It’s been five years since Adidas’s squishy white foam—known as “Boost”—first hit shelves. Here, we break down just how important Boost has been to Adidas—and how it changed the sneaker industry forever.
Back in 2012, if you asked anyone what the hottest sneaker brand in the world was and they didn’t immediately say Nike, you’d have thought they were either insane or lying. Nike’s stiffest global competition, Adidas, wasn’t so much a distant second as an almost non-existent one. In the United States, Nike’s home base, the Swoosh was even more dominant. Its market share of athletic footwear was hovering around 60 percent, and it had just introduced the most groundbreaking sneaker technology of the millenium in Flyknit, the godfather of knit upper running shoes. On both mass market and limited-edition level, from Air Maxes to Air Yeezys, Nike looked unstoppable.
A little over five years later, though, Adidas is not just more competitive than it was a half-decade ago from a financial standpoint—with reported increases in revenue and market share—but it’s also made up serious ground in innovation and style. What sparked the turnaround? A few things.
In 2014, Adidas reissued its legendary Stan Smith tennis sneakers behind a massive marketing campaign, helping make them the coolest shoes among both fashion designers and brunch-going bros. They also signed Kanye West, whose Yeezy line of sneakers pushed Adidas to the top of the hype conversation. But Adidas also owes much of its recent success to a white foam sole called Boost, which set a new standard in comfort and cool in the sneaker market. (So much so that we’ve started referring to Adidas’s history in terms of B.B. [Before Boost] and A.B. [After Boost]). Five years after the first Adidas Energy Boost hit shelves, it’s worth breaking down how Boost, well, boosted Adidas to the top of the sneaker game.
Chapter 1: “We Could Revolutionize the Running Industry with That Material”
Here’s the first thing to know about Adidas’s premier running shoe technology: it’s not actually made by Adidas. What we know as Boost is actually made by a German chemical company called Badische Anilin & Soda-Fabrik (BASF for short), and the Three Stripes just pays BASF for the exclusive rights to this technology. BASF first developed what became Boost in 2007. At the time, it was nothing more than tiny little white particles the company called “energy capsules” (which basically look like squishy Tic-Tacs). Later, BASF’s scientists realized the particles were useful when welded together with steam into one solid piece. The first time Adidas saw Boost, it was via a small, tennis-sized ball that was used as a demo to show just how bouncy the material is. “We could not believe how higher the ball bounced back compared to EVA foams which were the standard material at that time. We could not stop watching this video and imagined what we can do with that material: we could revolutionize the running industry with that material,” says Matthias Am, the Category Director of Global Running at Adidas. By 2012, the company was testing prototype shoes with Boost.
But what makes Boost genuinely innovative? It’s all about what running shoe designers—and marketers—call “energy return,” which is what Am was talking about with the Boost bouncy ball. When it comes to wearing the shoes, it’s one of the first things you notice—they feel not unlike a very nice memory foam mattress. “The thing about Boost is that the minute you put it on, you know it’s a completely different experience than anything else out there. The comfort is something everything gets,” says Andy Barr, Adidas Director of Global Creation for the brand’s US Running Footwear division. The first Ultra Boost also looked different than anything else on the market. “It’s easy to forget that in 2013, most running shoes didn’t look like [the Ultra Boost]. They were [made of] a bunch of pieces and bright colors and bulky,” says Barr.
In 2013, Adidas’s running shoes weren’t in need of a performance overhaul. In 2012, the year before Boost hit shelves, Kenyan Patrick Makau set the world marathon record while wearing the Adidas Adios 2, which, while lightweight, doesn’t pack any squishy sole units. But while the brand had success among the world’s most elite runners, everyday runners—especially in the United States—simply didn’t care. In 2013, Adidas only held two percent of the U.S. market share in the running shoe category, a number that remained stagnant until 2015. Today, that number is more than nine percent, according to Barr.
“We knew we had to do something completely different to what everyone else was doing,” says Barr. “No one was wearing running shoes casually at the time, either.” Barr is right: Today it’s hard to imagine a sneaker market, athletic or casual, without Boost. That’s thanks to not only great tech, but great marketing. Boost may very well have been a runaway success on its own, but Adidas also has the greatest one-man marketing machine on the planet on its team: Kanye West.