Why It Matters: Three Stripes To Rule Them All

“Why It Matters” is a compact editorial series analyzing the concepts, products and research shaping the discourse of contemporary design. From unique core offerings, to inspiring in-line rarities, One Block Down is shinning a light on the evolutionary releases that may have flown under your radar.

When we look back at the origins of today’s stylistic footprint, it is almost impossible not to spot an adidas item. "The brand with the three stripes" has left an indelible mark on all warps of fashion, from outfitting the subcultures on the fringes of society to informing the sportswear imprint of countless contemporary discussions.

The story of adidas started in a small town in Bavaria, Germany. After starting in his mother's wash kitchen, Adi Dassler registered the 'Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik' in 1924 and embarked on his mission to provide athletes with the best possible equipment. On August 18, 1949, Adi Dassler started over again at the age of 49, registered the 'Adi Dassler adidas Sportschuhfabrik,’ and set to work with 47 employees in the small town of Herzogenaurach.

But what is at the origin of the three stripes?

Initially, the choice to have stripes on their shoes came from a structural function; from the beginning of Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, the shoes presented two side stripes to bind the shoe together give more structure to the design.The stripes also helped differentiate products from other companies, but it is interesting how one of the most recognizable graphic symbols was conceived for a practical matter.

Adi added the third stripe in 1949; when he could no longer use the two-stripe design, he inserted the third stripe in the middle, thus creating the iconic detail we all know now.

Interestingly, when Adi tried to register the three stripes as a trademark, he discovered that another company had already registered that design, the Finnish sportswear brand, Karhu.However, Adi managed to buy the rights for what would now be €1600 and two Whiskey bottles.

In the following decades, the adidas brand continued to grow steadily, while at the same time, new companies were born all over the world, focusing on sportswear, both apparel, and footwear.

In these years, the most important innovations were the introduction of the Franz Beckenbauer tracksuit model. It became the first piece of apparel for adidas and opened a whole new business to a company that, so far, was famous for shoes.

And in the 1970s, with the introduction and use of modern materials such as Eva Rubber, adidas established its position in the footwear industry as one of the most innovative companies.

In 1970 adidas delivered the official ball, TELSTAR, for the 1970 FIFA World Cup ™ for the first time. As the name TELSTAR already tells, the ball was designed to improve black and white television visibility. It was the beginning of a wonderful partnership, with adidas providing the official match ball for every FIFA World Cup ™ that followed. It was here that adidas allied with the world of football, later informing the stylistic imprint of football factions and pushing the aesthetic language of adidas and the Three Stripes onto a global stage.

Then, soon after, in 1972, the world turned to Germany when the Olympic Games opened in Munich. Just in time for the event, adidas presented a new logo here to stay: the Trefoil.

If the 70s established adidas as one of the leading company in the sportswear and footwear industry and laid the foundation for success in future decades, the 80s were the decade where the three stripes cemented their image in various subcultures from all over the world, surpassing the role of a simple product, and becoming a real icon, with specific cultural connotations for nations and communities across the globe.

Hip-Hop was just born in the inner cities of the US, and, with the birth of this new cultural movement, new trends and uniforms became popular on the streets.Thanks to one of the five disciplines that make up Hip-Hop, breakdancing, particular attention to footwear, and the birth of what we can consider the first sneaker trends.

The adidas models, characterized by bold three stripes, found success in this world, and in 1986 we witnessed the first fusion between art and sport, music and sneakers.

Run-D.M.C. was one of the first supergroups in the history of Hip-Hop. Within their third album, the grammy-nominated Raising Hell, there is a track that not only influenced the career of this group and the success of the German brand but laid the foundations for a combination that would lead to a revolution in fashion. All over the world, “My Adidas.”

The song was about setting the record straight about hard-working people in troubled neighborhoods and pure enthusiasm about their sneakers. adidas itself only found out about this love story when the band held up the 3-Stripes shoes during a concert in front of 40,000 fans - one of these concertgoers was an adidas employee. The song became a hit and Run-D.M.C. and adidas unexpected and unique partners. This merge of art and sports set the everlasting street fashion trend off and marked the birth of non-athletic promotions in the sporting goods industry.

In the early 90s, the company dealt with financial challenges; a new marketing team refocused adidas on what it has been known for years: making athletes better. Some of the most famous adidas innovations, such as Torsion (1989), the Equipment concept (1991), the Streetball campaign (1992), and the Predator football boot (1994), were born in this era.

While in the Western world, adidas was becoming more and more successful establishing its name and brand as one of the most recognizable in the world, behind the iron curtain of the Soviet Union, an improbable audience was getting passionate about the brand, and even more, about the three stripes. Adidas was among the first global brands to be known in the Soviet Union. Thanks to their role in football and sport, they provided the kits for the USSR's 1980 Olympic team, making their iconic three-stripes design memorable in the mind of Soviet citizens.

Adidas also was manufacturing in the USSR starting from 1979; they only produced one model of trainers, blue sneakers with three white stripes that gained a cult status in the East, even after losing their status in the US and Europe.

If in the Western World sportswear was only for sports activities (the sportswear trend in fashion was at its infancy), the story in the USSR was much different; adidas sneakers gained legendary popularity that made them the shoe of choice for many occasions usually associated with other types of footwear, such as going to theater or restaurant.

In the 90s, a wave of knock off started to arrive in the now ex-Soviet Union from all over the world; the popularity of these knock-offs was so high that even the brand name was misspelled to "Abibas.”

Even if these knock offs impacted adidas sale in this area, they still helped to cement even more the status of the three stripes; these knock offs made the original adidas pieces even more exclusive making it a status symbol, attracting the love of small criminals that wore everyday comfortable three-striped adidas tracksuits and other types of people to wanted to show their power and status.

This connection created was is now considered the uniform of Gopnik, groups of suburban kids who spend their day drinking beer and committing small crimes in Russian estates. This stereotype is still present in the ex-Soviet Union even after more than 20 years.

In the same years, a new scene grew larger and more prominent in the countries that composed the Soviet Union, the rave scene.Thousands and thousands of youngsters became meeting to dance for hours and hours in old warehouses and clubs scattered both in cities and countrysides, always wearing colorful adidas tracksuits and sneakers, characterized by the three stripes.

These different subcultures, even if from distant part of the world, have adopted adidas as an integral part of their uniform, giving it different connotations and values, while maintaining a deep love for the three stripes, which has allowed adidas to be one of the brands most recognizable in the world.

With the year 2000, the brand immediately understood the potential of the new lifestyle segment, which thanks to the increasingly greater mainstream appeal of trends related to the world of Hip Hop in the United States and the club and rave scene in Europe, had adidas as one of the major players.

These were the years of the first collaborations with the fashion world, such as in 2001 with Yohji Yamamoto, in 2002 for the first time with Jeremy Scott, followed by Stella McCartney in 2004.

These partnerships and collaborations have not only allowed adidas to remain one of the most relevant brands in the new millennium, but they made the three stripes an icon for new generations who had not experienced the trends of the past decades that have made adidas the brand we know now.

The history of the three stripes is one of the most particular in the world of design, detail at the beginning purely functional has turned into a more unique than a rare cultural phenomenon, earning the love of millions of people around the world and of all cultures, which despite their differences come together under the love for this brand.

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