Classic Leather’, this running sneaker went against the grain at the time of its release in 1983 – while most of the runners on the market were released in a mixture of suede and nylon, the Classics were made from supple garment leather like those used in gloves. It was a move that showed Reebok’s nack for creating athletic footwear with true crossover appeal, as a shoe that prioritised casual wear over sports performance it was lapped up by style-conscious men and women who adored the silhouette for its luxe look and feel.
Shop this style: Reebok Workout Plus Vintage Sneakers
The second most popular of the white Reebok trainers, the Workout was further proof of the Boston-based footwear brands ability to corner the market by zagging when the likes of Nike and adidas were zigging. While the three stripes and Swoosh were battling it out over running sneakers and ever more impressive sole technologies, Reebok released the Workout as a multi-purpose gym shoe for men. The cross-training sneaker featured a gum sole for better grip on the wooden floors of 80s era gyms, and the now iconic H-shaped strap was made to give extra support and a customisable fit. Later released with rugged rippled and icy transparent outsoles, the Workout was a big inner-city hit in Southern America particularly in New Orleans where they were nicknamed ‘souljas’.
Shop this style: Reebok Club C 85 Sneakers
Reebok Club C 85
Building on its predecessors the ‘Phase 1’ and the ‘Revenge Plus’, the Club Champion was released as a minimalist shoe that met the strict dress codes of country club tennis courts. Beefed up with durable leather uppers and reinforced toe caps, eye stays and heel, this was a tennis shoe designed for those who need a bit more performance. Further comforts like a removable arch support and a cushty terry towel lining helped this shoe gain 25% of the tennis market. A skate culture favourite, it’s no wonder that every brand is lining up to collab on these retro Reebok sneakers as of late –– Palace skateboards, JJJound and Sneeze mag to name but a few.
Shop this style: Reebok X Chromat Instapump Fury Trainers
Reebok Instapump Fury
The fashion world’s favourite ugly shoe, these vintage Reebok trainers were designed by legendary former-Reebok and current Yeezy trainer designer Steven Smith. After successfully adapting their Pump technology to basketball and tennis footwear, Reebok tasked Smith with creating a running trainer that would adapt to the unique running gaits of the individuals who wear them. Akin to a concept car in the automobile world, the Instapump Fury was Smith’s revolutionary solution –– the Pump bladder gave that personalised fit with a split Hexalite cushioned sole for maximum comfort. Released in 1994 in a bold yellow and black colourway inspired by those seen on New Balance trainers, the Instapump Fury was a ‘love it or hate it’ shoe that became a cult hit in Asia and celebrities.
Shop this style: Reebok DMX Trail Shadow Low Top Trainers
DMX was Reebok’s standout technology from the nineties. A sole technology not dissimilar to Nike’s Air, but rather than being made from one continuous air unit, DMX was composed of ten pods that allowed air to flow from one pod to another for better weight distribution and support throughout the sole. This cushioning system was debuted on the DMX Run – an aggressive and vividly coloured running sneaker –– in 1997 marking a departure from the clean, minimal trainers and preppy silhouettes that had become a hallmark of Reebok for a decade. The DMX series continues to be one of the most popular Reebok shoes, with modern-day renditions from the likes of Pyer Moss and Cottweiler. The DMX Trail Shadow is a chunky hiking-inspired shoe with cut-out plastic midfoot caging that the Balenciaga Trail wishes it could be.
Shop this style: Reebok Question Low Trainers
It’s hard to imagine but there was once a time when basketball and hip-hop culture weren’t so intertwined. As cool as Michael Jordan was, his penchant for oversized suiting and often questionable golf fits left a lot to be desired style-wise. Allen Iverson changed all that. His off-court style consisted of baggy clothes, du-rags and bling helping a whole generation of hip-hop fans feel they finally had a kindred spirit in the sport. It's rare that a player gets a signature shoe in their rookie season, but Reebok did the right thing by giving Iverson his Question silhouette. Not only was he a cultural phenom, but he also took home ‘Rookie of The Year’ in the 96 season after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. Designer Scott Hewett based this silhouette on the Air Jordan XIs Iverson was wearing at his college team Georgetown –– they feature a similar toe-cap overlay, ghillie lacing system and translucent outsole.
Shop this style: Reebok Answer V Trainers
No longer in question, from Iverson’s sophomore season onwards his signature shoe line was now called the Answer after his on-court nickname. The third longest running and most successful basketball sneaker franchise of all time (behind only Jordan and Lebron), the Answer would run from I-XIII. The Answer introduced Reebok’s DMX technology into Iverson's line, the brash in-your-faceness of the technology seemed like a natural fit for Iverson’s swagger and helped accelerate his on-court performance to the top. The Answer V was one of the series cleanest and marked Iverson’s sixth seasons of MVP honours and back-to-back scoring and steals titles. Not only this, Jadakiss starred alongside Iverson in its advertising cementing basketball and hip-hop’s burgeoning romance. Later models featured lighter cushioning, zippers, speed lacing and pump technology.
Shop this style: Reebok Ultraknit Pump Trainers
Reebok Pump Supreme
This futuristic spin on the iconic Instapump silhouette was first released in collaboration with fashion brand Vetements in 2017. A return to Reebok’s eighties design aesthetic of clean athletic footwear, the Pump Supreme was a simple shoe that featured Vetements text logo branding and little else. The slip-on silhouette was designed as one of Reebok’s most innovative styles (thus why its branded with their Delta logo over the vector logo of their Classics range) and features technologies like a tighter fitting zig-zagging pump chamber, foam midsole and carbon fibre reinforced outsole. Since then, the silhouette has become a regular fixture in the brands collection and is on track to become one of the best Reebok sneakers ever released.
Shop this style: Reebok Juun.j Pump Court Trainers
Reebok Pump Court
Not all retro Reebok trainers got released, the Pump Court is based around another Steven Smith prototype that never saw the light of day. Now, some 25 years later this workout sneaker finally made it into production after being sent down the runway of Juun. J’s FW20 runway show. Following on from some collaborations with cult streetwear brands like Braindead, 2020 saw the general release of this Instapump inspired tennis silhouette. Though it was designed in 1996, the shoe doesn’t look out of place in the modern-day with its techy appearance –– it features a moulded TPU plastic strap for a lockdown fit and a sleeker Pump technology alongside futuristic leather, mesh and neoprene uppers.
Shop this style: Reebok Beatnik Sling Back Shoes
Hotly tipped to become one of the most popular Reebok shoes for the next few years, the Beatnik is a hybrid sandal silhouette that came out in 1993. Part trail sandal, part water shoe, the Beatnik was made to be an off-duty shoe for people enjoying the great outdoors –– the EVA footbed provided unparalleled cushioning and nylon webbing straps to a snug fit, alongside an aggressively rippled shark-tooth sole and closed-toe suede uppers for a unique aesthetic. A cult smash in Japan at the time of its release, it only made sense that the Beatnik’s reissue in 2018 was a Japan-only exclusive. By 2020, buoyed by releases with Nepenthes, Needles and Beams the Beatnik was finally released to a Western audience in Corduroy and Cordura constructions. With more materials and colourways on the way, the Beatnik is set to knock the Birkenstock off its throne as the mule of choice for ultra-cosy WFH fits, watch this space.