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Year of the Three Stripe: Why Adidas Ruled Footwear in 2016

Between political uncertainties and shoppers who were more fickle and demanding than ever, it was another wild year in the footwear biz. But in 2016, it was all smooth sailing for Adidas.

The German footwear brand continued to build on its comeback momentum from 2015 to deliver one of its most successful years ever, debuting innovative products that pushed athletic footwear forward while also greatly increasing its bottom line.

Though the year started off on a slightly dramatic note for the company when it was announced CEO Herbert Hainer would depart earlier than expected (he stepped down in September), Hainer was able to lead the company to continued sales growth through the end of his tenure. Shares of Adidas rose 56 percent this year, smoking rivals Nike and Under Armour, shares of which sagged 17 and 37 percent, respectively.

Better yet, the company was able to take back its position as the second-largest U.S. sportswear brand from Under Armour, which briefly surpassed it in 2015. According to data from NPD Group, Adidas’ market share of U.S. athletic footwear grew to 7.2% through the end of November, up from 4.3% just a year ago. Nike, meanwhile, saw its grip on the U.S. market slip to 37.3%, down from 41 percent last year.

Growth has so far continued under newly appointed CEO Kasper Rorsted, with revenue up 20 percent at the company’s namesake business during its most recent quarter. Even Adidas Group’s struggling TaylorMade golf unit, which the company is trying to sell off, posted a respectable 6 percent bump in sales.

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On the retail front, Adidas continued to grow and innovate. In March, the company announced it would be greatly expanding its China footprint with the planned opening of an additional 3,000 doors there by 2020. And just this month, the company wowed shoppers in Sweden with the opening of its innovative virtual reality concept store.

Innovation was one thing Adidas was not short on in 2016, making great leaps forward in nearly every area of its business. From 3D printed sneakers, to biodegrade sneakers, to shoes made of ocean plastic, it seemed there wasn’t anything Adidas couldn’t make shoes out of.

In manufacturing, Adidas finally debuted its robotic Speedfactories, which the company plans to open in several locations around the world to increase speed to market.

Adidas is also aggressively courting sponsorship deals with top teams and athletes as a means of boosting its profile in the sport market. Two years ago, Adidas agreed to spend £75 million ($97 million) a year to sponsor Manchester United, the British soccer club which until that point was sponsored by Nike.

Stateside, the company currently sponsors around 20 athletes in both the NFL and MLB, but the brand is planning to sign up to 250 players in both leagues within the next three seasons, and may be planning to use its Yeezy brand as a sort of trojan horse to do so.

Speaking of which, it would be impossible to talk about Adidas in 2016 without mentioning Kanye West, the rapper-turned-designer who proved his Yeezy Boosts were far more than hype. In June, the company greatly expanded West’s role within the company with the launch of Adidas + Kanye West, a Yeezy-branded entity of men’s and women’s footwear, apparel and accessories for streetwear and sport.

Adidas continued its breach of the fashion world with the launch of Adidas Athletics, its newest category comprising trendy and functional activewear that bridges the gap between on-field performance and personal style. Adidas also extended its popular Stella McCartney partnership, while its collaboration with Alexander Wang took New York Fashion Week by storm in September.

Adidas also took time to grow its brand awareness among women, part of a larger trend within the athletic industry. In February, the company launched Avenue A, a women’s-only subscription service, and also debuted a sneaker designed specifically for women.

But when it came down to it, Adidas in 2016 succeeded because it continued to do what it does best: make sneakers people want to wear. Though not as hype-y as Kanye West’s Yeezy range, Pharrell’s line of shoes with Adidas proved to be big hits. And when it came down to the classics, the Stan Smith proved to be eternal, as the man himself told VAMP earlier this year.