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Adidas AG: The Global Sports Brand That Began in a Wash Room


There have been many shoemakers in history, yet one stands out for its commitment to being distinct in the market.

The company in question captured a dominant market share by creating a product providing high value to its customers. The story of Adidas began with its founder Adolf "Adi" Dassler, in a small town in Bavaria, Germany.

Adi Dassler created a sports shoe that took into account customers' needs. He followed a process that entailed gathering feedback from athletes about what they desired in a shoe, the pain points about their existing shoes, and what they felt needed improvement in earlier shoe models.

Adi was a cobbler, inventor, and entrepreneur with the German sportswear brand Adidas to his credit. One of Adi's two elder brothers— Rudolf Dassler— would eventually create Adidas' business rival sportswear brand Puma.

With humble beginnings, Adidas set out to conquer the world. It wasn't always a joy ride, though. In between the many triumphs, there were always struggles. Yet, despite those struggles, Adi led his company to do its best to achieve the best, improving and growing along the way.

Stick around to learn how never forgetting where he came from led Adi Dassler always to look ahead and enjoy the sun's warmth.

Born From Humble Beginnings

Adi was born in the small town of Herzogenaurach in Bavaria, Germany, on November 3rd, 1900, to a middle-class family. He was the youngest of four children (three sons and one daughter) by Christoph and Pauline Dassler.

Adi’s shoemaking journey began with his shoe repair business in his mother’s washroom (a.k.a. Laundry room) in her Herzogenaurach home. In the washroom workshop with manual electricity generation, he designed and cobbled shoes with the vision to make the best possible specialized sports shoe for athletes to perform their best.

Becoming a successful entrepreneur had its own set of challenges in post-war Germany. First, there was a shortage of materials needed for production. Another major hurdle was obtaining equipment for the factory and supplies for production in the absence of a credit facility.

Adi searched through army debris in the war-torn Bavarian countryside to overcome these challenges. He sourced leather for shoe soles from the army helmets and bread pouches he could find. He sourced silk for the slippers he crafted from the parachutes he found. Furthermore, he mastered modifying certain devices to motorize production due to intermittent electricity.

Adi enjoyed every bit of his work. He became among the earliest manufacturers of spiked shoes. He developed lightweight yet durable shoes using various materials, including kangaroo leather and the skin of sharks. As per his wife, Käthe Dassler, to Adi, creating shoes was his hobby rather than a job.

Dassler Brothers Partnership

Following the end of the first World War, Rudolf aimed to become a police officer. Yet, after finishing his training in July 1923, he joined Adi instead. In the next two years, the brothers were producing leather Fußballschuhe (soccer shoes). These were football boots that had nailed studs. They also developed track shoes that featured hand-forged spikes.

The two brothers registered their shoe manufacturing company Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Geda for short), in 1924.

Geda transformed from its small, washroom-based setup to an international shoe distributor through its new, larger facility in 1927. The transformation was mainly due to the friendship that formed between former Olympian and then coach of the German Olympic track-and-field team, Josef Waitzer, with Adi Dassler.

Geda's success was evident in the 1936 Olympics when the legendary American runner Jesse Owens wore Geda shoes and won a gold medal. As a result of this brand exposure, the Dasslers witnessed annual sales of over 200,000 pairs of shoes until the Second World War.

After three decades of working together, in 1948, the Dassler brothers ended Geda and parted ways. A major cause of their breakup was the constant feud between their respective wives, who were forced to live in the same villa.

Other significant reasons for their split were their growing rift due to wartime and the threat of liability from their Nazi past. Their intense rift meant the brothers' would no longer see each other eye-to-eye. Each brother was concentrating on protecting himself.

In the aftermath, the brothers started their separate business ventures. Rudolf moved on to establish his sportswear company 'Puma.' A year later, in 1949, at the age of 49, Adi established 'Adidas'— a name that evolved from his name Adi Dassler.

1949 - Birth Year of Adidas

During the process of separation, Adi and Rudolf split Geda's workforce and resources amongst themselves. Adi would retain the factory by the train station and 67% of the employees from Geda.

Adi's emphasis was always on product development, so 47 ex-Geda employees preferred shifting to his business over Rudolf's.

Adi registered the ‘Adi Dassler Adidas Sport Schuhfabrik’ in August 1949. He and his employees continued work in Herzogenaurach. Later that year, Adi registered the soon-to-become-famous Adidas 3-stripes design shoe.

Over the next few decades, his company experienced rapid growth. The brand consistently remained ahead of Puma by focusing on introducing scientifically customized shoes for different sports. Signing endorsement deals with top athletes, such as Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, further catapulted the company's success.

Adi Dassler’s Vision Proved

1954 was a milestone year for Adi Dassler. It was the year his vision proved itself. That year a miracle happened, and history got written.

That year Adi and the world knew loud and clear that the Adidas revolutionary lightweight football shoes with screw-in studs were the best shoes for athletes. Because that year, the German national football team won the World Cup wearing the latest Adidas cleats while playing against the unbeatable Hungarians.

The incredible German victory made Adidas a household name on football pitches across the world.

Adidas 3-Stripes Conquer the World

Adidas' catchy 3-Stripes branding logo was the marketing aid that took the company to greater heights. The branding was embedded in the company's merchandise (shoes and clothing) from 1952 onwards.

Adidas purchased the design from the Finnish sporting company Karhu Sports. The rapid popularity of the logo motivated Adi Dassler to call his company "The 3-Stripes company."

With amazing branding, the growing popularity of the logo, multiple athlete endorsements, and an unforgettable Word Cup win by an Adidas-clad German team, Adi figured Adidas' scope was beyond just shoes.

In 1967, Adidas introduced the Franz Beckenbauer (famous German football player) tracksuit model— Adidas' first model of apparel. The company became a known brand for shoes, clothing, gold medal winners, and record-breakers.

In the 1972 Munich Olympic games, Adidas introduced its Trefoil logo. This logo stood for "performance" and the company's goal of being a true multi-sport brand. This logo would last until 1997.

In 1997, Adidas launched its new "three bars" logo, initially used for the Adidas Equipment range.

The Trouble Ahead for Adidas AG

Following Adi Dassler’s death on September 6th, 1978, his flourishing sporting goods company was taken over by his wife, Käthe, and son, Horst.

Under their leadership, the brand grew with the help of releases like the innovative Micropacer shoe and a song named ‘My Adidas,’ by the US-based hip hop group Run-D.M.C. However, a few years later, the Dassler era would end, leading to troubled waters for the company.

In 1986 Käthe passed away, followed by her son Horst just three years later.

In 1989, Adidas became a stock corporation and got renamed Adidas AG. However, the Dassler era ended when Adi’s daughters sold their shares and exited the company.

The company suffered record losses in 1992. As a result, the company almost became bankrupt. The new leadership and their arguable decision-making were to blame. But where there was darkness, there was also emerging hope.

Adidas AG's Inspiring Comeback Story

In 1993 Adidas' new CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus and his partner, Christian Tourres, gave the company a new direction. They redirected Adidas into becoming a marketing-driven corporation. Then, they took the company public in 1995 and coined the new marketing slogan "We knew then, we know now."

The core principle behind Adidas' success— constant innovation— continued from its inception by Adi Dassler. From acquiring the Salomon Group in 1997 to onboarding new CEO Herbert Hainer in 2001, Adidas became more innovation-driven than ever.

From 2001 to 2007, Adidas pioneered a new lifestyle segment focussed on sports-inspired streetwear. In 2004, the company came up with one of its most memorable slogans: "Impossible is nothing." The slogan implies "reaching your goals." With a big name like David Beckham featured in this campaign, it was another hugely successful marketing effort.

In 2005, Adidas and Salomon split. A year later, Adidas acquired one of the world's leading sporting goods companies, "Reebok."

In 2011, Adidas AG made yet another acquisition to complement its strength; it took over the rock climbing and mountain biking footwear brand "Five Ten."

Adidas AG, Today

Adidas AG continued conquering the world in the decade lasting from 2012 to 2021.

Today, the brand offers apparel and footwear for every sport, fashion, and style, whether you are an athlete or a fashionista. Adidas' endless innovation is not stopping anytime soon; it's reinforcing sport as an attitude and a lifestyle.

The company is establishing itself as the first true fast sports company. Its growth focus in the key cities of New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris, and Shanghai is in full swing, as it is with the rest of the world. In addition, the company continuously endeavors to be the first of its kind to invite athletes, customers, and collaborators to be part of the brand.

Today, Adidas AG is the largest manufacturer of sportswear in Europe. Moreover, the brand's global position is second to Nike's.

In 2021, the Adidas Group's global net sales were about 21.2 billion euros compared to 19.8 billion euros in the previous year. Furthermore, the company booked growth in its net profit to 2.1 billion euros ($2.3 billion), 432 million euros greater than in 2020.

The Future of Adidas

The future continues to look bright for Adidas. In its next 5-year business plan, the company has decided to make the consumer a focal point. Launching 'Own the Game' is the next business cycle strategy for the company. The strategy promises to enhance the brand's credibility further, elevate consumers' experience, and push sustainability boundaries. Finally, with the news of the Reebok divestiture, we can expect Adidas to realize even better growth potential independently.