With Pharrell's Help, Adidas Had Its Most Profitable Year Yet (And We Spoke to the Woman Behind It All)
In a year-end earnings report published on March 3 for Adidas, the sneaker company announced that their sales for 2015 increased by 12 percent, totaling a whopping 13.9 billion euro (roughly $15.32 billion) gross revenue, making this past year the company’s most profitable to date (2014 saw 12.2 billion euro in sales). Anyone with a remote interest in street-wear knows the Superstar -- a non-descript leather low-top staple made famous by Run-D.M.C. in the early 80s -- and the Stan Smith -- a similar iteration without the Superstar “shell” toe, named for legendary tennis player Stan Smith -- has made a massive comeback in recent years under the Adidas Originals Group. It's the ubiquitous must own-shoe for everyone from Gisele Bundchen (she posed nude wearing nothing but a pair of white ankle socks and green striped Stan Smiths for Vogue Paris) to twentysomethings with a penchant for norm-core and urban athletic wear.
But what’s lesser known is that sales of the Superstar and Stan Smith styles grew 45 percent this past year, selling over 15 million pairs worldwide. As Business of Fashion reported, that means sales of the iconic sneaker contributed $1 to every $10 the company raked in. That spike is, in part, thanks to the ingenious collaboration between fashion influencer Pharrell Williams and the brand, which debuted last March. Billboard spoke to Rachel Muscat, Global Category Director, Statement Collaborations at Adidas, about “Supercolors”, Pharrell’s ultra-saturated iteration of the Superstar in 50 hand-picked PANTONE colors (all of which, Muscat says, sold out in about a weekend) on why the line was such a success, how involved the musical icon was in the process and what’s next for the partnership the consumers can’t get enough of.
How did this partnership start?
Pharrell is very similar to our brand. He's very authentic in what he does and what he represents. January 2014 was our first meeting with him where we went through our archives, and he was really acknowledging some of the footwear from our past. He remembered how people had a huge connection to the Superstar from back in the day, which was great. So a few weeks later over lunch, we’re talking about ideas and he just says, “what about 50 colors of the Superstar?” And within the next 6 months we fleshed that out.
How involved was Pharrell in the collaboration process?
Whenever we partner with someone, we’re looking for originality and new ideas. And one of the best moments we’ve ever had with Pharrell was making the Supercolor. When he told us his idea, my first thought was “what does it mean to bring something like this to life?” So we gave him a PANTONE color book. And over the weekend, while he was on tour, he built a circle of color chips that would then come to life via our sampling process. Three months later, with a suitcase full of shoes, we went to meet him backstage while he was on tour at his show in Dusseldorf, Germany. That’s where the initial picture, which was our most tweeted image of the year, came from--Pharrell sitting in a circle surrounded by the Superstars, pulling together the shoes to recreate the PANTONE colors he chose.
What’s proven to be the biggest challenge?
When you’re presented with an idea like that, it's not just about creating the product. You’re thinking about so many things: how do we display them? How many boxes can I fit in a store’s back stock and still sell all the colors? And we also gave ourselves a very tight deadline—from the moment that picture was published, we had about 6 months to bring it to market. So it was really about trying different things and pushing the boundaries. We had never done anything like this before, and that’s what was so exciting about it.
Why do you think the collection was so successful?
This project just really blew everyone away. Pharrell is all about individuality and wanting everyone to be themselves, and I think that’s what made Supercolor so special and successful. You’re signing up for something original, different and fun. Lots of people could be part of this thanks to the price point [around $100] and you didn't have to look like your friends. You could choose whatever color you wanted. When there's a special moment, everyone wants a piece of it.
Were you shocked by how quickly they sold out?
Yeah, we expected them to last a little bit longer. Literally within a weekend everything sold out. It was really exciting that the consumers just wanted the product straight away, but that also meant a lot of us at Adidas missed out on colors we wanted (laughs). I only ended up with one color actually…
How do Kanye's Yeezy Boost's fit in with Pharrell's collections?
What we do with Kanye [West] is very different from what we do with Pharrell. We create based on what they believe is next in the industry, and both have very different and unique ideas. But what we're see happening in sneaker culture right now is just so exciting; there's so much anticipation for the next release.
So what’s next for Adidas and Pharrell?
We have some very exciting stuff coming out in May. I can’t tell you much more that that now, but we've been working on it with Pharrell for the last 6 to 12 months. New concepts, new ideas. That’s what’s so great about collaborating with Pharrell—he’s always looking towards the future.