Adidas - from the shoe factory behind the house to the world's leading company

Adolf Dassler dropped out of baking school to open a shoe factory, navigating Adidas through the many ups and downs of the German economy after the war.

Adidas is the world's leading sportswear brand, with some of the most expensive shoes on the planet. According to research firm Macro Trends, Adidas' value as of January 2023 is $30 billion. However, before it became the billion-dollar company it is today, it was just a small shoe store in the family laundry room.

Adidas was founded by Adolf Dassler. Adolf was born in 1900 in the town of Herzogenaurach (Germany), in a poor family with 4 children, with a shoemaker father and a laundry mother. After finishing high school, he learned to bake cakes according to his father's wishes. However, this is not his passion. So Adolf went back to learning shoemaking.

Outside of work, Adolf also enjoys sports. He participated in many sports, from football, boxing to skiing. As a result, he realized something that would later make Adidas successful: All athletes then wore the same shoes. Adolf thought that if he could design different types of shoes for each sport, people who wear them would have a great advantage.

In 1919, Germany experienced a terrible economic recession after World War I. Jobs were increasingly scarce. However, Adolf did not want to give up on his dream. He converted the laundry area behind his house into a shoe-making facility. With the skills learned, Adolf made money repairing shoes for people in the area.

This gave him the time and resources to create the first specialized sneakers. One of Adolf's first creations was the running shoe used in the stadium - an idea new to the sports field at the time.

Adolf was also very creative in the production process. For example, when the power supply is unstable, he connects the machines to the bicycle and asks an employee to pedal to generate electricity.

Adolf Dassler at the brothers' shoe factory. Photo: Adidas

In 1924, Adolf's brother Rudolf joined him. They opened a company, named Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. This was a complementary combination, as Adolf was good at making shoes, and Rudolf was gifted in sales and advertising. As the German economy gradually recovered, business quickly boomed.

In 1926, both had enough money to move the shoe factory to a new location. Here, they can make hundreds of pairs of shoes a day. The size of the company quickly increased and Adolf decided to expand production beyond the local area. He attended nearly every major sporting event and talked to athletes, persuading them to try on his shoes.

His efforts and determination paid off. Many of Germany's top athletes used their shoes at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Adolf always tailors his shoes to try on the feedback of each athlete, to ensure they have the best product.

He also made connections with the German track and field team, through coach Josef Waitzer. This partnership not only helps Adolf get valuable feedback on the product, but also helps the brothers' shoes be used by more athletes in the Olympics. At a time when athletes did not have professional sponsors, this was a breakthrough marketing strategy of the Dassler brothers.

Arriving at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf decided to sponsor top athletes. He even convinced then famous American track and field athlete Jesse Owens to wear their shoes and was accepted. Owens then won 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, breaking many records, making the Dassler brothers' shoes even more famous. Their company began to have a more international presence.

A few years later, World War II broke out, causing business interruptions due to shortages of materials and manpower. Adolf and Rudolf had to enlist in the army, respectively, making it even more difficult for the company. Disagreements over how to maintain the company during the war and subsequent misunderstandings led brothers Adolf and Rudolf to decide not to work together.

In 1949, Rudolf took over half of the company and employees and founded his own brand, Ruda. He later changed his name to Puma, because Ruda was not athletic. That same year, Adolf founded Adidas, creating from his own name - Adolf (Adi) Dassler (das).

The years after the war were very difficult for Adidas, when the German economy fell into crisis again. Adolf had to rely on creativity and entrepreneurship to get through. He made use of many connections to obtain surplus materials from the war. He had to make shoes out of airplane fuel tank linings, rubber rafts and tent fabric.

After stopping cooperation with his brother, Adolf also wanted his products to have a unique design, easy to recognize even when walking underfoot. He experimented with many designs and eventually came up with the current 3-line logo.

As the German economy gradually recovered, Adofl and his wife Käthe steered Adidas to strong growth. Käthe is involved in sales, human resource management, helping Adolf focus on what he does best. By the 1960s, Adidas had more than 500 employees and was the largest sports shoe manufacturer in the world.

Adolf is described as dedicated to his work. He studied the athletes' movements very closely to get ideas for new products, especially when sports began to be broadcast on TV. At the age of 50, Adolf still plays many sports to keep abreast of the product development process.

In 1986, the American group Run-DMC composed the song My Adidas to express their love for this brand's products. Fans of the group then rushed to buy Adidas shoes. Impressed with this, Adidas signed a $1.6 million deal with Run-DMC, creating one of the most memorable collaborations in the sports shoe industry.

Adidas then actively links with artists to promote the brand. The label is known for collaborating with athletes and rappers. Soccer player David Beckham and boxing legend Muhammad Ali also collaborated with Adidas.

Adolf died in 1978. Käthe then continued to run the company with her son Horst until her death in 1984.

Currently, Adidas is one of the world's leading sportswear brands, next to Nike or Puma. The company's 2021 revenue is $25 billion, up 10% from 2020. Operating profit is $2.3 billion.

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