How the Adidas logo earned its stripes

Adolf Dassler would go on to build one of the most recognisable sportswear brands in the world, with the help of some great logos…

Sportwear manufacturing is a hotly-contested battleground for big business, which fights just as aggressively as many of the sportsmen and women that the companies compete to clothe. With sport being a globally televised activity with billions of viewers, the importance of an instantly recognisable brand in this fast-paced world is paramount - and German giant Adidas has managed to fundamentally change its logo twice and still retain a coherent brand identity.

Adolf 'Adi' Dassler first started making shoes in 1924, registered his company's name in 1949, and started using three stripes to identify its footwear in 1967. But it wasn't until 1971, when the trefoil logo was unveiled, that Adidas had a logo design that would become legendary.

1971: The trefoil

The three-leaf shape is meant to represent the main landmasses of the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia respectively

When Adidas expanded into the leisure and apparel markets, its famous the trefoil logo was developed. The mark was chosen from more than 100 ideas put forward. While it still included the three stripes, its three-leaf shape is meant to represent the main landmasses of the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia respectively. The intersecting lines across the three forms signify diversity.

While the trefoil later became a corporate symbol, it's this logo that has been scored into the cultural consciousness. Bob Marley, The Doors, The Sex Pistols, The Clash were all snapped in Adidas. Even David Bowie was seen sporting the brand, and Run-DMC celebrated it by not just wearing the shoes - they even rapped about 'My Adidas'. Thanks to the trefoil, the company was no longer the preserve of athletes.

1997: Equipment range

The shape formed by the bars represents a mountain - symbolic of the obstacles that athletes must overcome to achieve their goals

With the trefoil a fashion success, a new logo was needed for sporting products. Originally crafted by creative director Peter Moore in 1990, the performance logo was initially used on the company's Equipment range of sporting goods. The three stripes come directly from those seen on early Adidas sports shoes, but also form the shape of a mountain, which represents the challenges athletes face.

The creation of the Adidas Equipment logo - click to enlarge (image via

This design - criticised early on for being bland and boring - was was adopted as the company logo in 1997 after it was decided the trefoil logo would now only be used on heritage products; an Originals range that includes classic designs such as Stan Smith and Rod Laver trainers.

2005: Word mark

The latest edition to the Adidas's logo range is the current word mark - another clear and simple symbol incorporating the three stripes

The word mark that Adidas has used since 2005 goes back to the simplicity of the three stripes and is said to represent quality and leadership, and maintains flexibility for the future. Adidas is now just one company in the Adidas Group, which also includes Reebok and TaylorMade.

But the iconic trefoil endures. It's the trefoil that inspires sneakerheads and Originals fanatics. Built on the foundations of the three stripes, it's everything a good sporting logo should be - understated, iconic, cool. Like all great design, it's as much about function as it is about form. The trefoil is the logo that helped Adidas transcend the sporting arena and permeate every corner of popular culture.

Words: Gary Evans/

The 50 Best Logos Ever

This is an edited version of a chapter from The 50 Best Logos Ever, the definitive guide to the greatest identity work ever created. Over 180 premium pages, the book dissects the world's greatest logos, showing their origins, their evolutions and interviewing the designers behind them.

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