ASICS History Case Study

ASICS History Case Study

ASICS is a Japanese multinational corporation that produces sports equipment for a wide range of sports. ASICS is popularly known for producing running shoes. The company also produces and markets footwear and clothing accessories for basketball, volleyball, and wrestling. ASICS is a world-leading manufacturer of top-performance footwear, competing with the likes of Adidas. This article will judiciously explore ASICS history, shedding light on how ASICS became a leading sports footwear manufacturer.

The Beginning of ASICS History

The Company’s Mission

In 1945, Mr. Kihachiro Onitsuka returned from war. Soon after Onitsuka returned, he was motivated by the use of sports to rehabilitate juveniles after the trauma of the second world war and decided to create sports shoes. Mr. Onitsuka wanted to create sports shoes not because he had an experience of any sort in making sports shoes. Rather, it was so that he could boost the spirit of youths and young ones through sports. Onitsuka Co., Ltd. was built based on this philosophy. Onitsuka Co., Ltd., now known as ASICS, is still based on this philosophy, as reflected by the name.

An Inspiration

Although Mr. Onitsuka had no experience creating shoes, let alone sports shoes, he enthusiastically dived into deep research. One fateful day, Mr. Onitsuka was inspired by an octopus on his dinner table. He had an “aha” moment that inspired the design of his basketball shoe soles. The suction cups of an octopus in his salad inspired the development of the suction cup basketball shoes, which greatly improved players’ starting and stopping performance.

The Company’s First Shoe

In 1950, the company made its first sports athletic shoe, a basketball shoe. Those days, basketball shoes were considered the most difficult athletic shoes to manufacture. However, MOnitsuka was confident that if he overcame that big hurdle at the start, he would be able to overcome other hurdles as the company progressed.

After making prototypes of his first basketball shoes, he gave them to players at one of the leading basketball powerhouses at the time. He got feedback as he repeatedly tested and refined the shoes to enhance the performance of the athletes. In the spring of 1950, he released the first model of basketball shoes. This first shoe was nicknamed “Banshu,”  which featured a tiger face on the sole. This tiger face became the company’s logo.

The Use of Vulcanised Rubber Soles In ASICS History

Onitsuka’s First Marathon Shoes

In 1951, the company introduced its first volleyball shoes with vulcanized rubber soles. In 1953, the company released the Onitsuka Tiger Marathon Tabi, based on the traditional indoor “tabi” footwear generally worn at sports meetings in Japan, using the same vulcanized rubber sole innovation. The Marathon Tabi was equipped with features required for marathon running. The shoe had vulcanized rubber soles and uppers made of vinylon, a synthetic fiber that is three times stronger than cotton, and a hanging band along with the fiber. A band also along the side of the shoe helped support the arch.

Still, in 1953, the company released the Marup shoe, specifically designed for Marathon relay races. The “Marup” stands for Marathon Up. This shoe was designed to aid speed and endurance, a requirement for marathon relay races, and reduce fatigue in long-distance runs. The shoe upper was also made from vinylon, and the shoe’s heel prevented sweating in the feet. In 1954, the “After Boot” was introduced, which was water-resistant and the first to use lightweight nylon in its making.

Onitsuka’s first Wrestling shoe

In 1955, the company released a new type of shoe, which used nylon in the upper. The material eyelets were placed on the inside to prevent injuries during competitions. The shoe featured ventilation holes in the toe area and a rolled sole design that offers superior traction and slips prevention while providing durability. This shoe is the archetype of the modern wrestling shoe.

Onitsuka Tiger Rubber Sponge Shoe

In 1956, the company made the rubber sponge shoe, the first shoe to adopt the synthetic rubber sponge sole material that maintains elasticity while preventing the sole from absorbing water. Compared with the rubber-soled shoes of the time, it was dramatically lighter, had enhanced shock absorption, featured high-quality leather over the entire surface, and a rubber sponge (a lightweight material with outstanding cushioning and durability) added under the shoe tongue to cushion the feet along the upper. The shoe was designed to protect the muscles during sprinting and jumping. 

The First Blister-Free Shoe in ASICS History

The company introduced the Magic Runner shoes in 1960, which featured many innovations. At the time, marathon runners were expected to develop blisters due to the frictional heat generated by the impact of the foot on the ground. Water-filled soles were experimented with to cool the heat but were declared a failure due to the resulting heavy shoes and soggy feet. Inspired by an air vent, the Magic Runner shoes had an air vent system that circulated air in the shoe. The shoe had holes at the sides and toes, making it possible to pump out heat when the athletes’ foot hits the ground using the Bellows principle. This approach succeeded in keeping blisters at a minimum. The shoe attracted Japanese marathoner Kenji Kimihara who ran barefoot to avoid the corns he saw on other athletes ‘ feet. Running with the Magic Runner shoes, Kenji Kimihara won a silver medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, which attracted a lot of attention.

Olympic prominence in ASICS History

The Run Spark Line

In the 1960s, the company started a new line of shoes for soccer and introduced it into the elementary school curriculum. Results from a market survey in 1966 revealed that about two-thirds of the Boston marathon athletes wore Onitsuka shoes. Also, in 1966, ASICS introduced the “Run Spark” line. The shoes were later made to have interchangeable spikes of different lengths and sizes, which allowed runners to modify the spikes based on track conditions and for specific events increasing the shoe’s usefulness and durability.

The company’s products became more famous at the Olympics and world-class events. Japanese and foreign athletes wore Onitsuka shoes and won silver and bronze medals in the 1974 Tokyo Olympics. 

The Olympic line

After years of gathering tips, suggestions, and feedback from Olympic players, Onitsuka launched its “Olympic line.” In 1966, a show from the Olympic line, the Mexico 66 model, was the first to bear the ASICS trademark of two vertical lines intersecting a pair of lines emanating from the heel of the shoe. These lines were said to provide reinforcement as well as decoration.

The following year, ASICS had an unexpected new audience. A version of their shoes, the blue nylon “Marup Nylon S.P.” became very popular with Japanese youths after its earlier introduction in 1949. The shoes became unofficial school footwear and sold over 400,000 pairs.

In 1969, the company introduced the Corsair line of jogging shoes. One of Nike’s first products, called “Cortes,” was a derivative of this shoe. 

Testing Overseas Markets

In the early 1970s, “Bomber,” a reasonably priced shoe for soccer, took off due to the increasing popularity of soccer in Japan. The company decided to dip its toes into foreign markets, opening a U.S. subsidiary in Irvine, California, in 1973. Two years later, another subsidiary was opened in Dusseldorf, West Germany. In 1974, Onitsuka Co., Ltd. broke ground again when the company introduced “The Tiger Paw DS -5700,” the first shoe designed for new all-weather, synthetic surface tracks, which ASICS newly introduced in the 1970s. ASICS was an early user of ethylene-vinyl acetate when it was used in its Limber up XL trainers, which were introduced in 1975.

Formation of ASICS In ASICS History

The 1970s

ASICS was created when Onitsuka Co., Ltd. merged with fishing and sporting goods company GTO and athletic uniform maker JELENK in 1977. ASICS was an acronym for the Latin expression “Anima Sama in Corpore Sano,” meaning “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Onitsuka was made president of ASICS. 

In 1978, ASICS broke new ground with its “Rota series” of volleyball shoes which claimed to be the first shoe in which the outsole was designed to absorb shock. Soon after, ASICS released “California,” a descendant of the Corsair jogger, which had a reflective surface to alert drivers in low visibility. ASICS developed shoes for the Japanese Olympic team to wear in the Moscow Olympic games. The shoes were eventually not worn, but they became part of ASICS’ spring 2004 “Retro line-up.”

ASICS Experiences a Rise In Profits

Early into the 1980s, ASICS was already exporting to 80 countries. ASICS aimed to mitigate exchange rate fluctuations and import restrictions, so the company licensed the production of its products overseas in the U.S., Israel, Greek, and Australia. ASICS sales units in the U.S. and West Germany initially had problems breaking into the market due to strong competitors and a lack of effective salespeople. These two subsidiaries lost $5.1 million (¥1.2 billion). ASICS made some marketing changes and a marketing arrangement with Second Sole Co. during the lead-up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics games. The company’s profits rose 19 percent to ¥73 billion in 1981/82, while pretax profits doubled to ¥6 billion. U.S. sales alone were about $30 million.

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In 1984, ASICS arranged with Cambuci, S.A, which began manufacturing and selling ASICS’ brand shoes in Brazil. ASICS also began opening subsidiaries in South Korea and Taiwan. In 1988, ASICS began to produce wrestling shoes in China after being licensed. In 1990, due to rising labor costs in South Korea, ASICS shifted its production to Indonesia. In 1985, ASICS introduced an upgraded version of the Task XL-1, which had an outsole of a studded “Cactus Plate” reinforced with “Whisker” crystallized fiber material.

Series of Continuous Innovation and Growth in ASICS History

In 1987, Asks released the freaks jogging shoes and the Fable Radick basketball shoe. These shoes both contained shock-absorbing gels, which allowed for lighter shoes than those cushioned by EVA sponge. This innovation made ASICS shoes a favorite among competitive runners. 

In 1987, ASICS started building a sports engineering lab in Kobe, costing ¥4 billion ($27 million). This same year, ASICS Corporation became the Japanese agent for French ski manufacturer Dynamics S.A. Meanwhile, ASICS had already been marketing brand skis in Japan since 1979.

During the late 1980s, ASICS began to pay attention to fashion instead of performance only. In 1988, the company introduced a new line of women’s sneakers and was in charge of distribution for L.A. Gear Sneakers in Japan in 1990.

By the 1980s, ASICS international sales had grown to almost $110 million in 1989. As ASICS improved its marketing and sales performance in the V.S., ASICS experienced growth exceeding 20 percent a year for the next five years.

ASICS Experiences Losses

First Loss Ever in ASICS History

ASICS recapitalized its subsidiaries in the U.S., west Germany, and Australia. ASICS Corp posted its first net loss (¥1.13 billion) since its founding in the fiscal year that ended in January 1991. ASICS had to close a Taiwan subsidiary. However, ASICS Corp became the official shoe supplier for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Using a proprietary blend of synthetic leather and urethane, ASICS created the “Marathon sortie EX,” which allowed for lighter soles. This shoe was exclusively for professional athletes in 1990. The following year, a consumer version with thicker missiles, the TARTHER 195a, was introduced.

ASICS First Dress Shoe

ASICS soon made a unique, lightweight dress shoe with resistance soles. This shoe was worn by the president of ASICS and was targeted at Japanese executives. They sold for up to ¥46,000 ($350) a pair. By the mid-1990s, ASICS introduced a scandal inspired by a medieval Japanese design.

In 1994/1995, ASICS sales fell 9% to ¥94.62 billion, producing a loss of ¥1.13 billion. By this time, ASICS’ unit in the U.S. had sales averaging about $250 million a year. In the late 1990s, ASICS extended its brand to a series of walking shoes, capitalizing on the trend of walking as a form of physical fitness. Remaining committed to competitive track and field sports, ASICS developed a new shoe for the ultra-competitive field of sprinting. “The Tiger Paw Cyberzero” was introduced in 1996 and had a molded heel protector and strap for support and fit.

2000 and Beyond In ASICS History

The G.D. Shoes

In 1999 and 2000, ASICS introduced new sports shoes for young children. The first shoe was named “SUKU 2” with straps instead of laces and offered plenty of toe room. The second shoe was named the G.D. series, named after Glenn Doman, an American Physician who had studied the effect of exercise on the development of brains. The G.D. shoes were designed to simulate the feeling of being barefoot, with extraordinary cushioning, flexibility, and breathability.

The 2000 Olympics and After

During the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney, Naoko Takahashi won the women’s marathon. The shoes were custom-made and specifically designed. They were customized just for her by Hiroshi Miura, ASICS’ master Craftsman who joined the company in 1967. This occurrence represented another special advertisement for the company.

By early 2001, ASICS got revenue of ¥200 million from Southeast Asia. Seeing the potential, ASICS decided to and focused on doubling that figure by 2008, as it built three sales networks focusing on South Korea, China, and the rest of the region. By the end of the fiscal year on March 31, 2002, Asks revenues topped ¥128.9 billion ($969 million). During the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt lake city, ASICS and its subsidiaries supplied outwear for Japanese, Dutch, and Italian teams.

Final Thoughts

ASICS possesses a rich history. The company is propelled by innovation, focused on providing the best shoes that athletes can have. Until this day, ASICS is still a top manufacturer of sports footwear. This article covers ASICS’ history in-depth.

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