If you found yourself in Manchester over the weekend of June 18th, you would have been amongst nearly a quarter of a million Stone Roses fans. The streets were lined with gig-goers, sporting bucket hats and track jackets as a throwback to the band’s heyday of the late 80s and early 90s. What was striking, though, was the sheer presence of Adidas Originals in the city. Almost all Stone Roses merchandise on display featured some variation of the Adidas Trefoil logo, and anyone not wearing classic Adidas trainers stood out.
A subsidiary of the sporting giant, Originals has become synonymous with Adidas’ close relationship with musicians and music scenes stretching back decades. However well their sponsorships have fared on the pitch, the field, the court, or the track, Adidas has always managed to stay on the right side of cool, and the brand have arguably found far greater success in its musical endorsements than its sporting ones, particularly in the US. When an area of music picks up a brand, it keeps it relevant, and for years Adidas have been the beneficiaries of the music scene’s fascination with its clothing.
In 1986, the story goes that Adidas executive Angelo Anastino attended a Run-DMC show at Madison Square Gardens, following years of his company supplying the hip hop outfit with endorsements. When the group dove into their hit ‘My Adidas’, tens of thousands of teen fans held their Adidas sneakers aloft, and the following summer the brand launched a Run-DMC sportswear line. Cited as the birth of hip hop sneaker collaborations, the tale may in many ways be apocryphal, but Adidas’ links to hip hop in the US are as real as they are profitable.
Adidas’ much-lauded collaboration with Kanye West is perhaps their most high-profile to date. More rooted in fashion than in music, West’s ranges sell out almost instantly, with pairs of Yeezy 750 Boost sneakers selling on Ebay for a sum in the region of £1,500 ($2,200). Exclusivity is, after all, a sure-fire way to guarantee interest regardless of quality of design. The collaboration has been such a hit that Fortune ran a piece entitled ‘Can Kanye save Adidas?’ and the resounding conclusion is that poaching him from Nike was one of the brand’s major strokes of genius of recent years.
In the UK, Adidas has been associated with far more musically than just hip hop. There’s a reason that Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, along with Adidas aficionado Gary Aspden, flew 17 hours to visit a veritable cathedral of retro Adidas sneakers, owned by one man in a backstreet part of a Buenos Aires suburb - the footwear helped define his era. Adidas (particularly the sneakers) was unfortunately associated with the casuals movement in the 80s, which is itself inextricably linked to football hooliganism. Around the same time, though, the fashion was picked up by the likes of Brown and later Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, both wildly famous for their looks as well as their music.
Fast forward 25 years and the current shining light of Adidas’ effect on music is grime’s Stormzy. The UK MC’s release schedule correlated exactly with a 40% rise in Adidas’ brand trend last year, with one video alone picking up over 33 million views to date. You won’t find a Stormzy video without a heavy Adidas presence - some 70 million views. The details of the arrangement between the two isn’t public, but with Rita Ora’s Adidas deal worth £1.6 million in 2015, it’s safe to assume the Croydon-born MC is profiting well from an endorsement that he himself seems to have cultivated.
Adidas Originals has become the fashion side of the giant’s business. But, thanks to its ubiquity, it has grown larger than its sports division in many people’s minds. Many now see Adidas as first a hip hop, streetwear, and fashion brand, rather than a top sports performance apparel manufacturer - a dangerous road for a sportswear brand to go down. Attempting to straddle both more explicitly than the likes of Nike, Under Armour or Puma will be a struggle, and musical collaborations are just one of many branding techniques Adidas will need to employ if they’re to keep up.
The three-striped giant is currently struggling in the US. Associated with soccer, it has fallen behind both Nike and Under Armour in terms of actual sports products sold, and it may be emphatically losing the sneaker war to the former. Even so, with Manchester’s streets lined with vendors selling Trefoil-adorned merchandise - official or otherwise - in an attempt to grab a piece of the much larger pie that is musically endorsed streetwear, Adidas is alive and well.