How Wales Bonner and adidas explore the art of athletics

How Wales Bonner and adidas explore the art of athletics

by Ollie Cox
5 min

Since 2020, Wales Bonner and adidas have been cooking up some of the tastiest footwear and clobber collabs that sell out each season. This month, they were back at it again, unveiling the “Rift Valley Runners” collection, serving as a nod to the enduring legacy of East African runners. 

But athletics and Wales Bonner go way back, with references to heritage sportswear being consistent throughout its collections, which explore the notions of European and African fashion, with pleated track pants and sporty footwear a mainstay of the brand’s ready-to-wear offering. So when Wales Bonner teased a collaboration with adidas for Fall/Winter 2020, it made perfect sense – fusing its distinct nods to vintage sportswear with adidas’ athletic legacy, seen across tracksuits and footwear, including the SL72 and Samba sneakers, with the latter firing up the cool crowd with its flappy tongue. 

When it came to the campaign, which dropped in November 2020, Wales Bonner released a short video directed by Jaland and Jibril Durimel, and shot in Marseille. Grainy slow-motion shots captured a group of friends running along the coast and playing football in a quintessentially Wales Bonner dose of nostalgia-tinged sportswear. The collaboration was well-positioned for both brands, drawing on the Three Stripe’s sporting heritage and its defining role in 1970s youth subcultures. It proved incredibly successful, selling out quickly with Sambas from the first collection now reaching prices of over £500 on the secondary market. This initial release laid the foundations for a lineage of consistently strong capsule collections drawing on an insatiable appetite for fashion meets function retro sportswear. 

A couple of sell-out sneakers later, the fashion set, finance bros, and a sizeable section of East London is still hooked. Wales Bonner continued to explore the merging of athletics and fashion during its Spring/Summer 2024 runway show, “Marathon,” casting Ethiopian runners Yomif Kejelcha Atomsa and Tamirat Tola. The collection juxtaposed oversized shirting and expertly structured tailoring courtesy of Anderson & Sheppard with metallic running shorts from a then-unreleased adidas collaboration. It also featured a replica of the 2008 adidas Neftunga, which Haile Gebrselassie wore to win the Berlin Marathon in 2008, as part of an ode to the resilience and tranquillity of the long-distance runner. As well as providing a source of inspiration, this spoke to the cross-cultural appeal of the Wales Bonner brand, which extends beyond the fashion sphere and into broader art and culture, infusing the sporting achievements of African athletes into fashion shows in European capitals. 

These fashion shows are often the first place eagle-eyed sneaker spotters can catch a glimpse of upcoming Wales Bonner x adidas collabs, which often feature the storied adidas Samba silhouette. Alongside the Samba, which Wales Bonner helped to revive, contributing to a higher than average €5.5 billion revenue in the first quarter of 2024, it wasn’t just the retro football-inspired sneaker that the British label breathed new life into, also lending its hand to the SL72: a retro runner that first rose to popularity during the ‘70s sports boom. The trainer was first unveiled during the 1972 Olympics and introduced professional sportspeople and armchair athletes alike to cushioning and traction. Its low-profile colourful design and Three Stripes branding struck a chord with the fashion crowd too, making the retro runner a perfect addition to the Wales Bonner and adidas collaboration. 

For the most recent chapter of the Wales Bonner x adidas partnership, the London label has continued to draw inspiration from the legacy of East African runners. The collection reinvents archival running looks through Wales Bonner’s contemporary lens, applying prints and patterns to tracksuit tops, bottoms, and loose-fitting athletic shorts. Alongside a classic Samba, Samba Millennium and SL76 (an archival running rooted classic) there are bright tracksuits, running singlets, and colour-blocked tees, offering the perfect coming together of athletics and aesthetically pleasing design. For the latest release, Wales Bonner and adidas travelled to Iten in Kenya, shooting a campaign spotlighting the dedication and endurance of the long-distance runner. Viviane Sassen-lensed stills juxtaposed shots of running athletes on winding open roads with intimate, non-sporting images throughout the campaign, encapsulating how athletics inform the lifestyle-leaning collaboration. 

While by no means a technology-focused shoe that appeals to athletes at the top of their game, the latest running-inspired instalment of the Wales Bonner x adidas capsule arrives at a time when running is increasing in popularity. As of 2023 over six million people participated in the sport in England, with more people looking to build communities around running. This designer sportswear link-up gives legs to running’s influence on fashion and the cultural and creative impacts of the sport. And, given the running-rooted appeal of the collection. you can bet that your annoying mate who lost their Hackney Half virginity this year has a pair on the way. 

Wales Bonner’s four-year collaboration with adidas has regularly looked to athletics as a source of artistic inspiration, including football and long-distance running. The two labels cook up a nostalgic sportswear storm each season, merging Wales Bonner’s killer Europe-meets-Africa designs with the Three Stripes’ sporting legacy, with sell-out sneakers being a surefire marker of its commercial success. But, beyond sell-out takes on classic trainers, there is an appeal that exists outside products, where the cultural relevance of the collaboration is reflected through in-depth storytelling, a lasting marker of the collaboration.

Cover Image: Courtesy of @WalesBonner

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