ASICS are a brand that has been quietly building steam over the past two years, so you might be finding yourself looking at a pair of sneakers from the brand and wondering where to start. We’ve taken the time to pull together everything you need to know. 

When ASICS started in the late 1940’s, it operated under the name ONITSUKA Co., named for the founder Mr. Kihachiro Onitsuka. Starting with two employees and a small amount of capital, the brand would release their first sneaker style a year later, a basketball shoe. Thought at the time to be the trickiest sport to engineer a performance sneaker for, the brand believed if they could jump this hurdle with their initial release, then any future hurdles would seem just as achievable. 

ONITSUKA Co.’s first basketball sneaker took inspiration from an unexpected source — the suction cups of an octopus’ tentacles. The story goes that Kihachiro Onitsuka had a moment of realisation while eating octopus at dinner, and began work on deepening the treads on the sole of the shoe to create more stopping power and give the wearer an athletic edge on the court. 

Over the course of the 1950’s, ONITSUKA Co. would make forays into a number of sports, producing styles for marathon runners, golfing and mountaineering alongside their continued basketball shoe offering. The brand made moves in their material uses too, pioneering the use of nylon for footwear for the first time in 1954, and a year later the innovation of the lightweight, breathable yet durable fabric was used to create the first pair of shoes designed for wrestling. Small design changes such as not having outward facing metal eyelets to reduce risk of injury and additional ventilation holes on the forefoot and toe box of the shoe have now become the template that wrestling shoes follow and the form factor of ONITSUKA Co.’s initial style is still recognisable today. 

From the mid 1950’s to the 1960’s, the brand made continued efforts to push the innovation and hurdle jumping that had been the foundation Kihachiro had built upon. In 1956 they were the first brand to adopt a cushioning synthetic rubber sole into their footwear, which was significantly lighter and more shock absorbent than standard rubber soles found on competitor options at the time. 1966 saw ONITSUKA utilise synthetic leather uppers in an athletic shoe for the first time, with their Clarino shoe. That same year, the design motifs we’d recognise on ASICS styles today were beginning to appear. Contrasting colourful stripes on the lateral sides of the sneakers known as the ‘Mexico lines’ were introduced as part of an internal design competition, but the design stuck, and ONITSUKA had found its equivalent to Nike’s swoosh or adidas three stripes. 

It wasn’t until a three-way merger in the late ‘70s after over two decades of innovation and success that ASICS would be born. ONITSUKA Co., GTO Co. and JELENK Co. joined together under the establishing philosophy of ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ a segment of a translated Roman phrase “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano”, initialised to form ASICS. 

As was the case with New Balance and adidas’ late ‘70s releases, ASICS was quick to jump onto the jogging craze that was sweeping across the USA and much of the world. Releasing their first styles, the Montreal II and Enduro (a cross country running shoe), ASICS began establishing themselves as notable name in the emerging consumer running market. They became known for their comfortable running shoes that implemented many of the innovations the brand had been working on since the ‘50s such as anti-blister motorcycle-engine inspired ventilation first found in the revolutionary 1960 style the Magic Runner, which had become a long running favourite among marathon runners.

After formally establishing themselves as a business in the US under the ASICS Tiger Corporation (stationed down the coast in California, making them state neighbours with Nike), ASICS would continue to focus on pioneering innovation in the athletic footwear industry. Not neccessarily as concerned with creating flashy designs to grab the attention of a growing casual sneaker marker, ASICS doubled down on attempting to offer the best running shoes available, with styles like the ultra-light, Marathon (the first ASICS running shoe in the Sortie line that still produces the marathon-focussed sneakers) being released in 1980, and followed by the X-Caliber GT in 1982. This sneaker focussed on addressing specific requirements of runners who suffered from over-pronation (a running style that meant your feet would flare outwards, causing undue stress on muscles and easier injury). The X-Caliber featured a stabilising pillar to counteract the over-pronation along with structural improvement to increase the tightening of laces, improved cushioning, and flexibility to aid in improving running gait.

ASICS success among professional athletes and sports enthusiasts, thanks to their consistent focus on performance improvements over stylistic decisions, meant that from a culture standpoint, they never gained the public notoriety that brands like Nike, adidas and New Balance had been garnering over the ‘80s and ‘90s. It wasn’t until the beginning of the GEL line that ASICS really began to see more casual adoption of their sneakers outside of sports.

With the millennium on the horizon, ASICS designer Toshikazu Kayano developed his namesake the GEL-Kayano, a sneaker designed to be worn over long distances without any reduction in comfort. The design was chunky and bold, with striking black and white contrasting panels on the upper and bold teal and purple Mexico lines running across it. Not only was the style a further chapter in ASICS innovation, but it coincided with wider sneaker styles trending toward the aesthetic we now see as definitively Y2K, allowing ASICS to hit their stride with a more casual audience too as the innovation found in the GEL-Kayano meant that it was a perfect every day sneaker style.

The GEL series would go on to produce signature styles like the GEL-Burst, a basketball shoe that was aimed a younger, high-school aged consumer, resulting in bold, daring design choices and statement material use like a bright blue mesh running throughout the shoe.

The GEL-Nimbus released in 1999 and featured a built-up midsole, and an increased shoe width. Taking its name from a cloud formation was done with the aim of conveying the shoes lightness and comfort. Despite being a departure from ASICS previous offering in terms of form factor, the GEL-Nimbus has become a long running favourite and one of the brands best selling styles.

In the early 2000’s, ASICS would re-issue the ONITSUKA Tiger brand, and styles of low top sneakers such as the Mexico 66, which would feature prominently the following year in cult classic film, Kill Bill Vol 1. and almost 20 years later become a trending style that took over social media thanks to the sneakers relative affordability and similarity to other popular styles like the adidas Samba.

In terms of nailing the perfect fit with ASICS advice is generally you’ll find the brand as slightly smaller, with certain models being more optimal for narrower feet, such as the GEL-Lyte III, which has a narrower toe box. We’d recommend sizing up if you’re not on the narrow end of things. For flagship styles like the GEL-Kayano and GEL-Nimbus, the footbed is usually a bit wider, but this will only mean you can confidently buy your true shoe size.

ASICS find themselves now in a position of occupying both a continued strong position in the performance footwear world, but also a commanding presence in the fashion too. Aided by lightning in a bottle collaborations and partnerships with new generation designers like Kiko Kostadinov, who maintains a close role within the company. Despite not releasing collaborations under his eponymous brand after years of successful, much sought-after pairs, Kostadinov’s fingerprints are still very present in ASICS recent releases, which gear towards a crowd of consumers who may have only found the brand after the Bulgarian designers partnership had started. Bold and bright colourways, statement silhouettes and eye catching design details like contrasting metallic material use are now all hallmark features of ASICS releases.

Continuing to release styles like the GEL-Kayano 14 allows the brand to maintain the following of the legacy that was started in the 1950’s, but ASICS haven’t ever been one to rest on the successes of the past. Newer models like the GEL-Quantum, with the large cushioning sole and sleek, single piece upper, show that the innovation ASICS have been known for isn’t going anywhere. Keep the hurdles coming.