Thread Cred: How ASICS Found Footing in Irvine and Jumped Into the Music World

 

ASICS Kayano 25th Edition (Photo by ASICS).

[Editor’s Note: This is a new monthly column where The Weekly dives into local streetwear, music, art, and culture. Our goal is to highlight brands and companies making an impact in their respective industries that call Orange County home.]

The sneaker game is booming in 2018, from footwear connoisseurs and work out enthusiasts, to marathon runners and dad friendly looks. Everyone enjoys a nice pair of comfortable shoes, and ASICS are humbly delivering the goods from Irvine. Without flashy ad campaigns and TV spots, the shoe manufacture has grown into a top-5 footwear brand with its bright color schemes and universal appeal.

In 1977 the Japanese brand went global with its footwear line and was introduced to the United States. When the company looked to capitalize on its Western territories, Southern California seemed ripe for the picking.

Conceptualized during the post World War II era, the company was founded by Kihachiro Onitsuka.

“Performance footwear was his passion and the first pair he designed were basketball shoes,” said Colin Brickley, Director of Lifestyle Sales for ASICS. 

“The story goes that Mr. Onitsuka was eating octopus salad with his wife, and the tentacles inspired him.” He realized that if he could mimic the concave shape of the octopus’ suckers in rubber, he could create a shoe capable of gripping a basketball court, allowing the athlete to stop on a dime.

Back then the Olympic games were everything and he focused on the Japanese athlete[s]. Word spread to other countries and ‘Onitsuka Tiger,’ its original branding, became known for innovation, craftsmanship, and technology. 

Utilizing lightweight materials and increased cushioning, the ‘Tiger’ line was an instant hit with runners. Increased arch support, a full-length midsole and thicker heels for shock absorption all contributed to a high quality shoe.

ASICS doesn’t participate in the traditional core U.S. sports like baseball, basketball, and football, compared to their competitors. However, the brand’s major endorser is Angels rookie pitcher/designated hitter, Shohei Ohtani.

Angels Pitcher Shohei Ohtani (Photo by MLB).

The 23-year old Japanese phenom has been wearing their product head-to-toe for years, and has created national buzz within Major League Baseball and casual sports fans with his multiple skills.

These types of collaborations have become a hit in the streetwear industry. Having a crossover athlete or musician represent your logo is the standard now for social media credibility and big sales.

At ComplexCon last winter, the ASICS Gel-Lyte ‘Pretty Tony’ collection was revealed. A cross promotion between NYC boutique Extra Butter and Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah.

“The store contacted ASICS and pitched their idea, having a solid relationship with the hip-hop legend. He’s big into leather jackets and we used that in the design. That’s how we stay relevant, partnerships with amazing brands,” Brickley detailed.

The shoe featured burgundy leather and a classic gum bottom. A leather belt was added on the heel, and the lacing system was replaced with a zipper to mimic a jacket. 

ASICS has quietly unsubscribed from the influencer route, in contrast to other shoe companies.

One exception to the rule is their association with an OC local. EDM hit maker and producer Steve Aoki. The Newport Harbor High School alum has a signature line, the Hypergel Kenzen.

Aoki has said the shoe’s comfort, flashy colors, and durability are reasons why he wears them regularly.

Touring the world is the best type of press a brand could ask for, as his up-tempo music draws massive crowds to nightclubs and festivals. The athletic company sees his healthy lifestyle as a perfect fit for an ambassador role.

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Jumpin 4 #azukita!!!

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Does a company well established like ASICS keep an eye on the competition?

“It’s hard not to pay attention to them when you’re product is sitting on the shelf next to them at the retailer. We try to out innovate them and pride ourselves on technology. We have the Institute of Sports Science in Japan, with full on lab coats, potions, and next level testing grounds. That’s what we do so well and it’s proprietary,” Brickley shared.

“We’re on our 25th iteration of the Kayano design. We have such a loyal fan base, people buy the product not because it’s new but the legacy of being the best.”

With over 100 people on staff at their headquarters near the Irvine Spectrum, ASICS continues to grow in SoCal. Inside, their facility features a full-length basketball court, work out center, and a sports science lab for product testing.

“Orange County has been the original location for 20-plus years. Irvine is our hub, and we recently expanded East, opening the Center Of Excellence in Boston,” the Director of Lifestyle mentioned.

ASICS chose OC because of its beautiful location, time zone, and accessibility from Japan. They landed in Boston because it’s the world’s #1 running city, making a perfect bi-coastal balance. It is also a recruiting tool as most footwear brands are based in Oregon or Massachusetts.

Looking forward to the fall and holiday seasons, ASICS promises to deliver unique products and collaborative efforts. The company is not far off from its 70th year in the footwear industry. You can expect a number of special drops to hit retail store shelves soon.

“We have some cool projects coming down the pipeline for next year,” Brickley emphasized. “One is with Reigning Champ, a sportswear company in Vancouver. We have a capsule collection (items that don’t go out of style and used for multiple seasons) leading up to the ‘Road to Tokyo,’ for the 2020 Olympic games.”

Michael Silver is a journalist and photographer based in Southern California. He covers music, sports, technology, and streetwear. Tips & pitches: michaelsilvermedia@gmail.com

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