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Sneaker History – Pump Up and Air Out!

Sneaker History – Pump Up and Air Out!

The eighties were the Golden Era of basketball sneakers and many innovative designs completely changed the game. One of those designs was “the Pump” (performance under maximum pressure) by groundbreaking British sports brand Reebok.

By the end of the eighties, Reebok was on top of their game and many high-profile NBA players dominated the court in Reeboks. Designer, Paul Litchfield, however, still thought they could do better and started working on a system that would provide players with a custom fit. As the adds say, “no two feet are alike, not even your own.”Litchfield created the first internal inflation mechanism ever.

The Pump technology allowed players to customize the shape of each shoe to precisely fit the shape of each foot. When pressing the orange ball in the tongue of the shoe, you inflate the lining until it models the shape of your foot. The “air bladder” is quilted to control the amount of air you can pump out. By precisely fitting your foot, the pump moves perfectly in sync with your feet.

The Pump’s launch in 1989 was immediately controversial because of the $170 price tag. Back then that was an incredibly high price for a sports shoe. Was of the main reasons the shoe was so expensive was the manufacturing process. The shoes were made in Korea but the air bladders were manufactured by a medical supplies company in Massachusetts. Meaning Litchfield first had to receive a shipment of bladders to test, then ship them to Korea to be sown into the shoe and then test them again to see if the bladders hadn’t been punctured by the sewing process.

Reebok, however, knew that if the Pump became the number one must-have shoe people would be willing to pay the price. The shoe became a status symbol and blew its biggest competitor the “Nike Air Pressure” out of the water.

A campaign featuring NBA player Dominique Wilkins made the shoe even more popular. Wilkins told NBA legend Micheal Jordan: ‘Micheal my man if you want to fly first class, pump up and air out’. The quote quickly caught on and became one of the slogans promoting the shoe. By the end of 1990, the pump had made over $500 million in sales.

After it’s massive basketball success Reebok also incorporated the pump technology in other lines such as tennis, running, golf and aerobics shoes.

Till this day it remains one of the most stand-out technologies of the eighties that characterized one of the most competitive eras in the sneaker industry. Even though the popularity of the Pump has faded away over the past 20 years, the shoe still remains part of Reebok’s product line.


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