Adidas on Thursday lost a bid to ban rivals from using its three-stripes symbol in the European Union. An EU court ruled that the three stripes were an “ordinary figurative mark”. So how come such an ‘ordinary’ symbol became synonymous with a brand as giant as Adidas? In order to understand where the three stripes came from, we need to dig into the brand’s history:
— Adidas founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler, the son of a shoe factory worker, started making shoes in 1924 alongside his older brother, Rudolf. The two established the company Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in Herzogenaurach, and began manufacturing running spikes, which featured two stripes across the lateral and medial sides as a way of binding the shoe together and providing structure to the shoe.
— The company performed well over the years that followed. But in 1939, the World War II took a toll on the bond of Dassler brothers and caused a rift that was never resolved.
— In 1947, they would go their separate ways, with Rudolf starting a new company called RuDa (later rebranded to PUMA), and Adi starting adidas, a modification of the Adi Dassler name.
— When Adi started his new company, he could no longer use the two signature stripes of his former company. So he added a third one in the middle, creating the now iconic three-stripes mark.
— By the time Adi Dassler went to register the 3-stripes mark as a trademark of his brand, he discovered that a small Finnish sportswear brand called Karhu had already registered the 3-stripes in its name.
— However, Adi Dassler convinced the Finnish brand to sell the trademark to Adidas for roughly €1600 and “two bottles of whiskey”.
— In 1970s, Adidas decided to rebrand their company and, thus, created the legendary trefoil logo -- three leaf shapes branching out in a plant-like manner with the original 3-stripes mark cutting across them horizontally. It served as the brand’s core logo for two decades before being phased out for a newer logo. Today, the trefoil is the logo for Originals, the heritage division of Adidas.
— In late 1990s, Adidas revamped their identity once more with the triangular version of the 3-stripes mark (now often referred to as the Equipment logo). Shaped like a mountain, the logo supposedly represents “the challenge to be faced and the goals to be achieved”.
— Throughout the 2000s, Adidas would make a few subtle changes to its branding, officially establishing Adidas Originals in 2001, and gradually phasing out the Equipment logo. The brand’s corporate identity was simplified into a classic Adidas text logo accompanied by three horizontal stripes.
— The most recent new iteration of Adidas’ 3-stripes branding is the Adidas Style logo, which depicts a circle intersected by three claw-like stripes.
So, that’s why, whenever you see sportswear, sneakers or apparel with those three stripes, your mind goes straight to “Adidas”.