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Throwback Thursday – LA Gear Lit Up Sneaker & Pop Culture in the 90’s

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I mean as far as the 90’s were concerned LA Gear personified a movement in fashion that was highly driven by color…  and light.  That’s right… LA Gear… and don’t you dare act like you ain’t want a pair…

Mom, LA Gear Please!

The ’90s fashion scene witnessed the meteoric rise of LA Gear, a brand that became synonymous with the era’s dynamic interplay of color and illumination. Far from just another line of footwear, LA Gear represented the pulsating heart of youth culture, eager to distinguish itself. Those sneakers weren’t mere accessories; they were emblems of coolness, igniting a fervor among both kids and adults. With every step taken in those high-tops, wearers didn’t just move; they made statements, lighting up their paths in ways unimaginable before.

It was the ultimate fashion statement for the prepubescent youth searching for just the right piece of flare to jump-start their social maturation.  It had kids all over the country asking their parents for the “light-up shoes”. It was a hightop masterpiece of leather and man-made synthetics with all the makings of a worldwide fashion phenomenon. Well, almost.

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A Childhood Dream: LA Gear Lights Up the Scene

The ultimate childhood trophy wasn’t just any cool pair of sneakers—it was owning a pair that lit up the room, literally. LA Gear transformed this dream into reality, introducing shoes that flickered with vibrant light, making every step an event. These were more than just shoes; they were high-top masterpieces, blending leather and synthetics into something that felt almost magical.

From Venice Beach to the World

Founded in 1979 by Robert Greenberg, LA Gear began its journey on Venice Beach, initially focusing on roller skates. However, by the mid-1980s, the brand expanded into athletic footwear and quickly captured the public’s imagination. LA Gear shoes, with their dual shoelace offering and distinctive style, became must-haves, featured in high-end department stores and, eventually, more accessible retailers.

Endorsements and Iconic Moments

The brand wasn’t shy about celebrity endorsements, aligning itself with legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joe Montana, and Wayne Gretzky. Even pop culture icons Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul lent their star power, propelling LA Gear’s shoes into the stratosphere of desirability.

The Challenge of Sustaining the Spark

Despite a dazzling beginning, LA Gear’s journey encountered turbulence. By the early ’90s, the market’s whims began to shift, and the brand faced the daunting task of maintaining its relevance in a rapidly evolving fashion landscape. Efforts to upscale the brand’s image by restricting access to their shoes and venturing into exclusive collaborations met with mixed results. The mid-’90s saw the brand recalibrating, focusing more on lifestyle lines for women and children, but the shifting strategies hinted at a deeper struggle to connect with a changing consumer base.

Bankruptcy and Attempts at Reinvention

The late ’90s and early 2000s marked a period of significant challenge for LA Gear, culminating in a bankruptcy filing in 1998. Yet, the brand’s spirit of innovation persisted, attempting a relaunch in 2004 with a focus on men’s performance footwear and fashion athletic shoes for women. Despite these efforts, the landscape of fashion and footwear had shifted irrevocably.

The Legacy of LA Gear

Today, LA Gear’s story is a testament to the cyclical nature of fashion and the enduring allure of innovation. While the brand’s brightest days may seem like echoes of the past, its impact on ’90s culture and fashion remains undeniable. LA Gear’s journey—from its inception to its zenith and the challenges that followed—reflects a fascinating chapter in the history of fashion, one that continues to inspire nostalgia and admiration.

LA Gear Girls

LA Gear History

  • L.A. Gear was founded by Robert Greenberg in 1979, to market and rent roller skates in Venice Beach.  In the mid-1980s, L.A. Gear expanded into athletic footwear and almost instantly became popular.
  • Two pairs of shoelaces were typically offered with these shoes, one almost always white and the other a different color.
  • As the 1990s began L.A. Gear’s popularity continued to rise as more and more people began to buy their shoes. Although the original lines were typically featured in high-end department stores such as Macy’s, as the decade turned L.A. Gear shoes became easier and easier to find in other stores- in fact, discount retailer Caldor began carrying L.A. Gear shoes designed specifically for the store and its clientele.
  • 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 and such 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 Ryka 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 was 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.
  • In 2004 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, but his contract eventually ran out and he never appeared in any advertising for the brand. (Ron Artest was also endorsed by L.A. Gear for a brief period of time 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).
  • LA Gear rereleased its Stardust women’s fashion line in 2009 and later released a new version of the popular L.A. Lights. LA Gear also joined the rocker bottom shoe craze that year by releasing the Walk N Tone sneaker line for women.

LA Gear Endorsements

  • One of the original athletes to endorse L.A. Gear shoes was NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who ended a long association with Adidas to sign with the upstart company toward the end of his playing career.
  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana signed an endorsement deal with L.A. Gear in 1990 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.
  • 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.

Reflecting on the Lights and Shadows

As we look back on LA Gear’s journey, it’s clear that the brand was more than just a manufacturer of trendy shoes. It was a cultural phenomenon that captured the essence of an era, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who grew up in its neon glow. The story of LA Gear, with its highs and lows, serves as a vibrant chapter in the annals of fashion history, reminding us that the brightest lights often cast the longest shadows.

Comments

  1. Christina Avatar

    LA Gear shoes were so cool! I will never forget my first pair of light up shoes. I thought I was the coolest kid on the block! It’s crazy how much shoes have change over time. Heelys Roller Shoes seem to be the new LA Gear… I wonder what’s next?
    http://www.become.com/resource-center/infographic/shoes.html

    1. Phantom5 Avatar

      Yeah man.. LA Gear was super tight when I was younger. I honestly would rock some now if I had a pair.

      1. Julia Berrian Avatar
        Julia Berrian

        Me too trying to find them in my size now