||This article contains content that is written like an advertisement. (April 2012)|
|Michael O'Donnell, Director of PRO-Keds; Peter Koytroulis, Director of PRO-Keds Design|
In 1949, Keds established PRO-Keds, an American athletic footwear line, primarily intended for basketball.
The first PRO-Keds product was the classic Royal, a canvas basketball shoe in high and low tops featuring a distinctive red and blue powerstripe adjacent to the toe. Over time, new styles were added across the categories of baseball, football, tennis, track & field. Items utilizing exclusive shock-absorbent surpport and cushioning techniques were also developed to keep pace with the rapid advancements in footwear technology.
By the late 1970s, PRO-Keds had become synonymous with some of the biggest names in basketball history and professional sports, and attained cult status as the first real sneaker with style among New York City’s early hip hop community.
Today, PRO-Keds product remains focused around their vault of classic styles utilizing contemporary applications of color and material. With an emphasis on upper-tier distribution and limited-edition collaborations, PRO-Keds continues to build on its rich legacy through the progressive introductions of authentic sports product.
HISTORY 1949-1970 The U.S. Rubber Company made the first pair of rubber-soled canvas shoes called Keds in 1916. The brand became popular with athletes in the mid-1920s, but it was not until 1949 when they established PRO-Keds, a brand division that focused on performance sport product geared for athletes, specifically basketball players.
The first style of PRO-Keds was a canvas hi-top basketball shoe known as the Royal. Originally marketed as the “Sureshot”, it was an innovative sneaker designed with the more serious athlete in mind. In the early 1950s, George Mikan, basketball’s first true big man, endorsed the Royal and he and all his teammates on the 1953-1954 Minneapolis Lakers wore this shoe en route to a World Championship that season. The team would go on to win six championships between 1948 and 1955.
PRO-Keds would go on to play an integral role in basketball history by appearing on some of the top players in the game. In the 1970s, Jo Jo White, Kareem Abdul Jabbar Bob Love, Lou Hudson, Willis Reed, and Nate Archibald all wore PRO-Keds, further solidifying PRO-Keds as an authentic sports brand.
In 1969, PRO-Keds introduced the "PRO-Keds Super," which was also known as the 69er. To some people growing up in Harlem and the Bronx, the 69er was also referred to as the “Uptowns”. With popular NYC basketball players wearing and endorsing the product on court, the brand also gained street credibility when they were seen on the feet of Hip-Hop pioneers DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, and the Rock Steady Crew amongst several others. With both its on court and street visibility, 69er quickly became the first classic sneaker for New Yorkers.
1970-1981 In the early 1970s, PRO-Keds introduced the Royal Master, also known as the Royal Plus. The shoe featured a rich suede upper, double power stripes, and a padded collar. It was available as both a high top and low top and earned credibility for both its performance elements as well as its key style features. Overtime, the Royal Master became one of the most well known basketball models. Some of the game’s most exciting players including Pete Maravich, Tiny Archibald, and Jo Jo White endorsed this shoe. In addition to PRO-Keds hardtop significance, its popularity on the streets continued as members of NYC’s elitle B-boy community adopted it as a key break dancing shoe.
Over the course of this decade, PRO-Keds continued to diversify their footwear offerings. The Royal Edge, later known as the Royal CVO, was one of the brand's first lifestyle products. The Royal CVO served as a complement to the Royal basketball shoe and became a favorite of skaters in the 1970s and 1980s. The 'Pro-Keds' 'Trophy Deluxe' model was a shoe specifically for playing tennis, offered for both men and women. The mens version was all-white with bicycle stitching, while the women's version had a combination blue-white strip along both sides of the upper as part of its bicycle stitching. The 'Trophy Deluxe" had an appearance similar to Tretorn's 'Nylite' tennis shoe (which then was very popular).
In 1979, the Stride Ride Corporation acquired Keds and their sister brand, PRO-Keds from Uniroyal, the successor to U.S. Rubber.
In the spring of 1980, PRO-Keds launched a collection of performance cupsole basketball shoes with the marquee model being the Shotmaker. The Shotmaker would worn by collegiate greats Ralph Sampson, Gerald Henderson as well as two elite NCAA basketball programs—the Louisville Cardinals, and the Michigan State Spartans. This signaled a major evolution away from the brand’s roots in vulcanized footwear towards more modern performance basketball platforms.
In 1981, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, a professional boxer, became the newest face and spokesperson for the brand maintaining its authentic and athletic reputation.
1982-2005 Throughout the 1980s, new styles were added across the categories of baseball, football, tennis, track and field. PRO-Keds also developed shoes using exclusive shock-absorbent support and cushioning techniques to keep pace with the rapid advancements in footwear technology. Endorsers spanned beyond basketball into football with stars Mark Gastineau (N.Y. Jets), Joe Theismann (Washington Redskins), and Randy White (Dallas Cowboys), and into baseball with Reds’ great Johnny Bench. Starting in the 1990s, PRO-Keds focused on its global business by introducing it’s classic shoes with new designs and materials around the world. It was during this time period that the brand flourished in Japan. Leading the resurgence was the tennis model, the Court King, which was reworked using vibrant toe cap colors, special materials, and limited edition prints. Many of these new releases became highly sought after collectibles by the sneaker community. Using the momentum gained from its popularity in Japan, PRO-Keds re-issued limited-edition classics such as the Royal Canvas, the Court King and the historic Royal Master basketball shoe in the early 2000s.
2002–Present Since the early 2000s, PRO-Keds has continued its focus on their classic styles as well as contemporary evolutions of those classics in a variety of colors and materials. With an emphasis on upper-tier distribution and limited-edition collaborations, the PRO-Keds line is anchored by five cornerstone styles (the Royal, the Royal Master, the Royal Plus, the 69er, and the Royal CVO). PRO-Keds are sold at premium boutiques, department stores, and sneaker specialty stores.
Collaborations & PRO-motions Collaborations have played a big role in PRO-Keds recent strategy. In the past few years, PRO-Keds has partnered with some of the most elite brands, retailers, and personalities in the industry including Stussy, Jeffrey NY, HUF, Opening Ceremony, Bobbito Garcia, Play Cloths, 10Deep, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Biz Markie. Here are details on a few of those…
In October 2009, PRO-Keds collaborated with Bobbito Garcia and released the “Royal Flash” shoe available in four different colors. Garcia is a DJ, writer, entrepreneur and the author behind Where’d You Get Those?: New York City’s Sneaker Culture 1960-1987. Utilizing the Royal Flash model, the Bobbito was created in honor of the sneaker’s 30th Anniversary. The set consisted of four suede color ways, and was released on October 28 at select New York retail accounts. All four shoes sit on all white soles and are accented with white leather stripes and heel panels. “El Barrio, NYC” appears across the top of the tongue in gold foil text, paying tribute to Bobbito’s Spanish Harlem roots. 30th year anniversary writing appears on the underside of the tongue. “A.K.A. ADD-ON” also appears, a nod to the reference Bobbito makes to the Royal Flash in his sneaker Bible “Where’d You Get Those?”
In April 2011, Pabst Blue Ribbon released X pairs of a Royal CVO Canvas special edition promotional item. The shoe, along with other promotional items, was given to selected tastemakers, artists, celebrities and influencers.
Legendary rapper Biz Markie and PRO-Keds collaborated in June 2011 for a special edition 69er Leather collection available in 3 different colors: olive green, black, and white. The shoe was launched at Packer Shoes in Teaneck, New Jersey. The shoe came with a unique PRO-Keds X Biz Markie shoebox, complete with a limited edition Biz Markie flash drive, pre-loaded with never-before-seen video footage from Biz. Only 200 pairs of shoes were made.
On February 3, 2014, Keds confirmed that it discontinued the PRO-Keds line.