In this latest edition of Flashback to ‘96 we’ll focus not on an individual shoe model or moment in sneaker history, but the introduction of an important technology that debuted during that crucial year in the sneaker universe. 1996 was the year that adidas unveiled their Feet You Wear technology, the innovative new design principle based on the concept of natural motion for a shoe that acted as an extension of the wearer’s foot. In this Flashback, we’ll take a look at the development, key early models, and the athletes associated with the birth of the Feet You Wear line in 1996, as well as its lasting impact on the sneaker industry to this day.
A Natural Idea
Feet You Wear technology was developed and designed by Frampton Ellis, a third-party inventor outside of adidas, who then licensed its use to the brand. Designed to mimic the natural curves and shape of the human foot, Feet You Wear was invented by Ellis after noticing how the squared-off soles of traditional footwear designs were one of the main causes of ankle roll and overall instability in footwear. By creating a wider, lower-to-the-ground base with an organic curve from outsole to midsole, the shoe provided better stability for lateral movements. After Ellis shopped the technology around to various brands, it was adidas that bit, debuting the first Feet You Wear models in 1996 with plans to use it in the majority of their performance footwear going forward. (Above images sourced from Anatomic Research Inc.)
No Gimmicks Needed
The Feet You Wear design language was a bold departure from most of adidas’ competitors at the time, as it did away with the superfluous, often gimmicky detailing and visible technology common in sneaker design. While the tech was based on minimalism, Feet You Wear sneakers made up for the unflashy technology with bold, wavy lines and rounded shapes that looked nothing like anything else on the shelves. And the cool little face logo was definitely an added bonus.
Enter Kobe Bryant
Perfect timing aligned the debut of Feet You Wear with the introduction of Kobe Bryant to the NBA, the hottest new adidas team member. Although he only averaged 15 minutes per game his first season with the Lakers, Kobe’s well publicized jump from high school straight to the pros still created buzz around the young phenom, which translated to an ideal endorser for the new-look adidas sneakers. Kobe signed on with adidas before he was even drafted, after being hand-picked by basketball sneaker industry guru Sonny Vaccaro, who had recently joined adidas after being fired by Nike. The man who helped convince Nike they absolutely needed to sign Michael Jordan back in 1984 struck lightning again with Kobe, who would soon become the league’s most electrifying player and the face of adidas Basketball. Kobe played his 1996-97 rookie season wearing the Top Ten 2000, Top Ten 2010, and EQT Elevation, all of which have become certified classics in adidas hoops history.
Left: Kobe wearing the Top Ten 2010 in his first NBA game. Right: Wearing the EQT Elevation during his breakout performance at the 1997 NBA All-Star Weekend slam dunk contest.
Other Pros In Feet You Wear
Kobe Bryant may have been the headliner of the Feet You Wear movement, but adidas had a nice roster of other athletes from multiple sports repping their new tech in 1996. Antoine Walker, Kobe’s fellow lottery pick of the ‘96 NBA Draft, was also on the court in adidas, while the NFL’s #1 draft pick in 1996, Keyshawn Johnson, became the face for Feet You Wear in the cross and turf training departments. Proving the technology’s versatility across multiple sports, women’s tennis star Steffi Graf won the 1996 U.S. Open in a Feet You Wear tennis model, and it even showed up in hiking shoes.
Above: Original print ad for the Top Ten 2010 featuring Antoine Walker
Top Ten 2000 Ad Featuring Kobe Bryant
Forty Lo Trainer Ad Featuring KeyShawn Johnson
Salvation Running Shoe Ad Featuring Todd Williams
XTR All-Terrain Shoe Ad Featuring Adam Heaney
Watch some of the original Feet You Wear models in action in these vintage commercials starring Kobe Bryant, Antoine Walker, and Keyshawn Johnson.
Feet You Wear’s Lasting Legacy
Unfortunately, licensing issues between developer Frampton Ellis and adidas resulted in an end to the Feet You Wear line in 2001. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that five year period of Feet You Wear models ushered in a new era for adidas in the late ‘90s, especially in the basketball category that had been mostly irrelevant in the early half of the decade. With models like the Top Ten 2000, KB8, KB8 II, and Key Trainer, the Feet you Wear line created some of the brand’s most memorable sneakers of all time, now enjoying new lives in the retro catalog. The innovative technology also created an impact on the entire athletic shoe industry, helping prompt a more minimal design approach with an emphasis on the natural motion of the foot and leading the way for the barefoot concept in performance footwear design. From Nike’s Free technology to Vibram’s FiveFingers, it all began in 1996 with Feet You Wear.