Under The Influence: inside the Mind of Joe Foster


Whether you understand of his name or not, Joe Foster has affected every single sneakerhead in one way or another. An absolute OG in the industry, he as well as his sibling Jeff started Reebok back in 1958 with the concept of creating the best running shoes ever made. The result? A business that’s now known across the globe with a story that will be told to numerous for generations to come.

As part of our latest “Under The Influence” segment, we sat down with Joe Foster himself to talk about exactly how a small British business totally dominated the world, the brand’s humble beginnings, as well as his latest book Shoemaker that launches on October 1st!

Image via Joe Foster
How did you get started in the footwear business?

It was in the ‘blood’. I was born on my grandfather’s birthday on 18th may 1935, some 18 months after he died. Credited with inventing the spiked running shoe in 1895, my grandfather likewise made these running shoes for all three 1920s athletes in the film Chariots of Fire.

Who came up with starting Reebok?

My grandfather founded J.W. Foster as well as Sons in 1900, as requests for his spiked running pumps turned his small cobblers company into that of a world-famous sports shoe maker. My dad James (Jim) as well as Uncle John (Bill) took over the business, with my sibling Jeff joining the household firm in 1948, as well as myself in 1952.

However, both Jeff as well as I were conscripted to do national service in 1953, returning to Fosters two years later only to discover a company that was in stagnation as we discovered that Jim as well as Bill’s connection had descended into feuding. nothing Jeff as well as I attempted might heal this rift, prompting the requirement to leave Fosters as well as set up our own company.

Maybe we had learned from our dad as well as uncle, however Jeff as well as I worked together for numerous years until Jeff’s early death in 1980 without any type of serious disagreement.

Image via Reebok
What does the word “Reebok” mean?

Reebok is a small South African Gazelle – a name I discovered in a dictionary that I won in an 80 yards sprint race in 1943. However, the reason I was leafing through my dictionary was brought about when, on the guidance of our accountant, I sought to register the name Mercury.

After starting up with this name, we rapidly discovered out that it was already registered as a trademark of Lotus & Delta, a British shoe company company. We were offered the name for £1,000, which back in 1960 was beyond the pocket of our small two-man business

Looking back at Reebok’s rich history, is there a single moment that you’re most happy of?

For 10 years, I had been trying to break into the American sports shoe market by attending the national sports goods of America. I needed a distributor, as well as after six failed attempts I met Paul fireman at the 1979 NSGA show.

Since my very first visit to America in 1968, the growth of running in the us had been massive, fuelled by Runners world magazine as well as the growth of Nike. Every year, Runner’s world would publish their score results of the latest offerings from sports shoe manufacturers. all of them were either American based or were huge sufficient to have distribution. We didn’t, however I had designed the Aztec, a road training shoe as part of “The Gold Range” for the 1978 commonwealth games in Canada with 1979 Runner’s world ratings in mind.

Paul Fireman, who with his sibling as well as brother-in-law, was the CEO of a small camping distribution company located in Boston as well as he was interested, however before committing, he needed Reebok to get a 5 star score from Runner’s World. This would provide him instant gain access to to the market.

After a period of time, the Aztec achieved the 5 star rating, along with our other two shoes, the Midas, a road racing shoe, as well as the Inca, our track spike. With three 5 star shoes, we achieved that breakthrough to the us market. Although there were numerous previous as well as publish achievements to be happy of, this was my proudest moment.

Image via Reebok
As one of the only major British footwear brands did you ever have any type of doubts on whether you’d be able to break into other countries?

The us market is the biggest as well as most influential market globally. Previous to the us achievement, Reebok had small distributions in Canada as well as other commonwealth countries, plus Belgium as well as France. however the us was the essential to our worldwide expansion

Reebok have always placed women at the forefront, what does it imply to be the very first in the market to celebrate female role models?

This was an amazing accomplishment for which Angel Martinez should be credited. Angel was a tech rep for Reebok in California as well as became intrigued with the new aerobic classes his wife Frankie was attending with her girlfriends.

He decided to join her to check out what was going on as well as to experience the feeling of exercise as well as music. At the time, the girls loved it as well as Angel might see this was practically exclusively attracting women. He likewise observed that the class were wearing a blend of footwear as well as even some took part in bare feet. Angel imagined a white glove leather shoe with a cushioned rubber sole, giving birth to the Freestyle silhouette.

Image via Joe Foster
If you had to choose, what are your three favourite Reebok models, as well as why?

My option starts with the Aztec, which brought us entry into the us market as well as introduced the Roadstar sole, which I designed in 1978 as well as is still the iconic option for Reebok Classics.

Next has to be the world Ten, a special lightweight road racing shoe. built at first for Ron Hill, he not only wore it breaking the world ten mile record, however likewise won the Boston Marathon in record time with these on his feet.

Thirdly, it has to be the Freestyle, which uniquely became the woman’s sports shoe as well as propelled Reebok to ended up being the number one sports brand.

Your book Shoemaker is lastly releasing on October 1st! Can you tell us a little bit about it?

My book Shoemaker tells you about my household history in the advancement of sports footwear through the successes as well as failures of the J.W. Foster as well as Sons business. From my early years growing up as well as the numerous experiences throughout the start-up of Mercury as well as Reebok in 1958, to my retirement in 1989, it takes you through the numerous problems that we faced, as well as my own personal challenges too.

How have you been keeping hectic over quarantine?

Apart from the numerous inconveniences that we are all experiencing, my wife as well as I have been fortunate in being able to spend a few months in a very peaceful part of France. This allowed us the chance to work with my Literary agent A M Heath as well as the publisher of my book Simon & Schuster to prepare for its release on October 1st. I am now back in the UK at the end of my quarantine as well as preparing to get a volume of books for distributing to the numerous people wishing for a signed copy.

Image via Reebok
Do you have any type of guidance for anybody hoping to start up their own sneaker brand?

It’s challenging to provide guidance since of the time difference between when Jeff as well as I made our decision to leave the household company as well as today. We had experience of producing as well as understanding of sourcing materials. Now, technology is different as well as very expensive, however I assumption owning a sneaker brand is different from making sneakers.

To be successful, however, you requirement to be able to offer something different. This may be a brand new material, which was the situation for the Aztec with EVA. At the time, EVA was a new material that was not made from rubber, implying it was very light. style is likewise very essential as your shoe needs to look attractive.

With that said, influence is most likely much more essential than either of the above, as well as to have this might expense you a great deal of money depending on the type of influence. This can be team or private sponsorship, advertising, or being part of a new sport or physical fitness trend similar to the aerobics phenomena that I mentioned before.

Finance in our early days was a element to being successful. It can purchase the technology, pay for the influence, as well as fund volume production as well as start-up costs.

A company plan is necessary to get finance, since at some time, unless you have very deep pockets, you will requirement funding. however as with most company plans you should be prepared to modification it if it goes off course. The benefit of this is it allows you to concern what was wrong with the original plan.

Anything else that you’d like to add?

With the launch of Shoemaker during the pandemic, it takes away the chance of doing book signings in bookshops. I have signed plates, which will be offered to stick in a book bought in a bookshop, however the only way to acquire a personalised signed book that includes an additional gift, a replica 1920s letterhead from J.W. Foster as well as Sons, is to purchase the book here!

Image via Reebok

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