Press "Enter" to skip to content

How Asics Became Fashion's New Favorite Old Sneaker Brand

The 74-year-old Japanese sportswear company’s newfound relevance is no accident.

A nine-second TikTok video from @vivienarchive begins with text stamped across the screen: “sneakers that went from cringe to cool pt.6.” It then cuts to a montage of the JJJJound x Asics Gel-Kayano 14.

A similar one from @nonfashion84 opens with the bold declaration, “Shoes That Go With Everything,” before leading into the reveal: again, the JJJJound x Asics Gel-Kayano 14.

View the original article to see embedded media.

One clip emphatically proclaims that Asics are superior to Jordan 4s, while another styles four outfits to illustrate just how versatile a pair of its sneakers can be. Yet another predicted an Asics takeover as early as June of last year.

TikTok isn’t the only forum for Asics praise. Hf Twitter — that’s High Fashion Twitter — also waxes poetic about the Japanese sportswear brand, which has been embraced by the industry in the past few years. Intricate flower-encrusted Gel-1090, Gel-1130 and Gel Nimbuses swept Cecilie Bahnsen’s Spring 2023 and Fall 2023 runways; its streamlined silhouettes have been a mainstay at Kiko Kostadinov since Spring 2018, and also appeared at GmbH for Fall 2023. Countless celebrities have worn the brand, too, including the highly-influential Hailey Bieber and Kaia Gerber. 

The consensus: Asics is cool now.

Historically, the brand’s demographic fell into two camps. We had athletes who favored its technical, high-performing designs on the one side, and dads who found comfort in the gel-based cushion on the other. Following a trajectory not too dissimilar from New Balance’s, the nearly-74-year-old company has now also recruited Gen Z and the fashion elite into its fan base.

View the original article to see embedded media.

“Five years ago, there was a lack of interest in what Asics was doing, but it has done a great job leveraging awareness through releases or collabs or social media,” says Drew Joiner, a 25-year-old video creator who first noticed chatter on social media about the brand starting to bubble up mid-2021. (His own TikTok videos about Asics have reached thousands.) And does he think Asics is cool now? “Hell yeah.”

“It’s great to have another brand be in the footwear space because it pushes all creative pursuits to another level,” he adds.

This glorious, 180-degree shift in perception and attitude obviously didn’t happen overnight, nor was it an accident. It took years of thoughtful planning, rethinking product offerings and striking intentional partnerships with designers and influential figures. Kelly Fatouretchi, senior director of merchandising of Asics America, admits: “It wasn’t easy.”

“When I started with the brand five years ago, we didn’t have a very developed lifestyle side of our business — we weren’t in a good place,” she says. Fatouretchi played an instrumental role in overhauling Asics’ approach to lifestyle. “There was a lot of working through strategies: How do we team up with the right collaborative partners? How do we develop a long-term strategy that is aligned to where we want to be in the future? The goal was to change the perception of the brand and shift to a premium space — one that’s loved by the younger consumer.”

That meant connecting with the product team to craft a design that would resonate in the marketplace. Fortunately, Asics boasts a robust archive of high-performing sneakers. Fatouretchi points to the Gel-Lyte 3 and the Gel-Lyte 5 — two classics, the brand’s “bread and butter” — that saw renewed success in 2020 and 2021, largely thanks to collaborations with Kith and Sean Wotherspoon.

Things really began to take off when the brand ventured into more of the “retro vintage tech realm,” starting with the Gel-Kayano 14, an iconic style that’s been around for 30 years. (The Kayano 30 is launching this year.) Asics introduced a series of collaborations with brands like Awake NY and Andersson Bell — in addition to the previously mentioned designers — that brought a fresh, unique lens to the style, along with new consumer bases.

“I dubbed last summer the ‘summer of Kayano 14,'” says Fatouretchi. “After that, we started to see a crazy demand for that model and for that early 2000s look and feel.”

It was the collaboration with Montreal-based design studio JJJJound that, as Fatouretchi puts it, “showcased the Kayano 14 to the consumer in a different way,” playing up the retro aesthetic with a restrained color palette of white, silver and black. It was simple, yet extraordinarily effective — so much so that the style took off across all social media platforms, lauded for its goes-with-everything versatility.

View the original article to see embedded media.

Fatouretchi names the Gel-1130 as another popular style, especially among women. It shares the same aesthetic as the Kayano 14, but at a different price point. “Really shifting more into this vintage tech silo of the business is where we’re seeing the trend and something that we didn’t necessarily have in the offering in the past,” she says.

Another strategy was nurturing relationship with long-term partners, like Ronnie Fieg of Kith, and new ones — namely Zack Bia, with whom the brand hosted a friends-and-family launch of the Kayano 14, which organically (that’s unpaid) landed the style on the feet of notable celebrities and influencers, such as Kendall Jenner and Bieber.

Fatouretchi really saw all of her work manifesting in January of 2023, at Men’s Fashion Week in Paris. “We had a pop-up and seeing the consumers, the accounts, the people in Paris — including a huge female sector, which we didn’t previously have before — rocking Asics… It was like night and day,” she says, especially compared to the last time the brand had a presence at Paris Fashion Week three years earlier.

“It was really exciting — and validating, having spent so much time curating these strategies and building up these brand moments and not always seeing initial success,” she continues. “There’s now a more overall acceptance of Asics in the high-fashion world.”

Fatouretchi’s experience underscores just how much of a foothold Asics has gained in the zeitgeist. There are stats to back it up: Kendall Becker, fashion and beauty trends editor at retail analytics platform Trendalytics, reports seeing “steady growth” when it comes to Asics on the platform, with a 34% increase in searches for “Asics sneakers” compared to last year (averaging 18k weekly searches) and a 15% increase in searches for simply “Asics”. She also notes that there are more people posting about it, a nearly +325% increase from the previous year.

“There’s been an unwavering interest in nostalgia when it comes to sneakers in recent years, and Asics fits the bill as this trend continues,” Becker says. “In reality, its product offering doesn’t surpass its competitors like New Balance and Adidas, but its strategic partnerships are currently showing great results. Younger generations and sneakerheads undoubtedly follow the buzz, so it certainly makes sense that Asics’ marketing efforts are paying off within these consumer sets.”

For Darius-Mehdi Karimzadeh, a fashion content creator on TikTok, Asics’ collaborations with the likes of Wotherspoon and Vivienne Westwood certainly boosted the brand’s profile, but it’s the versatility, the comfort and the innately gorpcore aesthetic of its products that have made him a fan. 

“It’s become more of a trend to wear sports shoes in everyday life,” he says. “I like how Asics sneakers can be styled in a variety of ways and worn for both athletic and casual occasions.”

Fatouretchi stresses that the core brand strategy — which is woven into every decision, every product, every business move — has remained unchanged pretty much since the day of Asics’ inception. It’s ruled by the Latin phrase “anima sana in corpore sano” (for which Asics is an acronym), which translates to “sound mind, sound body.” 

“‘Sound mind, sound body’ has been the guiding light to how we approach consumers and products. It’s what we stand for,” says Fatouretchi, who also wants to make it clear that, despite the success of the lifestyle category, Asics will always be performance-first brand. 

“Asics has always been an ‘if you know, you know’ brand, and we still have a little bit of that element in the high-fashion space,” she continues. “I don’t think we’ll ever explode to the level of other brands, and a part of that is by design: We’re not going to grab the hottest celebrity at the time, we’re not going to do money-grabs. We’re focused on long-term relationships and longevity. We’re quieter, and based on our Japanese roots and heritage, we tend to be a little more modest, which separates us from other brands.”

That said, the hope is for Asics to continue to evolve the lifestyle category — to meet the needs and demands of the consumer, to maintain relevance, to capture new consumers, to cater to Gen Z and women, and also be more inclusive in its offering through a unisex lens. The plan is to continue to roll out successful models, to shift into a “vintage tech world,” to launch performance/lifestyle hybrids and to broker more strategic partnerships.

“There’s lots of great things coming down the pipeline this year,” Fatouretchi teases. “I’ve talked to other team members who have been at the brand for over 10 years, and to hear them say, that this is the best position they’ve ever seen the brand [in], that this is the most excitement we’ve ever garnered for the brand,’ is really exciting.”

Never miss the latest fashion industry news. Sign up for the Fashionista daily newsletter.


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *