Ever since I saw the light through an air bubble, there has only ever been one sneaker brand, but the end of the 80s saw an endless slew of wannabe competitors and imitators.
In the late 80s and early 90s sneakers were a boom business. The latter part of the 80s saw the rise of the high-top, mainly due to to the popularity of basketball amongst hip-hop fans in the US and the fact they were so expensive only made them more desirable. This was a time when pricey sneaks were still unusual enough to be worth flaunting. Later, the thrash metal guys wore them, widening the fan base. The break out of dance music saw the running shoe get its own no expense spared makeover—high-tops were no good for raving. Nike turned a lot of people onto super-expensive sneakers and a lot of brands jumped on the bandwagon. The following are some of the lamest.
I distinctly remember owning and hating a black pair of MItre soccer shoes, same as the ones above, but with yellow and sky blue accents. Of course, I'd been mentally weighing up a pair of Nikes, but my old man would just arrive home one day and unannounced hand me a new pair. I would complain, but what could I do, I was like, 9. I mean, this is like wanting a glass of Cristal and being handed the glass from 2 Girls 1 Cup, right?
As with the Mitres above, these followed the same rules - they were black, footballers wore them, but they were not leather. The fact they weren't leather was a useful ruse, I would go out in the rain and kick the shit out of anything that would age them quick enough. I remember big pieces of the Quasars I owned just breaking right off when I did that. Why legendary striker Gary Lineker endorsed these is beyond my comprehension. I think this was my penultimate pair of soccer shoes, I maybe had some Lottos afterwards, but I like Lotto so they don't make the list, sorry.
I actually only remember these from working sneaker shops in the 2000s, when they enjoyed a brief, but thankfully unsuccessful reissuing. They were massive for a short time in the 80s though and LL Cool J was a big fan. Hell, he even designed his own line of shoes and apparel for the firm. At some point, a vicious rumor spread that Troop was owned by the KKK and that Troop was an acronym for To Rule Over Oppressed People and if you tore out the insole or the lining of one of their jackets racist remarks were revealed. Of course, like the Marlboro KKK myth and the Snapple slave ship one too, it was total bollocks as the company was owned by two Jewish men and a Korean guy. This didn't stop Cool James going on Oprah and desecrating his Troop jacket. They went bankrupt shortly after. They perhaps started the trend of ripping off Nike's Air cushioning technology, although everybody was at it back then, so it's hard to be sure.
Another lame brand that saw a brief relaunch in the 2000s, in the form of the hideous monogrammed hunchback of the footwear world, above left. Can you believe they came in boom box print boxes too? By the time I was looking at kicks in the early 90s they had stopped making ugly-ass OTT high-tops and were copying the Nike running shoes of the time, notice any Air Huarache similarities to the shoe on the right? I remember a lot of skangers rocking these in Dublin. SPX is an acronym for Sport Performance eXtreme aka wack.
Travel Fox? Travel. Fox. Are you kidding me? What sort of a name for a shoe brand is that, exactly? They were basically another Troop or SPX, manufacturer of performance-looking high-tops yet they were never sported by any ballers, to my knowledge. Also, like the aforementioned Troop and SPX, these made a 'comeback' in the mid-00s. I still get goosebumps whenever I see a pair, echoes of "you have my number, half-past 42 please" come flooding back. Perhaps their popularity in the 90s was due to their slightly racy advertising.
British Knights. Another company whose Nike Air-mocking technology—the diamond-shaped Dymacel cushioning—was one of their main selling points. Well, that and MC Hammer who was their endorsee in the early 90s and Kurt Cobain, who was pictured rocking some of their high-tops in Nirvana's early days. Also, they were worn by the LA gang The Crips due to their BK branding—BK, to them, stood for Blood Killer—The Bloods being their rival gang. Speaking of branding, BK were akin to SPX, Troop, and Travel Fox in that they were way over-branded, featuring logos at every possible centimeter of space. Like all the fashion brands, they moved onto the skate shoe-inspired, colored suede upper, white soles and laces trend in the mid-90s and thankfully disappeared. Some NBA ballers—Derrick Coleman, for one—actually sported these on-court.
I actually had a pair of the ones on the left, which, I quite liked. They were the Regulator—LA Gear's answer to the Reebok's Pump—which had this insanely big tongue and also featured their own imaginatively titled Air System heel cushioning. I remember these came with three sets of color-coded laces - white, red and blue - and I had seen them laced up checkerboarded somewhere and actually managed to get my 11-year-old mind around replicating it. Kids would ask me to do it to theirs at school and people would stop me in the street when I wore them, ha ha. Then Primark ripped them off and EVERYBODY had them. I was gutted, so I blew them out quick by playing football in 'em - always the fest track to a new pair of kicks. I then decided to see what this mysterious Air System was, as it wasn't visible, so I cycled up the biggest hill I could find and rode down it with my heel dragging on the road to tear the heel apart. Guess what, there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Bastards. Michael Jackson had his own signature pair of LA Gears, right, which featured studs and stuff akin to his biker jackets of the time. The black one was really cool. They were actually right up there with Nike and Reebok, in terms of sales, in the early 90s.
I have seen a lot of people trying to claim 'old school' by rocking the Hi-Tec Squash shoe and also the Silver Shadow running. I really hate those shoes. They actually had a technology called ABC—Air Ball Concept. I remember being bought a pair of white, red, and blue Hi-Teks, high-tops. They weren't a pair of Air Command Force, but they'd do. The first time I played football in them they split from heel to toe.
When I was a kid Brooks made really lame football boots that, a bit like Quasar, had a really famous endorsee—Paul Gascoigne. Way aye man, everybody's cheeky Geordie, famous World Cup Italia 90 tear-shedder, and infamous wife-beating alcoholic Gazza wore these at the height of his career. Well, after Puma and before adidas, which he also wore. His boot was super-expensive - adidas World Cup and Puma King territory, at the time - but all their lower tier shoes and boots were the worst ever. Every brand hand their own Nike Air battling tech and Brooks equivalent was called HydroFlow. Beats me too. Another brand trying to best Nike at their game was Rykä, though I couldn't find a suitable picture. Reebok had Hexalite, E.R.S., Graphlite, and of course, the Pump, adidas had Torsion, and Cons React, but one of the most bizarre was Rykä's Nitrogen Technology. Rykä were a brand specially developed for women, but like most of the shoe brands to get big back then, they quickly faded into obscurity.
You ever heard the Raekwon track "Sneakers" where he names out all the kicks he had back when kicks were worth rocking? He actually mentions Etonics, who also had their own air-based technology, Stable Air. Fairly sure they were just a running shoe brand, but now they also make golf and bowling shoes, weirdly. When I checked up on Hi-Tec it seems they mainly make hiking boots now too. I guess because most of these late 80s early 90s brands started out when hi-tops and running shoes were popular and now aren't, they had to change their marketing strategies.