Part Two – adidas Archive
Trefoil Square. This giant trefoil is an advertising sign which lights up.
After a coffee we went to the archive and Martin G gave us a presentation about the purpose of it which was extremely insightful. So what is the archive? It is a collection of adidas articles dating from the pre-war Gebruder Dassler era up until relatively new products. For a shoe fan like me I guess I imagined it as an Aladdin’s cave of lost treasures all waiting to be viewed and touched (but only with special gloves on and very carefully). Actually there is much more to it than that and the archive includes textiles, bags, sports equipment and match balls. There is also a stack of documents (all now scanned into a computer) of catalogues, advertisements, company memos, videos, technical drawings, patents and legal documents. There are even some handwritten notes from Mr Dassler and a short sound recording of him speaking (the only known recording of his voice). So basically it is the history of adidas all in a giant vault, stored in optimum conditions including temperature and humidity control, as well as in specially constructed storage boxes.
Is it complete? No, but I think for a company with such a long history that would be impossible. The bulk of the collection is German made or came from factories associated with Germany (Taiwan, Yugoslavia etc). They are missing quite a bit of the French range and also Austrian. So where did the stuff go? A lot of stuff was lost, binned or destroyed;- either accidently, through inattention or for security (as an example when the foreign licence deals began to wind up in the 80s adidas insisted the companies destroyed the moulds so they could not be used to make counterfeit goods). You also have to factor in adidas was a forward thinking company, always expanding, moving forward – thinking of the future. There simply would not have been enough space to keep everything and if you are creating new products all the time then why keep the old stuff? Of course we have to thank Adi for starting the collecting by keeping samples and shoes he liked and adidas got into the habit of requesting shoes from winning athletes, often signed or sealed in bronze or gold for perseveration. In 1994 long term employee Karl Heinz Laing found Adi’s old collection in a basement under the IT department while looking for an unfinished Adi design for inspiration for a new one. Realising the value of the find, the collection was soon rescued, restored, catalogued and archived. Since then it has been added to as more products have been found and new ones created. Old products have been found from everywhere within the brand and they have been forwarded to the team to be archived, while new products are donated by the designer to become a future part of the company’s history.
A collection of different box styles from the 1950s to the 1990s. Part of the archives collection.
One of my favourite stories from Martin H was the rescue of around 20-30 foreign licence shoes. Foreign licence companies were requested to send adidas sample manufactured products so adidas could check of the quality of the range. Some of these models ended up in a storage room which eventually ended up being cleaned out and refurbished. An employee decided to go the rest room and saw workmen carrying some bin-liners, enquiring what was in the bags she found all of these shoes and thought ‘I think Martin would like these’. So a toilet break ensured the shoes survival!
The entrance to the brand archive. I have idea what the numbers mean but they just make it seem more top secret and official.
What purpose does it have aside from being a historical record? Well it can be used for modern design and innovation. For instance if a designer wanted to make a new leisure product for women they could look for inspiration from an archive product. Perhaps a ski boot may have an innovative system of fastening which would suit the new model. The History Management team has six full-time employees and they are each assigned to a different historical function. The team may be requested to research for the release of re-issue, a new design, for brand communication, to create an exhibition or contribute to a video project. They work with all departments from design, to promotion and even the legal team.
Part 3 to follow shortly
Part 3 to follow shortly