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Reebok International Limited (NYSE: RBK) is a Fortune 500 company and producer of athletic footwear, apparel, and accessories. The name is the South African spelling of the word rhebok, a type of African antelope or gazelle. The company, founded in 1958, was originally called Mercury Sports, but was renamed as Reebok in 1960. The company's founders Joe and Jeff Foster found the name in a dictionary won in a race by Joe Foster as a boy. Ironically the dictionary was a South African edition, hence the spelling. Reebok is in the process of being acquired by the German footwear giant Adidas.

Early History

Reebok early beginnings date back to before 1900, founded by a young runner Joseph William Foster and his father Joseph B. Foster under a company called J.W. Foster and Sons Limited (formed 1939) by Joseph Williams' sons John and James of Bolton, Lancashire, Great Britain. The family-owned business proudly made the running shoes worn in the 1924 Summer Olympics by the athletes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell celebrated in the film Chariots of Fire.

In 1958, two of the founder's grandsons Jeffery and Joseph left the family business and started started a rival company that came to be known as Reebok. In 1979, Paul Fireman, a partner in an outdoor sporting goods distributorship, spotted Reebok shoes at an international trade show. He negotiated for the North American distribution license and introduced three running shoes in the United States that year. At $60, they were the most expensive running shoes on the market.

The Company was sold to a group of investors in 1984, led by R. Stephen Rubin of Pentland Industries and Paul Fireman, who established a holding company based in the UK, Limelight Limited, renamed Reebok International Limited after the completion of the sale By Joseph Foster. This company subsiquently bought the J.W. Foster(athletic shoes) limited company from Mr Foster, to allow it to use the Foster Family history (post 1939). Joe Foster was retained by Rubin and Fireman to run expand the companies operations outside the USA, which he did until 1990.

Freestyle and Ex-O-Fit Success

Reebok surged in popularity in 1982 after the introduction of the Freestyle athletic shoe, which was specifically designed for women and came out when the aerobics fitness craze started. Not only was the Reebok Freestyle popular as athletic wear, but also on the streets as casual wear because of its comfort and styling. As a result the Reebok Freestyle became an icon of the 1980s fashion scene with hi-top versions (including two velcro straps at the top) and colors including white, black, red, yellow, and blue. Reebok continues to produce the Freestyle to this day as it is popular with cheerleading, aerobic dancing, the gym, and dedicated consumers.

Following the heels of the Freestyle success, Reebok also introduced a popular athletic shoe for men, called the Ex-O-Fit. Similar to the Freestyle, it came in low-top and hi-top versions; however, unlike the Freestyle hi-top with two velcro closure straps, the Ex-O-Fit only had one strap. One of the designers of this early footwear was the founders son David Foster.

The Pump

In the late 1980s, the company introduced the Reebok Pump line, which used an air bladder, inflated by means of a small pump integrated into the tongue of the shoe, to hold tightly to the wearer's ankle. This allowed for more aggressive maneuvering without injury, but also became a popular fashion element. Around 1993 they introduced an air transfer system which was incorporated into the sole of the trainer.

Human Rights and Endorsements

In the past, Reebok had an association with sweatshops, but today it is firmly committed to human rights. In April 2004, Reebok's footwear division became the first company to be accredited by the Fair Labor Association. In 2004, Reebok also became a founding member of the Fair Factories Clearinghouse, a non profit dedicated to improving worker conditions across the apparel industry. The company holds exclusive rights to manufacture and market both authentic and replica uniform jerseys and sideline apparel of the teams of the National Football League since 2002, the National Basketball Association since 2004, the Canadian Football League since 2004, and the National Hockey League (Reebok acquired The Hockey Company in 2004), and is the official shoe supplier to the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Reebok was also a major sponsor of tennis star Andy Roddick, but ended their 12 year relationship in April 2005. Reebok continues to be endorsed by Venus Williams.

It maintains its relationship with its origins in England through a long-term sponsorship deal with Bolton Wanderers, a Premiership football club. When the team moved to a brand new ground in the late 1990s, their new home was named the Reebok Stadium. In 2003 Reebok secured a deal with English Premiership clubs West Ham United and Manchester City. The deal with Manchester City alone was worth almost
5m over four years [1]. Then in 2005 another Premiership team Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League, their fifth, whilst wearing Reebok kit. In 2005, Reebok also signed an exclusive agreement to design and supply all 8 team strips for the new Australian A-League competition [2]. Reebok also sponsors the Grand Slam-winning Welsh national rugby team.

 

Other Brands

The company includes such brands as Rockport, Ralph Lauren RLX shoes, Greg Norman apparel, CCM, Koho, Jofa, Reebok hockey equipment and apparel, Reebok Classic, G-Unit (G-Unit Sneakers), and S. Carter street lifestyle shoes and apparel.

Recent News

In August 2005, one of the company's largest rivals, adidas, announced that it would soon acquire Reebok for $3.8 billion. The acquisition would increase adidas' market share in North America and allow it to further compete with the world's biggest maker of sports apparel, Nike. The deal is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2006.

External links

The above article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reebok_International_Ltd. 1/23/06

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