Saturday, August 06, 2005

Adidas builds with Reebok? So what...


A colleague recently asked me what I thought about Adidas merging with Reebok meant for Nike and the shoe world. Here’s my response.

--------
Hmmm…. Adidas and Reebok? To be real with you, I’m not impressed. And to not pull any punches lemme just say that this merger is the culmination of a lot of missteps over the years on the part of Nike, Reebok and the entire athletic gear industry.

Back in the day, (mid-late ‘70s) Nike was just a running shoe--mostly distance runners in the northwest wore them. Adidas was a European brand--rugby and soccer guys wore them almost exclusively. Reebok was a tennis brand and aerobic shoe, mainly. Converse used to be the big dog as far as basketball went.

But there was this huge vacuum in the fashion industry. There were no black designers--save for WiliWear, by Toukie Smith's brother (a new york brother who was big in the mid ‘80s fashion world); and most of Willi Wear was upscale, euro-inspired stuff with an urban new Yorker vibe.

But for the average brother and sister on the block and from around the way, you had nothing, no choices at all. There were no real black clothing lines or major black designers putting it down for us and repping our sensibilities. And our black models, what few there were outside of Iman, Beverly Johnson and couple others, were light-skinned, skinny and very Anglo-centric looking; and even they weren’t getting any love from the still lily-white industry. Consequently, as a black fashion consumer you were stuck chasing mainstream beauty standards and buying Levis, Lees, Girbaud's, etc. It wasn't until Cross Colours and Kani gear showed up that you had any choices fashion wise.

To rebel, a lot of black folks turned to Nike almost out of desperation. Athletic gear was the only clothing out that had any sense of flavor at all. Heads rocked athletic gear because a) it had flavor that mainstream designers didn't have b) it was aspirational--the jerseys represented athletes which represented the few black folks who were making any money and living large c) athletic gear had a much better fit than most clothes which were made off of a eurocentric view of the body (skinny, straight, etc.)

(And to be fair, a certain baldhead slick skywalker from North Carolina had a lot to do with Nike’s international appeal, too.)

But the fashion and athletic clothing industries were too lazy (and prejudiced) to really see the big picture. They just looked at it as "look at all these niggas buying our overpriced gym shows and gear. Let’s jack the prices up and gouge ‘em.” They totally slept on the fact that black consumers were really hungry for clothing and styles reflective and celebratory of their culture and way of life and that Nike and crew were just hors douvre for a meal that hadn’t been cooked yet. If they'd been smart Nike would've started a black clothing line 20 years ago instead of just milking individual black athletes for endorsement deals.

What's killing the Nike, Reebok and Adidas monopoly now is the fact that they're no longer the de facto black fashion lines... Brothers and sisters are making their own clothes and shoes. If Nike drops something hot, they may cop it, but nobody's checking for Phil Knight like we did back in the day because we can make our own styles. They're playing catch-up.

In the end, I say his Adidas-Reebok deal is gonna be a disaster much like the AOL Time Warner merger from a few years back because they don't see the big picture either. Kids around the world, particularly kids of colour don't have to sit around waiting for Reebok to tell them what's hot anymore, which is how athletic gear companies made their money for years. These days, kids, especially these ethnic kids are making their own clothing lines, which will cut into the Athletic gear category even further.

Reebok and Nike and Adidas are dead men walking; they just don't know it yet.

Truth be told, they'd be better off investing in hot developing designers from around the world... Find that hot kid in Japan with a clothing line, find that hot kids in Brazil and nigera and Germany, etc. and get in on the ground floor of something like that... Make the brand international and different in every country.

No matter how big they get, Reebok and Adidas will never be leaders again. Cheerleaders and bandwagon riders, maybe. But market leaders? Nah, their days are numbered on that tip. And if Nike, Reebok and Adidas, etc. are smart, they'll fall back and learn to be good humble soldiers. And leave urban clothing to urban folks. After all, we invented it.

19 Comments:

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