By Ephrem Rae
Since Nike began in the trunk of a car at an Oregon track meet, it’s propelled itself to the top of the sneaker and sportswear industry on the back of technology and innovation. Starting with the Waffle trainer in the 70’s— first developed by literally pouring rubber into a home waffle maker— Nike saw tremendous success by pushing the envelope in an attempt to bring its customers the best running shoe available. But in 1978, Nike firmly put its competitors like Adidas in the dust. With the help of a former NASA scientist and an aeronautics technique called blow rubber molding, Nike introduced its Air technology in its ground breaking Air Tailwind. Nike gave consumers the opportunity to literally walk on air (or at least sulfur hexafluoride). All Adidas had was foam.
After the success of its first official ‘Air Max’ shoe, the Nike Air Max 1, the company returned with 8 more models within 28 years. The Air Max helped Nike go from ‘success’ to ‘legend’— that is, an $86.2 billion ‘legend’ with control of 48% of the US footwear market. Far behind lies Adidas with 8.2% of the US footwear market. Without big endorsers in American sports (e.g. Michael Jordan and LeBron James), Adidas has heavily relied on staples like the Adidas Stan Smith and Superstar while becoming increasingly irrelevant in American culture. Nevertheless, Adidas has made a strong resurgence since the introduction of its Boost material in 2013. For the first time, Adidas, much like Nike in 1978, had a material to call its own. Its new claim to fame was a futuristic midsole made of energy capsules that, according to Adidas, store and release energy more efficiently. It was heavily marketed with in-store installations allowing customers to witness the power of boost firsthand. Why walk on air when you can walk on something more responsive and more comfortable?
With the introduction of the boost material, Adidas unveiled the pure boost, its first attempt at a full midsole boost shoe. This author even purchased a pair; they were comfortable, albeit simplistic in their aesthetic merit. Nonetheless, Complex quickly named them the best sneaker of 2014. With hype growing, it was clear to Adidas that they were on the right track. Following Kanye West’s flight from Nike to Adidas, West utilized the boost midsole in all his Yeezy’s. The hysteria they inspired is more attributable to West’s celebrity status, but the Boost’s role in creating the most valuable and top grossing sneakers of 2015 isn’t insignificant. The same year also heralded the introduction of Adidas’ newest Boost family member, the Ultra Boost. Much like the Pure Boost, the Ultra Boost was instantly popular, becoming Complex’s #1 sneaker of 2015.
2015 was a year of transformation for Adidas; it searched to find its niche as the outfitter of the athletic and fashionable. The continued success of Adidas high fashion collections like Y-3, Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, and Raf Simons are evidence of that. However, 2016 may usher in Adidas’ most important year yet. The introduction of the NMD is Adidas’ first step to truly finding its path in fashion and footwear, and to potentially pressure Nike’s seemingly untouchable dominance.
With the help of artists and influencers Adidas dubs, “creators,” the NMD released to much fanfare in December. The NMD Original Boost Runner Primeknit in “Core Black” was the first model to storm the scene, heavily utilizing a boost midsole and a prime knit upper. Marketing drew upon the idea of “collective memory,” as the NMD was both a nod to its past and its future. Highlighted by red and blue color blocks on the side of the midsole, Adidas drew fondly upon iconic members of its archive. It took the 1985 Micro Pacer, the 1986 Rising Star, and the 1987 Boston Super to splice their DNA with modern engineering. The result was the perfect shoe for the modern urban nomad, one who values the style of an innovative silhouette, the comfort of a sock-like primeknit upper, and the functionality of a Boost midsole.
Along with the original NMD model in “core black,” Adidas also rolled out a variety of colorways, and even the NMD CS1 City Sock and NMD C1 Chukka. The City Sock has been released in a single “Black N White” colorway so far, but Adidas has hinted at others. Unlike the NMD Runner, the City Sock’s primeknit upper extends to the ankles for a sleek, high fashion aesthetic. On the Chukka, Adidas replaced primeknit with suede for a new take on a timeless men’s footwear staple.
If resell prices are any indication of the hype or success of a sneaker, the NMD’s are excelling. According to stockx.com, the self-proclaimed stock market of sneakers, the original NMD has averaged $737 per sale. Other colorways like the NMD Nice Kicks aren’t far behind, averaging $666 per sale. Online forums like r/streetwear and r/sneakers on reddit confirm the NMD’s success— the site has been inundated with pictures of proud sneakerheads touting their newest NMD’s.
In a time when Adidas has struggled to understand what it is, and where it’s going, the NMD may be it’s most concerted effort to chart its path. The NMD embodies the history of Adidas, in the chassis of its newest accomplishments (primeknit and Boost). Even more importantly, it’s found success in being true to itself. The NMD doesn’t have Kanye’s name on it, nor Yohji Yamamoto’s, nor Raf Simons’s. It is first and foremost Adidas. If Adidas can harness this ethos, the NMD has the potential to become its new flagship— what Nike searched for and found with its Air Maxes. Like Nike, Adidas has built upon its midsole to create a futuristic shoe with varying uppers and a rainbow of color possibilities. While Nike has largely stagnated after the introduction of its Flyknit material, Adidas seems ready to fill a creative void. Slowly, but surely, Adidas has the ability to encroach upon Nike’s market space. Nike won’t be dethroned any time soon, but as the three stripes continue to find their path to the future, with models like the NMD, Nike would be wise to pay close attention.