How Adidas became one of the most recognisable brands in the world

It all began in a small German town called Herzogenaurach

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German sportswear company Adidas started life in the small town of Herzogenaurach after the First World War, when Adolf Dassler, also known as Adi, began making leather sports shoes in the scullery of his mother's house. In 1924, his older brother Rudolf joined and the company was officially named the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory.

Understanding the benefit that spiked running shoes could offer, Adi experimented with many materials, finally settling on a combination of rubber and canvas, offering a far more lightweight shoe with grip. In 1936, Adi was confident enough in his product to persuade America sprinter Jesse Owens to wear it at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where the African-American athlete famously won four gold medals in front of a hostile pro-Nazi crowd. Such was the impact of Owens's triumph that sales of the shoes soared, and the Dassler brothers were soon selling 200,000 pairs per annum.

During the Second World War, the Dassler factory was repurposed to make anti-tank weapons, making it a bombing target. When US forces arrived in 1945, only the quick thinking of Adi's wife persuaded them that the factory was for shoe-making. Learning of the link with Owens, many soldiers even ended up purchasing a few pairs of shoes.

Always fractious, the relationship between the brothers eventually disintegrated, and Rudolf left in 1947 to set up a rival shoe company called Ruda, which later became Puma. Adi stayed at the original site, but dropped the company title in 1949 in favour of a mix of his nickname (Adi) and surname (Das).

(GERMANY OUT) Dassler, Adolf (Adi) *03.11.1900-06.09.1978+Unternehmer, Gruender der Firma 'adidas', D- Portrait mit adidas - Sportschuhen - 25.09.1973 (Photo by Brauner/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The two new companies divided the town, to the point it was described as "the town with the bent necks", as people looked at each other's footwear. Puma sponsored the local football team 1. FC Herzogenaurach, while Adidas supported its rival ASV Herzogenaurach.

Some people worked the split to their advantage, such as the workmen who deliberately wore Adidas shoes into Rudolf's factory, knowing he would quickly gift them a pair of Pumas. The brothers remained in the same town, but never spoke again, and when they died within four years of each other in the 1970s, they were buried in the same cemetery, albeit at opposite ends.

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The Adidas brand expanded into sports clothing in 1967, with the Franz Beckenbauer tracksuit, and into tennis, with shoes created for Ilie Nastase and Stan Smith. In 1970, it created the first football, specially commissioned for the Fifa World Cup – the Telstar – and today the brand supports several sporting events, from baseball to skateboarding. It has also collaborated with non-sporting figures such as Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and Beyonce.

Importantly, Adidas joined with fashion designer Stella McCartney on sustainable sportswear in 2004, a cause it has carried forward in its most recent collections.

A handout photo of Adidas by Stella McCartney
Eulampis 2 mesh and rubber sneakers (Courtesy: Net-a-Porter)

In 2015, Adidas partnered with Parley for the Ocean on performance footwear using plastics reclaimed from the sea. For this line, discarded fishing nets (known as “ghost nets”, which drift unchecked, drowning countless birds and sealife) bottles and bags were repurposed.

This year, Adidas will produce 11 million shoes containing reclaimed sea plastic. In April, it created the world’s first performance shoe that is 100 per cent recyclable. Entitled the Futurecraft.Loop, the trainers celebrate the closed loop production method, where the same materials are used again and again, helping to reduce the impact on the environment.