Real or Fake?
Sometimes a shoe appears where its authenticity comes into question. One of my IG friends (Dasslers Finest) recently received a pair of adidas ‘Universal’ and this question came up. Actually it’s the second pair I’ve seen exactly the same, as another friend Nick Thompson also had a pair.
Let’s start by talking about fakes. Fakes have been around for a bit. I remember the Superstar 35th Anniversary collection was heavily bootlegged and since then there has been a steady stream of fakes coming from Asia, but never that many that have to really worry about buying them by accident. Vintage shoes haven’t been faked; - meaning that no-one (to my knowledge) has attempted to remake old shoes retrospectively. Of course back in the day lots of companies copied adidas and that’s because the copyright laws weren’t as strong as they are today, meaning that you could get shoes that looked like adidas models and had three stripes but they weren’t adidas. Nowadays these companies would probably be shut down immediately, but as I say, back then the legal framework was a bit more complicated when it came to trade marks. Still I wouldn’t call these shoes fakes as such, as they didn’t use the adidas name on the shoes. They had their own company logos on the shoes; all they were trying to do was cash in on the brands appeal. Certainly there were lots of really bad fake shoes made in the 90s and early 00’s largely from Asia and Turkey with laughable brand names like Adas and Abbas which you’d never mistake for the real stuff. And there is also evidence to suggest that bootlegs were produced in Russia from the late 90s onwards from the lasts taken from the former Mocba factory after the Russian adidas licence ended.
Airwair from the early 80s, cashing in on the 3 stripes
So why might these ‘Universal’ be fakes? Well the shoes are well made and certainly look the real deal. The ‘Universal’ was traditionally white with black stripes and in the 80s you could get white with green stripes. But adidas did actually make some ‘Universal’ with blue stripes, also with red stripes and navy with silver accents too, so no issues with the colourway. What the shoes are missing is branding. There is no trefoil or mention of adidas on the heel tab, tongue or the outsole which is very odd. The insole does say adidas on it and it has the code 33700 written on the ankle collar inside which is the actual article number for a ‘Universal’.
The sole of the 'Universal' without adidas branding.
So are they real or fake? Well actually I don’t know 100% but I feel they are legitimate or at least were made in an adidas factory and my guess is one of the former Yugoslavian countries.
About the ‘Universal’ - it’s an easy shoe to come by. If you go on Ebay and type vintage adidas in then the two shoes you are most likely to find are the ‘Rom’ and the ‘Universal’. That’s because adidas made millions of them and as sturdy leather trainers they have lasted the test of time more than others. ‘Universal’ were introduced in 1971 and were in continuous production until well into the 90s. They made them in West Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Taiwan (in the 80s) and Slovenia, Croatia, Poland and China (in the 90s). They even made them under licence in countries like Mexico, Canada, Russia and Portugal, which amounts to a whole lot of ‘Universal’ being made over time.
From the 1978 US catalogue. Few adidas models were produced in bigger numbers or for longer periods than the 'Universal'.
So back to Yugoslavia and my theory. Adidas started making shoes there in the late 60s. I say adidas, but actually adidas didn’t own the factory, they contracted the work out to a pre-existing shoe company called Plankia and originally based in Kranj (now in modern day Slovenia). The reason adidas produced shoes in Yugoslavia was because the labour costs were a lot lower than in Western Europe. This allowed adidas to offer shoes at competitive prices as well offer budget ranges. What started as a relatively small operation producing trainers and football boots expanded rapidly during the 1980s and saw factories dotted all over Yugoslavia producing track spikes, hiking boots, bags, hats and tracksuits. The interesting thing is despite the fact the shoes were made there, you couldn’t actually buy them there at the time. As a communist country you were forbidden from buying Western goods and had to make do with local brands (ironically often made in the same factories). Even making Western goods in an Eastern bloc country may have seemed weird, but Tito had long distanced himself from Stalin and was manufacturing goods for export to the West in order to grow the Yugoslavian economy. Everything was going pretty well until the late 80s when ethnic, cultural and social tensions (always an underlying problem in the country) came to a head - accelerated by an economic crisis. The Yugoslav Wars would see the country split into separate states but adidas continued to be produced in the new countries of Slovenia and Croatia right up until the late 1990s, being the last of the European factories to close.
One of the upsides of the end of Yugoslavia was the end of communism and the opportunity for the population to buy Western goods including of course - adidas. So here is where we come to the ‘Universal’
These Universal cropped up on EBay some time ago and they share some similarities with our mystery pair. So they have an insole with adidas written on it, a tongue with no branding and a sole unit without the adidas logo. But the codes inside are different and not in a format I recognise and the heel tab does have a trefoil on it.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect however is the card which comes with the shoes. At the top of the card it declares “Manufactured by the shoe factory Sloga DD in Koprivnicia”. As Koprivincia is a city in northern Croatia my guess is these shoes were manufactured in Croatia for sale in Croatia sometime after the Yugoslav wars. The card goes onto to explain the materials the shoes are made from written in Croatian, something that would not have been included in an export model. So there we have it. Our mystery shoes share enough similarities with the Croatian pair to suggest that they were indeed made in either the same factory or a similar former Yugoslavian factory. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who may have more knowledge on the subject and perhaps even someone who may have worked in one of the factories. Please get in contact if so.