The ASICS Sneakers
ASICS may be known first as a running shoe company, but they initially launched with a basketball sneaker. In 1949, Kihachiro Onitsuka created the Onitsuka Tiger shoe brand in Kobe, Japan, upon returning home from the war. He started the business with a challenge, believing that if he could craft a successful basketball shoe, he'd be set to tackle any type of athletic sneaker.
The first athletic shoe by Onitsuka was released in spring 1950, but it wasn't long before Onitsuka moved into running, launching the Marathon Tabi in 1953. The Tiger design from Onitsuka debuted that same year. The Tiger Marup shoe was a marathon-style shoe with an upper made from Vinylon, which was three times stronger than cotton, and a heel sponge. The Tiger Marup continued its technology updates with lightweight rubber sponges and leather uppers. Onitsuka kept his focus on running in the 1950s, next adding a nylon upper.
The addition of nylon opened Onitsuka to a world of other sports, including wrestling, golf, gymnastics, basketball, tennis and volleyball.
ASICS History: Basketball to Running and Beyond
A key visual moment for the brand came during the 1966 Olympics in Mexico. While the brand had been updating its designs regularly, an in-house competition led to the Mexico footwear line with blue and red signature stripes. That design was so popular it became the defining mark for the brand and has held steady to this day.
ASICS continued to focus on growing its technologies, debuting a new cushioning in the Cortez — later renamed the Tiger Corsair since Nike used the same technology for its Nike Cortez — and updated uppers across the brand.
ASICS then moved into baseball with the Gehrig Series cleat in 1973. From there, it tested the waters in ski jumping and other arenas while still creating new materials for running, such as an EVA midsole for marathon shoes.
1977 was a big year for ASICS. That's when Onitsuka merged with its spinoff companies under the same umbrella to become ASICS, with the letters of the phrase representing a philosophy loosely translated to English as "a sound mind in a sound body." The first ASICS running product was a Montreal shoe aimed at a larger running audience.
The signature ASICS gel debuted in 1986 in the GT-II and Freaks models, the beginning of a key technology that helps define ASICS running for decades.
The 2002 reissue of the Onitsuka Tiger brand, with the re-release of the Mexico 66 and Nippon 60, marked a critical move into the lifestyle market for ASICS. From that point, ASICS continued to embrace new technological advances in running — MetaRun in 2015, FuzeGel in 2016 and FlyteFoam in 2016 — and lifestyle plays across the company's history.
The Most Sought-After ASICS Silhouettes
- One of the most popular silhouettes from the Onitsuka Tiger days is the Mexico 66, a running shoe designed for the Olympics that also served as the Tiger Stripes' introduction.
- The debut of ASICS as the new name of Onitsuka came with a Montreal road shoe, a true entry into the larger market segment that went beyond elite racers. The Montreal had success as a runner and later as a lifestyle option.
- With gel now in ASICS' technology repertoire, the Gel-Lyte launch in 1987 was a running shoe turned massive lifestyle play for the brand.
- The Gel-Kayano series got its start in 1993 as a shoe designed to help runners travel long distances. Named after the shoe's designer, Toshikazu Kayano, the line remains a performance option today and is one of the more popular lifestyle designs from the brand.
- The GT-2000 running shoe also took off in 1993, another longtime best-selling running option for the brand.
ASICS Sneakers: Collectibility and Value
Collectors turn to collaborations to find the greatest value in ASICS shoes. Ronnie Fieg's designs typically lead the way. One of the most expensive ASICS shoes is the 2011 model with a pink toe making for a highly visual design (H02AK-5001). This model can earn up to on the resale market.
The (HQ82V-0198) is worth around and the Fieg-designed Gel-Lyte III "Leatherbacks" (H10AK-9090) fetches around 1200. The Gel-Lyte III Afew "Koi"(H51NK-0190) sometimes goes for close to four digits, and collectors can find plenty of other Fieg designs for under $1,000.
Key ASICS Collaborations
Designer Ronnie Fieg, the owner of Kith, has embraced ASICS like no other collaborator. The most highly coveted and resold ASICS are typically Ronnie Fieg designs. Fieg's favorite model appears to be the Gel-Lyte III, which is also one of the most popular of any collaboration effort, including Zillion, Hannon, Colette and Saint Alfred.
ASICS in Popular Culture
With its birth and headquarters in Japan, the ASICS brand has a strong presence across the country. But the technical know-how of ASICS quickly gave it a key place in worldwide sports culture as one of the biggest sellers of athletic footwear across the globe.
Famous faces like Reese Witherspoon, Britney Spears, Jennifer Garner, Johnny Depp and Joe Jonas have all been spotted sporting the ASICS brand.