Stan Smith at the 35th Annual Footwear News Achievement Awards on Nov. 30 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Footwear News)
SNEAKERS & FASHION

Stan Smith: Adidas’ Understated Legend Continues

This shoe has been worn by kids, older people, the younger crowd, hip-hop people, preppy people,” the Adidas icon tells Boardroom of his namesake pair. “It’s really got tremendous diversity.”

When you talk about the most ubiquitous, essential, and iconic sneakers of all time, Stan Smith has to be one of the first names out of your mouth.

Created in 1965, the simple white Adidas tennis shoe trimmed in green at the top of the heel is now a household name around the world and an essential fashion staple across all ages and backgrounds with more than 100 million pairs sold.

Yet many are still surprised when they find out that Stan Smith is an actual human being.

“Yeah, they are,” the very real Smith said with a laugh.

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Smith was in New York City on Tuesday at the Footwear News Achievement Awards, representing Adidas as it received the sustainability leadership award, with the company’s goal for its entire supply chain to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

He was wearing his eponymous kicks on the red carpet in a collaboration with none other than Kermit the Frog; the character’s classic catchphrase, “it’s not easy being green,” was emblazoned on the heel as part of a brand initiative to help end plastic waste led by the Stan Smiths.

“It’s exciting to see what’s being done in the whole area of sustainability,” Smith told Boardroom. “We’re making shoes now out of mushrooms, so it’s really quite amazing. The shoes look the same and they feel the same, but they’re made of, in some cases, over 50% recycled materials. So it’s pretty neat to see what’s going on.”

Before becoming a streetwear legend, Smith was a world-class tennis player, winning the 1971 US Open and 1972 Wimbledon titles as a singles player and five more Grand Slam titles in doubles. Though Adidas’ tennis shoes were originally named for French champion Robert Haillet, they were re-christened in honor of Smith in 1978.

And the Three Stripes have never looked back, earning Smith decades of royalties along the way.

“It’s gone through cycles over the years,” he said.

In 2012 and 2013, Adidas decided to stop making the Stan Smiths altogether. They were re-launched in 2014 with the help of celebrity endorsers like Pharrell Williams and immediately began to skyrocket in popularity, reportedly selling eight million pairs in 2015.

“That really got a lot of people interested in the shoes, young people that have no idea who I am but, they know the name,” Smith said. “They know the shoe. That’s what’s happened.”

After being worn by such old school icons like John Lennon and George Harrison, the Stan Smiths have spanned generations, later worn by the likes of Pharrell, Raf Simons, supermodels on the runway, and countless athletes, celebrities, and influencers who didn’t have to be paid a dime to wear them.

As Smith beamed, they just like the shoes.

As sneaker culture boomed over the last 10 to 15 years, millions around the world have grown to adore the Smiths’ functional simplicity.

“It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles,” he said. “But it’s one of those things you can wear with any outfit. It’s a classy, simple item that you can wear with jeans, tuxedos, or a suit. Men and women wear it, which is quite unusual. This shoe has been worn by kids, older people, the younger crowd, hip-hop people, preppy people. It’s really got tremendous diversity and interest from people all over the world.”

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Footwear News

As Smith approaches his 75th birthday on Dec. 14, his legacy can be seen on feet young and old all over the world and should be for decades to come. Smith does wear shoes other than his own, and is fond of the blue suede shoes made famous by Elvis Presley 65 years ago, but will always have the greatest affinity for the ones that’s made him an all-time fashion icon.

“The classic white is pretty hard to beat,” Smith said.

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