Monday, 25 July 2016

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.


  1. Just came across your blog, it is a gem!
    Thanks for sharing all this knowledge and keep it up.
    Some years ago I acquired some portuguese Universals made in 1993. These come with a longuer and different tongue and with navy stripes with red details, the adidas code is 33702. Always wondered the story behind them, I guess the portuguese factory was being creative.

  2. Hi BDP, thanks for the comments. I remember the shoe you mention and I saved a picture of it, it's got a really long tongue like on the 90s Samba. Adidas made in Portugal is pretty rare to find, I've seen maybe five or six different models. I'm not 100% sure but I think it was made under licence for sale in Portugal only, which means as you say, there were a certain amount of artistic licence with the look of the design. I'd love to see some more pictures of the shoe if you'd like to share it with us.

  3. Hi Neil,
    I uploaded some images of them. In the second album you can see them side by side with some regular Universals. The regular ones come from the same seller, there is no tag with the production date and the orgin, but I think they are early 90s from Portugal.


    1. Thanks very much BDP, they are brilliant aren't they! Great photography skills too. I'm working on a project currently which will be revealed in more detail in October hopefully and I'd love to use pictures of this shoe in it.

  4. You are welcome. Of course you can use my pictures. These ones aren't mine though , come from the auction in ebay.
    If you want some kind of picture (setting ...) let me know and I will see what can I do.

  5. Plankia ---> Planika - still exist
    Koprivincia---> Koprivnica

    Btw, Made in Yugoslavia Puma sneakers were produced by Borovo (Croatia) and Converse by Astra (Croatia).

  6. sloga made some universal after they lose the licence.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Thank you for the article.
    Notwithstanding, as an Adidas (and Slovenijašport) fan and a Yugoslav of yore, I should tell you that we were in fact allowed to buy Western products. There were no bans, really (but the taxes and customs duties were a bit steep).
    In all honesty, the primary reason for the Adidas manufactories in Yugoslavia lies in governmental decrees requiring foreign companies to outsource parts of their production lines. That, and comparatively competitive local labour costs, proved to be a win-win situation.
    Oh, and I should point out that each and every Adidas item made by Slovenijašport was top-notch. Some of them served me for decades. God, how I miss those wee shops in every Yugoslav city, packed to the gills with various (locally-made) Adidas goodies. I thought they were not unlike paradise. In fact, I still think the same. But, the wee shops are long gone, alas...

    1. Hi Voidoid, thank you for the information. It was very useful! I did not know that adidas was easily obtained in Yugoslavia during this period. I agree 100% about the quality of Yugoslavian made adidas. If you have any more memories, information or photos to share about adidas in Yugoslavia, then please do!

  9. Io sto cercando disperatamente le universal bianche con strisce nere da donna sapete dirmi se si trovano ancora e dove?

  10. Hi.
    I have some Adidas Universal made in SLOVENIA from 90s brand new
    without box size 40 2/3 US 7 1/2 in white color with black stripes.

    I wonder if someone knows for what price I can sell them or
    if some is interested in buying them please contact me on the email below.

    Also I can send pictures - please contact me on email.

    email :

    Best regrds.

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  15. You were almost accurate. Adidas did not start producing shoes in Yugoslavia in 60s but rather in 70s. Also, the name of the factory in Slovenia (and former Yugoslavia) that made shoes for adidas was called Planika. Last but not least, as someone who was born and rasied in the former YU, you could buy adidas shoes in Yugoslavia and they were avalaible everywhere. YU was a socialist country with a distinct economic system and not like the rest of the Eastern Communist Countries. Many, Western products were produced in YU including, Volkswagen, Renault, Rothmans, Dunhill, Levi’s and many more.