Reebok vs Nike: Battle of the Footwear Brands

Reebok vs Nike with image of sneaker footwear in competition
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Last Updated on July 26, 2022

I know you love a good old rivalry just as much as I do…So, it was only a matter of time before we addressed the epic battle of Reebok and Nike! 

Whether you own a pair of Nike’s or Reebok’s, chances are you have heard and seen the distinctive logos everywhere. They are after all two of the most notorious brands for retro lovers. And in the case of Nike, one of the most valuable companies in the world!

They have both collaborated with a huge number of celebrities like Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Connor McGregor, and Serena Williams (if we are dropping names). And their ad history has more than a fair share of gems. 

So, scroll down to get all the juicy details…

The Origins of Reebok

Founded in England (1958) as part of the J.W. Foster and Sons athletic footwear company, which belonged to brothers Joe and Jeff Foster, and was already very popular across Britain. The family had a long-standing tradition of making athletic footwear having launched his company in 1895 and having developed one of the first track spikes. 

As the story goes, it owes its name to a grey rhebok, a type of antelope, that was present in a South African dictionary that the young Joe Foster had won. In 1979, the company landed in the US and quickly expanded into new markets, selling their wares in over 28 countries. Although we wouldn’t consider it a “sneaker titan” today, years ago it quickly soared in popularity during the 80s thanks to the “dad sneaker” trend and dominated the US market.

Miri Ben-Ari Reebok quote: Partnering with Reebok is a natural fit for me because they truly value artists who are not afraid to be different and stand out from the crowd. I am excited to work with Reebok on my new music video and thrilled to be part of the I Am What I Am campaign

By 2005, Reebok would become part of the Adidas company, joining one of the largest ssportswear companies in the world. (In case you are interested, we covered Adidas in one of our previous articles: Adidas vs Puma, and let me tell you… It is one of the most interesting brand researches I’ve ever done!)

Rebbok’s Most Memorable Designs and Ads 

1961 The Reebok Swift

The company went from designing running spikes to accommodating a range of amateur athletes and fitness aficionados with its casual athletic footwear. 

1982 Reebok The Freestyle sneaker

Its initial explosive growth came from the women’s aerobics market with the Freestyle mode. Aimed specifically for women and aerobics it was a supple design in stretch glove leather. It also featured a nylon backing and terry towel lining. It was an instant hit. 

Reebok 80s Designs: The Ex-o-Fit, classic leather and newport classic

The men’s version of the Freestyle was introduced in 1983 under the name Ex-O-Fit. That same year saw the running shoe, the Classic Leather, also come to light. It had a style-conscious, unisex audience that aimed to fill the need of the casual athletes looking for something that conjoined performance and fashion at an accessible price. In 1985, Reebok got popular on the tennis courts thanks to Boris Becker and John McEnroe and their Newport Classic model aimed at tennis players.

When Reebok surpassed Nike in gym shoes sales around 1986, their feud intensified. Aggressive marketing and creative commercials ensued and results would soon be very visible. When the 90s came around with their gimmicks, neon colors and big-budgeted campaigns Reebok’s reign slowly fizzled out, remaining present only in a handful of subcultures that operated with no official brand endorsement. 

It became a favorite of the dance music scene all throughout the 90s, particularly of British musicians and dancers. It would be paired with tracksuits, slim-fitting denim, and printed shirts. 

Over the following years, Reebok remained a staple of European casual wear. Largely overlooked by the US, it managed to remain by the sidelines of fashion trends. Both classic and unassuming, with an available price range and catering to a growing appetite for retro-wear.

Connor McGregor Reebok quote: Made to push boundaries

The Classics line’s legacy remains intact in recent collaborations with stars like UFC fighter Connor McGregor and hip-hop phenomenon Kendrick Lamar.

Reebok has proven that it is possible to remain relevant with its steady presence in the underground scene through accessibility rather than forced influence. This is why it is expected that their role as a status symbol will continue as the legacy is passed organically from one generation to the next. 

Read: Check out Some of the Coolest 90s Sneakers to Ever Grace This Planet

The Birth of Nike

Niek How it all Began

It all began in 1964 with Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman when they met at the University of Oregon. Phil was an average middle-distance runner and Bill was his field coach, already obsessed with the connection between speed and design. He would constantly tinker with his runner’s shoes after learning the skills from a local cobbler.

Bowerman at Oregon University circa 1969

When Phil graduated with a master’s degree in Business Administration from Stanford, he combined his love for running and his business skills and, with Bowerman supporting the venture, launched Blue Ribbon Sports with a 50-50 deal for ownership. 

Blue Ribbon Sports Designs Sneakers: First Waffle Sole

Their goal was to import high-quality and low-cost running Onitsuka Tiger athletic shoes from Japan into the USA. By 1970, Bowerman had created his innovative waffle sole by pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle iron. It would change running shoes forever.

In 1971, BRS changed its name to Nike, pronounced /ˈnaɪki/, after the Greek goddess of victory. The company owes its illustrious name to the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, who apparently dreamed it up the night before Phil had to fill the necessary paperwork for the new company. Talk about last-minute decisions! The swoosh logo was then created by Carolyn Davidson, a design student at Portland University. One of today’s most valuable trademarks cost originally a mere $35. 

When your time comes and a thousand different voices are trying to tel lyou that you're ready for it, listen instead to that lone voice of dissent. The one that says you're ready, you're prepared, it's all up to you now

The Models that Made History

By 1972 they had their first 2 training shoes. The Waffle Racer, nicknamed the ‘Moon Shoe’, was the first pair released with the new swoosh logo and was handed out to athletes competing in the US Olympic trials.

1972 and 1973 Nike Sneaker Designs: The Waffle Racer or Moon Shoes, The Nike Cortez and The Blazer Basketball Shoe

The Nike Cortez came afterward, during the Mexico Olympics, and it was the first to feature foam for cushioning. Both shoes have been released in a huge number of colorways over the years. The most famous one, maybe, is the Nike Cortez made famous by the movie Forrest Gump. Soon after, in 1973, the Blazer basketball shoe worn by famous NBA player George Gervin put the brand into every basketball fan’s radar.

Nike Cortez on Forrest Gump movie
Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump – Nike Cortez Ultra Moire – Credit: Paramount Pictures & the Tisch Company

The Nike Waffle racer came right after, in 1974, and catapulted Nike into stardom becoming the best-selling sneakers on the market. It used a sole inspired by Bill’s original waffle-like creation.

1974, 1978 and 1982 Nike Sneaker Style Designs: New Waffle Racer, The Tailwind and The Air Force 1

The Tailwind, the first running shoe that used air pockets in its outsole, was released in 1978 and changed the course of the sneakers history. Come 1982 and the first basketball shoe, the Air Force 1, also used air in the sole. After numerous reissues, there have been both low tops and high top models of this shoe combining myriad colors and materials. 

1982, 1983 and 1984 Nike Sneaker Designs: The Internationalist, The Air Pegasus and The Air Jordan 1

The Internationalist was also released in 1982. It was designed for long-distance runners and debuted during the New York City Marathon, quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best. The following year, the Air Pegasus made its appearance as an accessible running shoe suitable for all runners. It has continued being made to this day. 1984 was the year the Air Jordan 1 was produced exclusively for Michael Jordan and itt included the now-famous ‘Jumpman’ logo. The prototype design was banned by the NBA for not including enough white. 

1985, 1986 and 1987 Nike sneaker designs: Dunk Basketball Shoe, The Air Trainer 1 and Nike Air Max

The Dunk basketball shoe followed close after. The Air Trainer came the following year and was released as a sneaker that could be worn for a varied range of activities, with no one sport in mind. It became really popular with tennis players, opening the way for the brand into the court. The next step was the first Nike Air Max, which featured a visible air pocket. 

Nike Sneakers 90s Designs: Air 180, Air Huarache, Air Max 95, Tiger Woods Collab, Air Max 97, Nike ID

The 90s were decidedly marked by the collaboration with Michael Jordan that gave birth to the Air 180 and amazingly creative and innovative designs. Tiger Woods also helped design his own footwear line. 

Back to the Future Movie Nike Sneakers
Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future –  Credit: Universal Pictures & Amblin Entertainment


This 2015’s shoe design is our final design and completely worthy of the special mention. It is a reproduction of the self-lacing Nike Mag shoe that was first seen in the movie Back To the Future in 1989. A limited number of reproductions were made and they were auctioned in collaboration with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. 



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Nike’s Glorious 90s Ads

The very first campaign that featured the ‘Just Do It’ slogan was launched in 1988, marking the beginning of an era. It is currently among the most popular taglines in the world, which is quite funny considering Dan Wieden, from the Wieden+Kennedy creative agency, drew inspiration from a convicted murderer’s last words to create it.

Nike didn’t even feel the campaign they were working on really needed it, but they allowed it anyhow. Nike competitors really had no chance… And the rest is history!

The next Wieden+Kennedy ad campaign featured a one-of-a-kind athlete, Bo Jackson. It played on his versatility as both a professional football and baseball player and positioned him as an expert in sports beyond his real expertise. 

“I am not a role model…Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Charles Barkley

With that striking declaration, Charles Barkley set the tone for an edgy authenticity that would separate Nike from the rest of the brands and establish that they had a place for more than one kind of superstar.

Serena Williams Nike Quote: If we think greatness is supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way, and play a certain way, we certainly need to rethink some things

“I’ve heard I’m not ready for you. Are you ready for me?” With those final lines, Nike predicted in 1996 what would later become the reign of Tiger Woods over the golf course during its ‘Hello World’ Ad.

The 90s was also the reign of Michael Jordan. The rhetoric used by the creative ads placed Jordan as a paragon of virtue inside an underdog narrative in which he triumphed over adversities by willpower and hard work. It perfectly encapsulated an ethos in which setbacks were unavoidable but success was at everyone’s reach through hard work… Advertising gold!

By the end of the 90s, Nike would own London’s Oxford Street store (also known as NikeTown) which would become its largest store in the world. 

Both Brands Today

Over the years Nike has taken considerable steps to improve its labor practices and provide a secure and healthy environment for its workers. As of 2020, it employs 76,700 people worldwide.

It has also taken great strides to be greener, in 2019 expanding its PFC-free portfolio to 93% of its products.

It has also taken a very prominent stance on political issues, from supporting Colin Kaepernick, making him the new face of the brand after he took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality towards black Americans, to cancelling the release of a sneaker bearing the 13-star American flag of Betsy Ross days before the Fourth of July. 

Reebok has taken certain strides to further its relevancy by collaborating with top models and influencers. Most notably with Gigi Hadid, in 2019. And also, by relaunching its 40th-anniversary Alien Stomper retro model worn by Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley in Aliens. A personal favorite, I must say!

Check out: 5 Brands That are Surprisingly Similar to Nike


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Lorena Lombardo
Lorena Lombardo is a fashion designer specialized in trend forecasting and fashion journalism. She studied at the UAL (University of London), ORT (Universidad ORT Uruguay), and taken various courses about traditional craftsmanship while living in Tokyo. Some of her favorite memories during the 90s include wearing bucket hats and trying to copy Rachel’s hairstyle. Her absolute favorite show was Buffy: the Vampire Slayer but she was also a huge fan of Clueless because of its amazing fashion choices. Her top track of the decade is currently disputed between How soon is Now? by the Smiths and Here with me by Dido. Both also happen to be the opening songs for two great 90s shows: Charmed and Roswell. Coincidence? I think not!