Following Kanye and adidas’ messy break-up, speculation surrounding the next steps for the sportswear giant has been circulating online, but could more of the same be the answer? 

After parting ways with Nike in 2013, Kanye began his journey with adidas in 2015 after an agreement that allowed the Chicago-born rapper full creative control over the partnership’s designs. Ye’s debut, the Yeezy Boost 750, sold out instantly and has been a sought-after sneaker for die-hard fans ever since. The high-top silhouette would begin a seven-year partnership ending in 2022, with the popular 350 models dominating his time at the brand. 

In the wake of Kanye West’s antisemitic remarks that led to the end of his Yeezy line, it has been reported adidas is at risk of making losses of 700 million Euros, the first decline in profits of its kind in 31 years. Naturally, these projected losses have caused a stir and prompted many to wonder how the brand will recover. 

Kanye West. Credit Tyler Kurtis (CC)

In a recent press conference, adidas CEO Bjørn Gulden, known for his nine-year sales turnaround at Puma, set out his ambitions to do the same in his new position. Following many successful collaborations with heritage icons, the brand appears to be looking to its archive. According to Business Insider, we should “look for the Samba, look for the Gazelle, and ironically also the Spezial”. These silhouettes were predicted to sell millions of pairs and described as “the first test to see if we can manage, now, in the right way by keeping it alive”. 

First released in 1949, the adidas Samba is part of a trio of heavy hitters including the Superstar and Stan Smith. Brand founder Adi Dassler designed a traction-grabbing rubber sole to provide grip on Icy European football pitches. A year after the release, the World Cup took place in Brazil, ultimately awarding the shoe its name. While being chopped and changed into the widely appreciated low-profile sneaker known today, the Samba originally launched a mid-top sneaker. Thanks to its easy-wearing appeal, the Samba has danced from the feet of SoCal skaters to the football terraces of Europe, with a string of collaborations along the way. 

adidas Samba “Sporty & Rich”. Credit: Laced Studio

With a part to play in the Samba’s resurgence, could menswear be the way forward? Adidas collaborations with London-based designer Wales Bonner have sold out fast in the past,  demanding a high resale value. Bonner’s brand originally focused on menswear, with womenswear recently added to its roster. Fusing the past and present to inform nostalgia-driven designs, tailored tracksuits and intricate crochet knitwear are at the heart of the London-born brand. Drawing on ‘70s silhouettes alongside Bonner’s Jamaican heritage, the Samba seems like the perfect sneaker to reflect the breadth of influences in her collections. 

According to the 2020 press release for the first Wales Bonner adidas collection, the London-based designer drew on “literary and musical references with exceptional craftsmanship to produce a collection that explores 1970s subcultures”, bringing her “inimitable take on modern menswear” to the collaboration. The Samba serves as the canvas for Bonner’s detailed designs and the perfect cultural reference point for a menswear collection rooted in the complex history of the two nations.  

Grace Wales Bonner. Credit: Walterlan Papetti (CC)

The Three Stripes’ fashion appeal was further reflected in 2022 when they collaborated with Italian luxury giant Gucci, where another heritage icon was used; the Gazelle. The two brands have furthered their creative partnerships, announcing that a second collection is on the way with ‘a focus on footwear’, according to Highsnobiety

While adidas’ financial setback from the Yeezy fallout has undoubtedly impacted the brand, the success of its fashion-friendly silhouette, the humble Samba, meant it was featured as the only sneaker in the Lyst Index for Q3 of 2022, featuring items from Balenciaga and Miu Miu. If the German brand’s focus on its heritage sneakers is a test, as stated by Gulden, they appear to be model students. 

What is driving the demand for heritage, low-profile sneakers? The Samba and Gazelle have always been easy on the eye. However, whilst previously overshadowed by more technical silhouettes, they felt sidelined by all but die-hard fans. However, with the current trend of low-profile sneakers performing well on the market, the Samba has come into its own. Celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Kai Gerber have heavily influenced people’s buying habits, often pictured in the shoe. A long-time advocate of the silhouette Jonah Hill even released a signature colourway of the Samba in 2020, ahead of the trend. 

Unlike their peers, adidas’ heritage styles don’t need to try. Free of the technology seen in previous high-demand sneakers, the silhouette’s simplicity has edged it into the world of fashion. With collaborators including high fashion powerhouse Gucci, menswear favourite Wales Bonner, and wellness-focused Sporty and Rich, the shoe’s easy-wearing appeal is key to its success. Like all breakups, the way forward for the brand isn’t clear, and with rumours of adidas looking at ways to navigate the sale of unsold Yeezy stock, it appears to be the case here too.