If you take an interest in style—whether that be high fashion, classical menswear or streetwear—you’re undoubtedly familiar with the concept that it is all cyclical. Brands inevitably revisit what was once a success and some things remain unchanged and omnipresent for years at a time. In the world of footwear—particularly sneakers—change is even slower, sometimes moving at a glacial pace. Cup soles have largely dominated the industry for decades, while the vulcanized rubber outsoles popularized by Vans and Converse have remained a stalwart for more than half a century. Every so often, though, a company pushes a revolutionary new technology. Most of the time these innovations go by unnoticed from a larger cultural perspective, but, occasionally, a performance-driven innovation shakes the industry to its core and profoundly alters the path of sneaker history.

After 1987, when the company’s visible Air unit and Air Max family revolutionized cushioning, every other sneaker company was seemingly chasing Nike in terms of innovation. In the early 2010s, it was the introduction of Flyknit that had Nike’s competitors scrambling. However, the streetwear and sneaker community has witnessed a reversal of titanic proportions in recent years: adidas, not Nike, was the one radically changing the landscape with the introduction of Boost cushioning technology. The white foam midsoles are now ubiquitous in premium retailers and streetwear boutiques alike, not to mention performance running stores. Like most other culturally-relevant kicks, the Boost movement’s roots are not in lifestyle sneakers, but rather in performance footwear.

Despite being introduced by adidas in 2013, Boost’s origins start in 2007, in the offices of a company not named adidas. Instead, Boost was developed by the world’s largest chemical producer, Badische Anilin & Soda-Fabrik (BASF). Originally, the technology took the shape of small white beads that the company called “energy capsules”; despite their impressive cushioning and energy-return properties, BASF didn’t really know what to do with the technology. That’s when the company realized that the individual beads could be fused together using steam to create larger-scale energy return units. ‘Energy return’ is a buzzword in the world of running and performance footwear and, as such, it was only natural for BASF to pitch the technology to adidas, a fellow German company.

That pitch involved what would become one of the most important things ever created with Boost technology: a ball. That white sphere allowed BASF to showcase the extent of the technology’s energy return properties—bounciness, if you’ll excuse the rather unscientific term. The BASF product outperformed the industry-standard EVA foam that had long dominated performance running shoes and, as adidas’ Director of Global Running, Matthias Am told GQ, spurred adidas’ design team to realize they could “revolutionize the running industry with [the] material.”

With adidas’ collective imagination running wild, the German sportswear manufacturer signed an exclusive licensing agreement with BASF to produce midsoles using the technology. Once the legal formalities were taken care of, adidas quickly got about perfecting the technology and by 2012 the brand was testing prototypes of what would become the Energy Boost.

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