Heart and Sole: Is adidas Finally Cooler Than Nike?

It’s seemingly been reported countless times in recent months: Nike‘s stock value is falling, and their market dominance is waning. While this may be true in a certain sense, it’s not entirely accurate. Nike’s stock did indeed fall earlier in 2017, but it bounced back with numbers exceeding expectations, with revenue up 6% to $8.2 billion in the second quarter of last year. Their market share too is dominant, particularly in their home nation of the US, where it stands at around 44% including the Jordan brand – their closest competitor, adidas, lies at only 11%.

A quick inspection of these numbers then, suggests everything is going swimmingly for the Swoosh, but a closer look tells a different story, in large part due to the brand with the three stripes. That 11% adidas share may seem feeble in comparison their stateside rival’s supposedly iron grip on the footwear market, but that’s nearly double what it was 18 months ago (6.3% in mid-2016). Much of this growth has been stolen from Nike and Jordan themselves, and this trend is only expected to continue in future years. Why then, is adidas posing such a threat to Nike in their own back yard? Are their products better quality? Better value? Is everyone suddenly deciding they prefer stripes to swooshes? The simplest explanation is probably this: adidas is becoming cooler than Nike.

In their heyday, the Jordan basketball shoes may as well have been the be-all and end-all of ‘cool factor’ in footwear. Renowned for their innovative style, ground-breaking technology and exclusive, limited releases, each Jordan drop became the latest must-have sneaker. Nike’s grip on the streetwear landscape too, was increasingly solid. In 2009, the first of Nike and Kanye West’s Yeezy line was released, and in 2014 the Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’ became arguably the most anticipated sneaker release of all time.


Pictured: Nike Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’

However, in more recent years, Jordan releases have become ever more aggressively frequent as sales begin to slow, thus killing their attractive scarcity, and the Red October would be the last shoe West made with Nike as the pair parted over creative differences. adidas capitalised on this immediately, marketing their brand increasingly to the fashion-conscious teen and young adult demographic, as well as making a strong effort to appear more appealing to the hardcore sneaker-heads who had worshipped at the altar of Jordan for so many years. Investment bank Piper Jaffray’s most recent “Taking Stock With Teens” survey showed Nike as one of the fastest declining apparel brands in popularity, while adidas and Vans made gains, along with streetwear brands such as Supreme.


Pictured: Nike Air Max 97 ‘Black & White’

While Nike focused on re-releasing the classic shoes that made them so popular in the ’80s and ’90s (the Air Max 97 being one of the most notable reissues), adidas pushed forward with brand new ultra-modern styles. The same teens who rushed to get their hands on a pair of Nike’s new Roshe Runs in 2012 did the same for the adidas Tubular Runners in 2014, followed by the adidas NMDs in 2015, and even the Adidas UltraBoosts later in the same year until the present day. To put that in context, the UltraBoosts were marketed by the brand as “The greatest running shoe ever”. Sneaker-heads disagreed with adidas, and wore them as a fashion item anyway.


Pictured: Nike Roshe One ‘White/White’ (Top, Left), adidas NMD R1 ‘Trace Grey Metallic’ (Top, Right), adidas UltraBoost ‘Core Black’ (Bottom)

The dispute between Nike and Kanye West mentioned earlier also caused the rapper to transfer his services to the brand’s German rivals, and Adidas soon began releasing Yeezy sneakers of their own, which were met with rapid success. West even released this emphatic, slightly absurd Nike diss track in 2016 – “Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman!” he shouts. There are countless pure hypebeasts out there who would argue that the Yeezys alone were the driving force behind adidas’ rapid ascendancy in the cultural zeitgeist, and while this is a valid point, due to the extremely limited release of the shoe there is little measurable data to back it up.

That’s not to say Nike have made no recent efforts to compete with adidas in the fashion stakes – this year the US brand handed over ten of its most iconic shoe designs including the Air Jordan 1 and Air Max 90 to Off-White founder Virgil Abloh for streetwear-inspired redesigns, and also collaborated with rapper Travis Scott for the release of an exclusive Air Force 1 Low. However, these releases are once again centred around popular designs of the past, rather than pushing forward into modern releases to truly grab the younger market. adidas are even making their own claim to the retro scene; a renewed interest in their Superstar shoe first released in 1969 led it to become the best-selling sneaker of 2016 in the US (although every other shoe in the top 10 was made by Nike).


Pictured: Nike x Virgil Abloh Air Jordan 1 (Top, Left), Nike x Travis Scott Air Force 1 Low (Top, Right), adidas Superstar ‘Footwear White/Core Black’ (Bottom)

Of course, neither of these corporate behemoths solely focus on trainers, and Nike’s monopoly in other areas of the activewear market is even more convincing. Their dominance of sportswear other than shoes is as great as ever, and lucrative new sponsorship deals with the likes of Brazil and England’s international football teams suggests they are beginning to encroach significantly in adidas’ speciality area of soccer, while remaining the obvious king when it comes to basketball with an approximate market share of a crazy 90%.


Pictured: Nike Jordan Holiday 2017 Collection

While adidas have captured the youth market (and the future market with it) for now, one thing is certain: Nike won’t be prepared to sit idly by, and more changes are likely to be arriving in the near future to ensure  the U.S. brand maintains it’s market dominance. While adidas are undoubtedly their main opponents, they’ll also have to tackle the likes of Puma, Vans and New Balance, who have all enjoyed similar recent growth. Nike remains the king for now, but its grip on the crown might just be slipping.

Jack Lenton

Jack is Ape's Online Editorial Associate, with a passion for Men's Style, Cars, and Technology.