Kicks will now be shipped off to the Middle East and Africa.

South African Grey Rhebok inspired the name “Reebok”

It all started when

Rhebok or “reebok” is a species of antelope native to South Africa, Lesotho, and Eswatini.

This is the alleged inspiration behind the English brand, Reebok founded by Joe and Jeff Foster around 1959. After success with leather running shoes with spikes, J.W Foster & Sons created a brand that would see more success off-court than on towards the 1980’s.

Vintage Reebok catalog via The Deffest
The many colors of 54.11’s

For years the sneaker industry has been trying to hold on to an iconic brand whose success ran into the late 70’s and flew into the 80’s with the Freestyle line – in which urban influencers coined “54.11” That is how much the coveted Reebok originals Freestyle kicks would cost. With that price range a sneaker collection could evolve from NIKE Cortez and dunks to the variety of cool colors Reebok had available. Possibly brought on by the forced walk across the Brooklyn bridge into Manhattan and the need to stay in shape – women were smitten to walk in comfort and men could have dreams of sprinting in their Newport Classics. 

80’s Freestyle Lo’ ad that featured ballerina moves

However, since the disinterest in the classics, and to Reebok’s defense, the decline in East Coast basketball (ei: 76’ers and Miami Heat) – the brand’s appeal fell to greater legends and marketing spend (as well as possible design aesthetics). Reebok has not been the go-to brand over the more popular “lifestyle” competition.

Bring It Back, Come, Rewind!

We’ve seen the re-emergence of the Reebok Classics with notable musical “Creative Directors” including Alicia Keys & Kasseem Daoud Dean (Swizz Beatz) and Pharrell, with supporters like Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, 50 Cent and so on and so on. The list is pretty long. But there was no newness there. Only colors and retouched versions of what was worn back in the day.  The endeavor brought about countless collaborations and Reebok looked like the place to be. 

There was even a song…

In 2019 Beyonce called out Reebok for not being diverse enough while Kanye was fighting for, and denied, the Creative Director role at parent company Adidas. These are small drops in the bucket because it is not understood why so many are agreeing to join forces to keep a brand alive that does not have the best interest of their community in mind. 

Kerby Jean-Raymond as the Artistic Director of Reebok Studies 2019

In 2020 we were all ready to roll with Pyer Moss founder, Kerby Jean-Raymond named the new VP of Creative Direction bringing in a totally different approach to the future of the brand. A high end union that started in 2018.  His afro-futuristic designs were a breath of freshness but Reebok seemed to have problems gasping for air. The disappointing 1 year stint came a little of a shock – but also foreseen as the company was known to be in trouble.

“We want to sincerely thank Kerby for his many contributions to Reebok,” Matt O’Toole said in a statement. “The positive impact he has made on the brand will be felt for years to come. We wish him the very best.”

Matt O’Toole of Reebok

But alas. There is more to this than cool names and gimmicks. 

Buy Reebok? Why When We Can Build Our Own was posted by Rocky Perrish of Rockdeep footwear and outdoor athletics. The op-ed called out the reasoning why people of color (in this case, hip hop entertainer and serial entrepreneur Master P) should save a brand that has no human compassion or diversity or acknowledgment where due. Only to exploit efforts of POC to regain footing. 

“ – its about a black owned business saving a brand.  Saving Reebok.  The same brand many complained didn’t do what it needed to be diverse in it’s hiring and have enough black folks in management. 

Now you are coming to the rescue to save them?  I mean it’s very Christian of you… but we are talking business.

We as a collective people are always asking to be places where we are not wanted.  Wanting seats at tables we aren’t welcome at. 

Reebok’s Shaq pump via Sneaker Addict

At what point will we just be ok making our own tables and sitting there and inviting all those we want to sit there?  I can only hope in 2021 there’s less begging for inclusion and diversity and more creating for ourselves.

There has to be a time where we decide we will stop saving others from imminent failure in business only to get no credit or credit taken from us right??

The other side of this coin?  Consumers who are excited about the notion that Master P. will make Reebok great again, JUST by owning it.”

Reebok x Allen Iverson

The billion dollar HR question

So apparently, Master P was not able to seal the deal with his bid. What Percey Miller had in mind was to turn around Reebok to the community. He once told Forbes magazine;

“As we focus on turning Reebok into a lifestyle brand not just a basketball brand, our most important initiative will be to put money back into the community that built this company,” Master P’s partner in the deal, Baron Davis thought the $2.5 billion was undervalued as Reebok gave him an endorsement deal to market his own basketball shoe.

Adidas bought Reebok for $3.8 billion in 2006 back when Reebok was riding high and had deals with the NBA and NFL. But when Reebok could not perform more than 7% of Adidas earnings in 2010 only 4 years later, it was clear that the newly purchased brand would not recover. Now, Adidas has sold the slow paced brand for up to $2.5 billion to Authentic Brand Group (ABG). 

DMX 2000
DMX 2000

What makes this situation a big deal is that this is the motive for all large corporate entities that lack human compassion and have lost their core along the way. Why do they continue to operate in this blatant fashion? Is it because the original owners are no longer driving the business? Go and ask the folks over at you-know-where, if they will ever see a CEO step down for  a POC or non-family member? Don’t even get me started about a certain CEO who used to be the CEO of a certain company that is now under scrutiny about underhanded dealings including the former president of South Africa. 

The usual signs a company is up for grabs and the obvious process:   

  • Company is struggling
  • Company rushes to hire the biggest names in social media or hip hop to save its legacy
  • Company hires new round of human resources (getting everyone super excited about the years ahead)
  • Company then lets people go over underperformance
  • Company sells and says, Kwaheri!

Authentic Brand Group (ABG) announced that Al Boom Marine (ABM), a company under the portfolio of Scope Investment, will become the operating partner for Reebok in the GCC, the Middle East, including Iraq and Lebanon, and North Africa, which includes Algeria, Egypt and Morocco.

The ado moment here is that – this is the game plan for all major corporations that cannot sustain in the industry that they helped propel. 

So why buy into a dying legacy? 

reebok basquiat
Reebok Basquiat series under Swizz Beatz

ABG has over 40 brands that have struggled to maintain its market share and dumped onto “new money” countries that have longed to be a part of American pop culture. Remember Juicy Couture? If not, it’s ok – many people in South Africa can now rock those hideous articles of clothing and spray themselves with rank perfume. I bought my first pair of Adrienne Vittadini shoes when Lil’ Kim gave the brand a shout out…I did NOT pay $49.99 for them.

If Reebok needed saving it would be to save the jobs and human resources it acquired over the span of decades. Or to shift to rebrand or move people to Adidas? If the trend is to find classic Reeboks to resell – how desirable will it be to hunt down kicks in Iraq?

There is a major shift in the footwear industry as a whole and saving dying brands is not it. 

The shift is coming via these micro entrepreneurs who are taking big leaps into ownership of their own lines or creating exclusive experiences for their followers. If there is any solace to anyone who is at risk of losing their jobs at Reebok – there are plenty of emerging brands and designers out there that could use your expertise as they are in the midst of creating a healthy variety of choices for consumers who want functional sneakers, cool uppers and hot colors. They are all over Instagram – seek them out. Help build and grow a new energy of Rheboks and develop a lane that the large corps still have no idea how to navigate in these times. 

Cardi B in Reebok

Of course we all know money talks and $2.5 billion does not include future production or marketing, but imagination and forward thinking on who your customers really are and what they actually want is what commerce legacy is built on. These designers and brands are living legends in the making. Why we continue to highlight brands that have much ado about its core consumers, is beyond comprehension.

It is a big deal however, that Reebok is sold in regards to popular culture because its name no longer refers to the sleek South African antelope, but is inherently synonymous with POC, urban style and class. There is little importance in the saving of Reebok. The larger importance should be shifted to the support and elevation of those who are willing to step into the industry during a time when so many giants are failing out.

Tanita Gray

Editor-In-Chief, Publisher and Founder of, and CEO of Shoes Waste. Gray is a footwear, accessory and apparel designer/developer by day - writer and content architect by night. With over 17 years of experience in the fashion industry, you can find her teaching sustainability classes, drawing thumbnails, writing in her journal, giving her husband & children enormous hugs, or eating french fries.

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