Reebok was founded in 1895 in Bolton, England by J.W. Foster. In its first incarnation, the company was called simply J.W. Foster and Sons. Foster’s goal was simple: make a running shoe that enabled athletes to run faster. His solution was to add spikes to the bottom of the sole at a time when very few shoemakers were employing this technology.
Foster’s clientele was elite. He designed shoes for top athletes around the world. In fact, several athletes at the 1924 Olympic Summer Games were wearing shoes designed by J.W. Foster and Sons.
J.W. Foster and Sons did not become Reebok until 1958 when Joe and Jeff Foster (J.W.’s grandsons) rechristened the company. Reebok is the Afrikaans spelling of rhebok, which is a kind of African antelope. The spelling was somewhat of an accident. Joe and Jeff found the word in a South African dictionary that Joe had won as a child.
The shoes were not available to the American market until 1979 when the American Paul Fireman ran across Reebok shoes at an international trade show. When Reeboks were first released in the United States, they cost 60 dollars and were the most expensive running shoes being sold at that time.
Reebok really took off in the 1980’s when women’s athletic footwear hit the market. While companies like Nike still dominated Reebok when it came to running shoes, Reebok was the lion among the competitors when it came to aerobics. The Reebok Freestyle was released in 1982 (high-top version in 1985), and it quickly became a cultural sensation. The male version of the Freestyle, dubbed the Ex-O-Fit, followed soon after. With bright colors and Velcro straps, the Freestyle and Ex-O-Fit helped to define 80’s fashion.
During the 1980’s Reebok’s popularity exploded into international markets, with the brand ultimately becoming available in over 170 countries. In the last decade, Reebok has made partnerships with the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. Spokespersons for the brand included the likes of Jay-Z, Lucy Liu and Allen Iverson.
In January 2006, Reebok was bought out by adidas and became a subsidiary of the company. Adidas, which was formally one of the biggest competitors of Reebok, paid $3.8 billion. Later that year in November the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association decided to replace Reebok branding on their merchandise with adidas because adidas is better known outside of US and UK markets than Reebok.