At a time when footwear brands were in a race for technological and innovation breakthroughs, Reebok had a plan to rise above the competition: Reebok Advanced Concepts.
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The Reebok Advanced Concepts (RAC) team, formed in the late 1980s, was the group that was bringing the innovative and sometimes “out there” ideas to life for the brand and became a force to be reckoned with in the sneaker world. While the group would eventually launch the Split Sole, DMX and 3D Ultralite, what came first was an idea that was so innovative, people still can’t stop talking about it.
In 1989 Reebok released THE PUMP. That’s right. The OG kicks of the late eighties and early 90s. THE PUMP became a calling card for the brand in basketball. RAC team leader, Paul Litchfield, was the man behind the creation of THE PUMP, a tough task at the time, considering the fact that the idea was pretty out there. According to the Reebok Archive, THE PUMP technology featured inflatable chambers fitted within the shoe which enabled the wearer to create a custom fit by either inflating or deflating the areas of the shoe around the ankle and full foot giving stability and support. The design was so clever that the air chambers were quilted so that only certain amounts of air could reach the most flexible parts of the foot in order to retain that movement.
Litchfield sat down with the Reebok Archive a while back to explain the inspiration for this innovative technology, and credited the lightbulb moment to solving a problem for athletes.
“…We listened to the college players and pro players and that’s why we made THE PUMP. We wanted to make a shoe that was more supportive. As [the players] were getting bigger, stronger, the high-top shoes were just big shoes. Today they wouldn’t wear shoes that high, they’d wear mid cuts or low cuts but back in the day the philosophy was that you want to support the ankle so that’s why we did THE PUMP,” he says.
Two prototype silhouettes later, Litchfield kicked it to designer Paul Brown for more iterations and according to him, about four or five days later, the design was solid.
“I gave the shoes to Paul Brown. Paul decided to take THE PUMP mechanism and not only move it to the tongue but to the top and he thought it would be good to put a basketball design on it. He moved the release mechanism to the top so it all corresponds. He had this design eye. And I saw the drawing and I was like, ‘Holy crap—that’s it!’ It was really cool so we started on this trajectory to make this shoe, the life of this design. So it was a very intense ten months,” says Litchfield.
This sneaker was only the beginning in the highly-successful Reebok Pump revolution. There are so many names for this epic technology it’s hard to keep up. Sometimes called “Reebok Pump Retro”, other times it’s “Reebok Pump Original.” But no matter what people call it, they are always describing the iconic shoe. It’s also inspired some pretty amazing collections. Previous sneaker store owner and collector, DJ Senatore has collected around 400 pairs of Reebok Pumps, having been dubbed by some as the biggest Pump collector in the world.
“For me it started with the nostalgia of it all, I remembered having them when I was a kid,” he says. “In the early 2000s they retroed the Reebok Omni Lite in a few colors and I saw them in the mall. I ended up purchasing the 3 to 4 colors that they had and it was on after that. I started selling off everything else I had and concentrated solely on Reebok, I liked the fact that it was something different that not a lot of people were collecting. It made my collection unique.”
As a true collector, Senatore is always on the lookout for Reebok Pumps no matter where he travels and the effort is always worth it.
“Once I drove to Washington D.C. on a Friday night for a release, slept in the car outside of the store, bought the pairs, then drove back to New Jersey in time to open the store. I check stores everywhere I travel, so I've had to ship pairs home from Vegas and as far as Germany.”
With a collection as large as Senatore’s he’s also had to spend to build the collection. He’s also had some epic Reebok Pumps “gifted” to him from the man himself, Paul Litchfield…because of course the two are friends. Can’t get any cooler than that.
“The first pair I bought myself when I was in college was the Reebok Omni Lites, and they were $100. Since then I've scored a lot of great deals at $50. I've paid up to $450 for some hard to find originals, and up to $1000 on a really rare pair I didn't think I'd ever find. I've also been lucky enough to have my buddy Paul Litchfield make me a few pairs of one of one's for me, which to me are priceless.”
Looking to walk in Senatore’s footsteps and start collecting? Luckily the OGs are still around. Versions of THE PUMP can still be found, but only if you’re willing to spend the cash. On some online sites a never worn before pair of Retro Reebok Pump Omni Lites can go for $230 and the original 1989 Reebok Pump Retro version can go as high as $340! Other slightly less valuable iterations can be around $85-150, a bit more reasonable if you aren’t in dire need of the exclusivity.
Coming shortly after the original silhouette in 1992 keeping the momentum going, was Reebok Instapump technology, the next iteration of THE PUMP evolution. The Reebok Archive states that the technology instantly inflated the shoe to the tightened, customized fit. The Instapump was known for the use of a "pump gun" that filled the bladder with CO2 (crazy innovative for the early 90s right?!). Initially designed to give athletes an edge in competition, these sneakers were used by athletes who were not messing around.
In 1994 the Reebok Instapump Fury or “Reebok Pump Fury” proved those who thought a running shoe without laces couldn’t work, wrong. Designer Steven Smith created a shoe so unique that it was unlike anything else on the market. And it worked! According to the Reebok Archive, the sneaker used a Pump Full-Foot Chamber system instead of laces and lightweight GraphLite material in place of a midsole. The separated outsole laid the groundwork for future play with Split Sole technology.
But THE PUMP technology was far from over. Future versions of THE PUMP led to The Fury 2 in 2003 and 2004 that utilized the new Pump 2.0 system, which according to the Reebok Archive, was an inflated bladder that filled with air as someone walked and removed the manual pumping the system was known for. And let’s be real, it was also a super sleek look.
Now over twenty years later, the Instapump Fury is still considered a huge technical achievement in footwear. Updated versions of the sneaker are still available today with an opportunity to customize them through Reebok, proving its popularity remains stronger than ever.
Pump Supreme, $99.97; Reebok.com
During Instapump Fury’s 20th anniversary in 2014, Reebok released 27 exclusive collaborations and releases to celebrate, sending sneakerheads clamoring for a pair. From famous collaborations with major design houses and influencers, the sneaker remains an icon and continues to lead to new innovations up to this day.
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