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|Lance Jackson |
LA Gear was started by Robert Greenberg. He had moved to Los Angeles from his native Boston in 1978, and once he settled down, he picked up the Hang 10 license for shoe skates. Once he realized that it was the “uppers” that held the most promise, Greenberg began focusing on shoes instead of skates, which led to the birth of the LA Gear brand in 1983; the company went public in 1987.
One of the original athletes to endorse L.A. Gear shoes was NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who ended a long association with Adidas to sign with the upstart company toward the end of his playing career. Several other NBA stars wore the brand, perhaps the most notable being Karl Malone who appeared in several commercials for the brand beginning in the early 1990s. Hakeem Olajuwon was another L.A. Gear-endorsed basketball player who after being signed stayed with the brand until 1994 when he was contracted by Spalding to endorse a line of basketball shoes with his name and number.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana signed an endorsement deal with L.A. Gear in 1990 after working with Adidas and later Mizuno for most of his career and quickly became the company's feature athlete. Hockey star Wayne Gretzky was also signed as an endorser while he was still playing with the Los Angeles Kings, and eventually would have his own line of street hockey shoes before his endorsement contract expired.
Unlike other athletic shoe companies of the day, L.A. Gear was not averse to going outside of sports to find endorsement contracts. One of the earliest celebrities to sign an endorsement deal with the company was singer Belinda Carlisle, who appeared in a series of print ads for L.A. Gear when the brand first began to become popular (as seen in this ad). Two of the most notable celebrities to endorse the shoes were Michael Jackson, who promoted shoes for both men and women, and Paula Abdul, who was signed away from Reebok in 1991 and whose shoe  became one of the biggest sellers of the early 1990s. The company would set the modern-day trend of having non-sports celebrities endorsing athletic brands.
As the 1990s began LA Gear's popularity continued to rise. Although its original lines were typically featured in high-end department stores such as Macy's, as the decade turned LA Gear shoes became easier to find in other stores. Discount retailer Caldor began carrying LA Gear shoes designed specifically for the store and its clientele.
The improved accessibility helped LA Gear's sales, and the company responded by coming out with more shoe lines to accommodate buyers. As the decade continued LA Gear began aggressively promoting its performance athletic shoe line.
For the newer shoes, some of the designs included:
Catapult: The LA Gear equivalent of Air Jordans, a high-end basketball shoe and training shoe line. The original spokesman for the line was Karl Malone, as noted above.
Regulator: The inflatable shoe craze of the early 1990s spawned this shoe, LA Gear's answer to the Reebok Pump. The shoe featured a large pumping button on the tongue (much larger than the Reebok Pump's was) and a switch on top that deflated the shoe when pushed to the right.
LA Lights: was one of LA Gear's most successful lines, which came out in 1992. The line of kids LA Lights was launched at Foot Locker and Kids Foot Locker at $50 retail by LA Gear national account manager Jim Stroesser working closely with New York-based BBC International, who owned the original patent for the light technology. LA Gear was selling over 5 million pairs of Kids "LA Lights" per year in the 1990s despite other brands selling lighted technology in the lower distribution channels. Light technology for kids has been one of the most successful launches in the athletic shoe industry with over a 100 million pairs sold in all distribution channels. The shoes were also used as survival gear to locate stranded individuals and children during blizzards, leading to increased demand prior to storms.
LA Tech: In 1992 LA Gear began marketing "Light Gear" CrossRunner shoes with red LED lights in the heels, and once a wearer's heel hit the ground the lights would light up and continue to do so with every step. LA Gear went further in 1993 by introducing the Leap Gear line of performance basketball shoes, which would light up when the player would jump off the ground. LA Tech's lighted technology was launched at Foot Locker by LA Gear national account manager Jim Stroesser, and at Champs by account manager Kyle Coburn. The program's success led to an exclusive national television advertising campaign with over 2000 doors at Foot Locker Inc.
Although they had de-emphasized them by this time, LA Gear continued to market shoes towards women. One of LA Gear's more popular lines during this time for women was the Dancer line, which was a high-top shoe almost identical to the Reebok Freestyle in design. In addition, LA Gear consolidated one of its other sneaker designs into a complete women's design and renamed it Street Shots, featuring both high top and low top sneakers sold primarily in white with silver trim (although other colors were featured).
As part of this change LA Gear once again changed their logo for their women's line, using a gray diamond shape with the company name inside it.
Other popular lines include Brats, Boots, and Street Dancers for men.
Trouble began to appear for LA Gear in 1992. As its stock sunk from $50 to $10 a share, its founder, Robert Greenberg stepped down from his company, and subsequently founded a new shoe company named Skechers, which he still operates as of 2020.
By 1993 L.A. Gear's popularity was beginning to wane. Within a year the company began restricting access to the shoes, returning to higher-end department stores to market the brand. By doing this L.A. Gear hoped to gain a more upscale clientele for their shoes. However, in doing so the company was so desperate to sell the remaining inventory that L.A. Gear shoes began showing up at flea markets, swap meets, and supermarkets.
In 1994, L.A. Gear abandoned their men's performance footwear line and began marketing the lifestyle brands for women and children more aggressively. They also tried to acquire the Rykä brand of women's shoes, but the deal failed as Ryka, which was struggling as much as L.A. Gear was, continued its downward decline.
In 1995 Wal-Mart and L.A. Gear agreed to a three-year contract where the shoe company would design lower-valued and specific-to-store shoes for Wal-Mart. Since Wal-Mart was such a large retailer L.A. Gear felt they could not pass up an opportunity that lucrative (despite an apparent contradiction in strategy), but the venture failed as sales for L.A. Gear shoes at Wal-Mart had declined.
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998, in the process greatly reducing the lines of shoes it was selling.
LA Gear has remained popular with 80s/90s fashion enthusiasts, and the general public, with fond memories of childhood footwear. Since the bankruptcy filing L.A. Gear has made three concerted attempts at coming back. The first was in 1999, with an emphasis on casual shoes for men and women and the return of the popular L.A. Lights line for children. However, the brand failed to catch on.
In 2003, L.A. Gear again went through a relaunch, this time with an emphasis on men's performance footwear as the Catapult line was reintroduced. Los Angeles Laker rookie Luke Walton was signed on as the brand's spokesman and appeared in several print ads. His contract eventually ran out. (Ron Artest also was endorsed by L.A. Gear for a brief period in 2004 and 2005 in conjunction with his "Tru Warrier" persona, but the company dropped him as spokesman following the infamous Pacers–Pistons brawl.) L.A. Gear primarily marketed fashion athletic shoes for women and continues to do so to this day, although a recent relaunch of the brand has result in the de-emphasis of these lines (with L.A. Gear discontinuing the new Catapult line for men altogether).
In 2008, L.A. Gear re-released its Unstoppable retro range, which saw sneaker lines such as the K.A.J and Starshooter High available in a variety of fashionable and brash colour schemes. Chris Brown even wore a pair of black and white K.A.J in one of his music videos, and later the movie Pain & Gain also featured subtle product placement of them. L.A. Gear rereleased its Stardust women's fashion line in 2009 and later released a new version of the popular L.A. Lights. L.A. Gear also joined the rocker bottom shoe craze that year by releasing the Walk N Tone sneaker line for women.
L.A. Gear released its Hollywood men's sneaker in 2012 alongside the Unstoppable range. In October 2014, L.A. Gear underwent another revamp of some of its product lines and announced its 2015 spring/summer launch with new sneakers such as the L.A. Lights Liquid gold edition and the T Raww Runner, endorsed by American rapper Tyga.
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