Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ath-leisure footwear: A potted history of keep fit shoes

In the late 1970's early 80's, informality became intertwined with the cult of health which had a marked effect on footwear. Keeping fit set in motion a movement which affected all ages. Being fit and trim meant looking and feeling good all of which could be simply associated with a new sartorial awareness. Shoes needed to match the outfit and a hungry market was created.

To keep demand high, the giants like Adidas, Puma, Reebok and Nike produced what were virtually fashion ranges. Each season brought new design modifications, colour combinations (colourways) and logos, most of which were sales promotion ruses and had little to do with improving the efficiency of the shoe for exercise. The fad for keeping fit passed but the trainer market was well and truly established. The young enjoyed the exclusive, designer element and older people found the broad based cushioned footwear a comfortable fit. Costs were cheaper than traditional footwear and fashion accessories such as track suits were popular with young and old alike.

Celebrity endorsement including support from medical experts as well as high powered marketing also enhanced the popularity trainers. Cheap package holidays especially in Europe meant tourists were able to see and buy training shoes worn in other cultures. Like the original sandshoe, the trainer became associated with leisure pursuits.

Industrial action such as strikes and work to rules in the transport industry, especially in North American cities during this time meant many thousands of commuters had to walk to work. They choose training shoes to do so. The jogging and running boom also was part of the keep fit revolution. Trainers were seen everywhere from streets, playing fields, gymnasia to catwalks.

A hybrid shoe design emerged which was called the cross trainer. This generic sports shoe incorporated the good fitting features of established footwear along with the ideal of a shoe designed for recreational physical activity. This included lightweight strong upper, well supported and robust sole. The sole pattern of trainers has changed over the decades. At first circles and squares was the fashion, this was replaced by herringbone then grids of squares were popular.

Designers incorporated their logo into the sole design and this has become a standard practice. Contemporary outsoles consisted of patterns of materials made from synthetic polymers, which because of the different densities offer varying properties to the foot encased within. The trend patterns became more intricate presumably influenced by movement analysis and were no longer the random repetitive designs of previous years.

The Ath-shoe market remains intensely competitive and marketing correspondingly aggressive. Advertisements deliberately target inner city youth, mainly Afro-American, Hispanic and Asian. The shelf live of designs is very short and rarely lasts three months. Anything the youth market does not immediately accept is withdrawn and replaced by the next design.

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