The relationship between Adidas and Jamaican culture both precedes and succeeds that of Bob Marley’s unofficial endorsement of the Copa Mundial boots that were impossible to separate him from. The deep rooted connections between the Jamaican diaspora and the German sportswear brand are now being explored through the lens of fashion, unearthing stories and providing inspiration for the likes of rising designers such as Grace Wales Bonner; whilst also raising questions as to whether rich heritage is being appropriated for commercial gain.
While the Adidas Samba was originally created to allow footballers to train on icy and hard surfaces, the rise in popularity of Futsal and five-aside led to the silhouette being adopted by many thanks to its quality and ability to wear it as part of an everyday fit. For this reason the shoe has clout amongst the Jamaican diaspora, something that has been explored in Wales Bonner’s collaboration with Adidas for SS21. As put by GQ, ‘the Adidas Samba is having a serious moment’.
With heritage in mind, Adidas teamed up with Chronixx in 2017 to deliver a collection of military jackets, tracksuits, knitted shirts and of course 3 stripe trainers. Launched for spring/summer, the collection titled SPEZIAL explored the parallels between Jamaican reggae and British casual culture. Whilst the two niches initially seem diametrically opposed, love and passion for music, fashion and football link them both in ways not immediately apparent. In an interview with GQ Chronic spoke of the connection between the two, saying: “The more modern British fashion, art and culture is very impacted by Jamaica and Jamaican music and vice-versa. Adidas has always been a part of that connection throughout the last few decades. I also think the football is at the centre of what British casual culture and Jamaican casual culture have in common. Analysing the Jamaica football federation wouldn't give you the true picture of how popular and loved the sport is in Jamaica.”
South London born Grace Wales Bonner is a rising star in the fashion industry with Anna Wintour having named her as a designer to watch in 2019. Labelled a cultural polymath by Adidas, Bonner is keen to promote her Jamaican heritage through work that is steeped in inspiration and research spanning critical theory, literature and history. Building off the success of the collaboration with Chronixx, Adidas has teamed up with Bonner twice to deliver soulful and nostalgic collections that take strong cues from London’s Jamaican community in the seventies. For FW20 Bonner spotlighted Caribbean youth culture in London, playing on the popularity of silhouettes such as the Samba and SL72 as well as re-imaging the iconic tracksuits made famous by Bob Marley. The most popular item (the yellow football shirt) made its way into the hands of those interested in both streetwear and football, being worn by the likes of Serge Gnabry. SS21 took similar cues, exploring the origins of Dancehall with tracksuits and the famous Nizza sneaker, popular with festival goers at Notting Hill.
Perhaps Adidas’ most famous cultural reference point amongst the Jamaican diaspora comes in the form of Bob Marley, with the artist even rumoured to have favoured the brand because its name reminded him of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
The Reggae legend was often spotted with a pair of Copa Mundial boots, always taking them with him wherever he went should there be a spare half hour to play football. Marley’s love of the game also influenced his style, opting to wear iconic cotton tracksuits, tucked into his socks and football jerseys such as Brazil’s and Jamaica’s. In his interview with GQ, Chronixx spoke on Marley’s style: “Bob's style, I think was a direct reflection of his lifestyle and what worked for him as an active musician, Rastafari, football player, traveling man. Many people will dress that way only because it looks cool, but for a Rasta man it's more what works, what is suitable for my lifestyle”. So much so was his love for football that Bob Marley chose former Jamaican international Allan Cole as his tour manager, having received co-writing credits on the 1976 track “War”.
After his death Marley’s relationship with Adidas lived on and though he never officially signed an endorsement deal with them, the artist featured in an advert for the 1998 World Cup featuring clips of him playing football and ending with the message “Enjoy the World Cup, Bob”. It was a touching tribute and a fitting nod to a legend that inspired a whole new generation to wear Adidas in their own way.
The relationship between Adidas and Jamaican culture is no doubt strong. Yet until very recently, one could argue it has been one dimensional. A relationship in which Adidas profited heavily of the influential power of Jamaican culture and heritage. Adidas has aimed to put the culture front and centre by working with the likes of Chronixx and Wales Bonner, some feel that ownership of their cultural reference points are being diluted by Western brands capitalising on cool trends. For Jamaicans, the way they dress, the music they listen to is not a trend but rather a way of life; with Prof. Donna Hope of the University of the West Indies arguing: “One of the challenges we are having is that these companies from outside Jamaica, have been allowed to come to Jamaica and use Jamaica’s cultural artefacts to either market their products or create new products and reap profits for their shareholders”.