Reebok is a leading shoe company in the fitness industry today, but it was not always just a fitness brand. There was an athletic era that was dominated by the Reebok brand. From football to basketball to hockey, Reebok was everywhere. The company hailed from humble beginnings but became a shoe company that found great success.

The Beginning of a Legacy

Reebok is a brand that was started by a family and rose to incredible heights. Joseph William Foster designed the first spiked running shoes in his bedroom at the age of 14 in 1895. He continued to work and perfect his craft, and started the business J.W. Foster in 1900. Later on, his sons joined in on the family business, and the name was changed to J.W. Foster and Sons.

The company pioneered the use of spikes on running shoes, commonly called cleats. They were worn by many British athletes, but Harold Abrahams, a champion in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, made the shoes famous. 

The Birth of Reebok

Two of Foster’s grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, formed a companion company to their family business in 1958 called Reebok. The word “Reebok” refers to an African antelope named the grey rhebok – a testament to the speed the shoes provided. In 1979, the brothers took their shoes to the Chicago International Sneaker Show and got the attention of Paul Fireman, who then set up a deal to license and distribute the Reebok brand to the United States.

Fireman’s division of Reebok was called Reebok USA Ltd., and it had reached more than $1.5 million in sales by 1981 with Fireman’s introduction of three new shoes sold for $60 each. 

Growth and Expansion

Reebok designed the first athletic shoe for women in 1981 called the Reebok Freestyle aerobics shoe. The brand adopted the fitness professional Gin Miller to be its face of “Step Reebok,” which was the brand’s aerobics fitness campaign. Reebok sales shot up.

Demand for the Reebok brand caused the company to expand from making tennis and aerobic shoes only to designing running and basketball shoes, which were in the highest demand in the 1980s. In 1985, Fireman bought the entire Reebok company from its British owners, and it became a public United States company.

Because the brand was changing into a true performance-based company, the logo changed to represent this. Since its founding, the brand featured a Union Jack flag as its logo. The new logo, revealed in 1986, features a vector with an abstract Union Jack streak across a race track

Reebok began licensing deals with professional basketball and football players and introduced a line of sports clothing and accessories. The brand even designed a line of children’s athletic shoes that were called Weeboks. Reebok was approaching fame fast, and its sales were up to $1 billion a year. The brand released its signature technology, the Reebok Pump, in 1989 and more than 100 professional athletes were wearing the Pump by 1992, famously including the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal.

Modern Reebok

In 2000, Reebok signed Venus Williams and a 10-year contract with the NFL to manufacture and sell NFL licensed merchandise. The brand became the exclusive outfitter of several NBA and WNBA teams, signing 10-year deals with many teams in the 2004 basketball season. Reebok was also the official uniform and apparel provider for the Canadian Football League, which began in 2004. Additionally, the brand became a National Hockey League sponsor in 2004 as well.

The Reebok brand was everywhere. It was truly enjoying phenomenal success, and this made other companies take notice.

A Merger of Two Shoe Conglomerates

In 2005, Adidas bought Reebok – uniting two huge shoe companies. However, the brands still released their own designs under their own brand names. Reebok took an interest in the fitness community. In 2010, Reebok partnered with CrossFit, resulting in the brand sponsoring the CrossFit Games, opening CrossFit studios, and introducing shoes and apparel that catered to CrossFit.

It was at this time that Reebok began to lose steam in the athletic community, losing its contracts with the major sports leagues. So, Reebok adjusted by marketing itself as a fitness-oriented brand, just like it was in the beginning.In 2013, Reebok partnered with Les Mills. Les Mills agreed to use Reebok gear in its fitness programs and in the marketing of its fitness videos. At this time, Reebok introduced a new logo – the delta sign. This logo symbolized the “three pillars of positive self-change including mental, physical, and social.” To this day, Reebok remains a brand used frequently in the fitness community.