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January 24, 2024

Hannah Sellers

Signature stripes, innovative colorways, sporty design: all these features characterize the Adidas Samba, a hallmark of this year’s fashion trends. The timeless silhouette has become an emblem of pop culture and sneaker lore. Second to Nike in holding the largest share of the athletic footwear market, few trainers claim such a large consumer base as Adidas’ iconic style, reflecting the shoe’s impact on fashion for over seven decades. Sambas defy norms as a classic novelty. Designed in 1949 as a football shoe, the Sambas are Adidas’ longest-selling sneaker to date. The original runner boasted a competitive edge with the incorporation of a gum sole, the durable and sticky caramel colored sole frequently featured on modern kicks. Most football shoes in the mid 1900s lacked grip, failing professional athletes on their typically icy playing grounds. The mid-top shoe also included a kangaroo leather exterior. While the Samba’s roots run far back, the brand claims the shoe remains a best-selling sneaker of 2023. Sambas are somewhat of an enigma in the sneaker industry, for Adidas seems to have discovered the perfect recipe for everlasting popularity that brands crave.

Adidas founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler publicly debuted the sneaker in 1950 to capitalize on international excitement leading up to the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil. While the World Cup fostered an optimal market landscape to launch a new football product, Dassler was posed with the challenge of advertising a shoe designed for winter play to a southern climate. In a clever stroke of marketing, Adidas named its new product “Samba” to pay homage to the Brazilian music and dance genre that shaped the colorful culture of the World Cup’s host.

Gaining traction following the World Cup, the shoe continued to spread within the football community. By the 1970s, Sambas were akin to uniforms at football terraces. Even celebrities began to partake in the trend. The ‘80s experienced a genesis of the term “cool” as it is used in modern day. The trait quickly emerged as the desired aesthetic of the decade. Thus, when Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury began sporting Sambas at their performances, those without the sneakers in their closet soon did. Prior to the debut of Oasis, a British rock band of the ‘90s, the Gallagher brothers, the band’s future vocalists, immersed themselves heavily in Manchester’s dominating football culture. The group found themselves at the heart of the Samba insurgence, as the football scene shaped their rock ‘n roll music and attire. Cultural phenomenons of “Casual Culture” and “Terrace Wear” promoted a unique way of dressing amongst British football fans. Such outfits rarely lacked Sambas.

Today, the Samba’s influence extends beyond sport venues as the sneakers frequently grace the pages of fashion magazines worldwide. The multitude of colorways available for purchase offers consumers the freedom to customize their look. Sambas have become a staple of every it-girl and cool guy’s closet, gaining the seal of approval from celebrities like Kaia Gerber, Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, and the singer’s partner, A$AP Rocky.

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Contrasting her colorful plaid tote, Kaia Gerber styles black sambas to effortlessly tie her outfits together

Striding in fashion, Jennifer Lawrence's 2023 outfits frequently feature Sambas

These starlets showcase the versatility of the wardrobe basic with their unique takes, dressing the sneaker up or down depending on their individual aesthetic. Hailey Bieber, a well-cemented icon of sporty street style, has been documented several times pairing distressed jean shorts with her classic black leather Sambas, occasionally swapping them out for a cherry red pair.

Like Bieber, Gigi Hadid often employs the Sambas and jorts combo while mixing and matching such basics with high-end pieces to craft an effortlessly cool look. Her sister on the other hand, Bella Hadid, described by The Cut to embrace a “weird-girl” aesthetic, fashionably incorporates Sambas into outfits even with the most outlandish pieces. Even for those with less daring personal styles, the shoes are the perfect “goes-with-anything” pair, a true chameleon of the sneaker world.

Sporty style-icons Hailey Bieber and Gigi Hadi consistently pair oversized denim with a variety of Samba colorways

Sporty style-icons Hailey Bieber and Gigi Hadi consistently pair oversized denim with a variety of Samba colorways

Also a surprise, Bella Hadid finds a way to sport Sambas with any type of outfit.

Just five years ago, Sambas hardly crossed consumers' radars. At the time, the Adidas Stan Smith, the company’s best selling sneaker of all time, captivated audiences. Stan Smiths experienced their renaissance in the 2010s. However, in 2020 Adidas revived the Samba’s cult following by launching a series of collaborations with influential brands and designers. The partnership with London-based designer Grace Wales Bonner ignited a fashion fire across the internet, placing Adidas in the spotlight of fashion critics and trendsetters. The collection celebrated British-Jamaican communities of ‘70s and ‘80s London. In addition to their cultural references, the Wales Bonner x Adidas Sambas stood out from the original design with an elongated tongue, crocheted and hand-stitched details, cotton and nylon exteriors, and one-of-a-kind colorways. The collaboration further spiked demand when it put Sambas at the top of Lyst's hottest products of 2022 rankings. Other buzz-worthy partnerships with Sporty and Rich, JJJound, Palace, and Pharrelll Williams’ HUMANRACE x ADIDAS line continued to enhance Adidas’ image as a powerhouse brand, catching the eyes of fashionistas and sneakerheads alike. 

Finding a pair of Sambas in 2023 is like discovering gold in a stream: near impossible. The shoes consistently sell out immediately from retailers and Adidas cannot keep enough in stock to match demand. Many customers, desperate to get their hands on the most popular sneakers, are paying an arm and a leg on resale websites, upwards of three times the retail cost of $100. On StockX, an online sneaker marketplace, to purchase a Wales Bonner style in a women’s size 8, one must surrender a lofty $1,873. As a testament to Samba's enduring impact, the runners have breathed new life into another Adidas classic: the Gazelle. The two sneakers exude a ‘similar, but different’ allure, making the Gazelle a comparable alternative to the Samba in the face of supply shortages. Fashion editors expect to see Gazelles enter the same go-to sneaker rotation as Sambas in 2024. While whispers of the Samba's downswing in the face of a competitor

have surfaced, the shoe remains a classic which refuses to step off the streets. In 2023, most major fashion and sneaker publications silenced the rumors of the Samba’s decline, crowning it as the sneaker of the year. Even if the Gazelle encroaches on sales, it will be a long time before Sambas are revolved out the door. 

Whether Brunonians are caught up in celebrity trends or enjoying comfortable sneakers, it is near impossible to walk to class at Brown University and not come across at least one fellow student or faculty sporting a pair of Sambas. Why do the stylish students of Brown opt for the Samba? It's simple: the Samba offers the perfect fusion of comfort and style, on-trend but timeless. The sneakers are a symbol of casual sophistication and provide students with a versatile footwear option as they navigate campus life. The Samba remains an immortal icon that defies the ebb and flow of fashion trends. So, whether you're wearing them to the skatepark, attending a football match, or browsing the grocery store, the Samba is a humble, enduring companion that the fashion world is unlikely to part with anytime soon. 


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