1986 was part of the golden age of hip hop. The entire culture was coming into its own existence. Graffiti artists were literally leaving their mark all across New York City; teenage boys and girls were creating new methods of dance and the music that was being created would go on to eventually re-write the rules of the music industry. In the midst of all these firsts, there is a single moment in time that I'd like to explore, because the legacy of this moment is greater than most people recognize. If you wear a celebrity branded line of clothing today, you and said celebrity have Run DMC to thank for it.
Prior to 1986, celebrities with their own branded line of clothing was pretty sparse. You had Bird & Magic with Converse and a few other athletic based deals, but for entertainers the ground hadn't yet been broken. Of course for the formal awards ceremonies, you could expect to see everyone wearing the finest formal wear by their favorite designers; but very few, if any celebrities were wearing clothes that sported their name. It took three dudes from Hollis Queens to change that.
Now to be fair; Run, DMC & Jam Master Jay were simply talking about a part of their everyday life. They didn't go out and buy Adidas shell toe sneakers because they were trying to arrange a deal, it was part of B Boy culture - and they along with Russell Simmons ( Co-Founder of Def Jam | Founder of Phat Farm ) realized that B Boy culture was just as marketable as the music.
Russell was able to convince a group of executives from Adidas, which you have to remember was a German based athletic shoe company, to come to a concert in Madison Square Garden. At that concert the executives saw first hand the influence that hip hop and B Boy culture was bringing to the marketplace.
As the story goes, Run told the audience to take off their shoe and basically "put em in the air" and everyone inside of Madison Square Garden did just that. Now imagine for a moment tens of thousands of people are waving Adidas sneakers in the air at a concert...clearly the team from Adidas saw the opportunity and very shortly after that inked an endorsement deal with Run DMC. This was Genesis. Run DMC would become the first non athletic group to secure such an endorsement deal.
From this point on, Run DMC would be seen wearing either the classic Adidas shell toe sneakers or their exclusive line of Adidas shoes and track suits. The actual endorsement deal was reported to be around million dollars per year, which in retrospect was a deal if there ever was one. I don't know if you could put a figure on the number of shoes and apparel purchased, or overall dollar amount that was sold as a result of the Run DMC | Adidas venture, but the impact is beyond question.
Today, you can find someone in virtually every part of the world who is wearing a pair of shell toe Adidas. The shoe itself has become an icon, with limited editions being released every so often; and as with all fashion they find a resurgence every so often. Men, women and children regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status rock shell toe Adidas. It's the type of shoe that garners respect from everyone you meet.
So what's the lesson you ask? Impact is the lesson. I'm sure no one would have been able to predict the ultimate impact that song would have on pop culture and the world as a whole. As we prepare for the 30th anniversary of this song and what it represented, look at the fashion world today and the number of celebrity clothing lines that have existed and are still selling today - do you think they would be around today if Run hadn't turned Madison Square Garden into one big guerilla ad. I've written before about the business lessons we can all take from hip hop, let's add this one as well. Be authentic, remain true to what you are at the core and know the value of who you are - and when the time comes to leverage that value, go sign your deal in a fresh new pair of white on white shell toes. Trust me, the world will thank you.
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