Interview – David Foster
Retrobok is hugely fortunate to have interviewed David Foster, revealing some fascinating insights into Reeboks’ history. David is the 8th generation of the Foster family involved in shoemaking — his Father Joe and Uncle Jeff started Reebok from the ashes of the J.W. Fosters company in 1958. David himself was directly involved in the design and manufacture of some of Reeboks’ most succesful shoes in the 1980’s. Read on for a glimpse into Reeboks’ most important years — and to discover the influence from Volvo Cars …
(BokOne) Hi David, I would love to add an article on Retrobok sharing your memories and information of your time at Reebok – if you had a little time to answer some questions? (David Foster) “Hi , I am more than happy to answer any questions you have.”
Can you tell us briefly about your history with Reebok? “I officially started to work for Reebok in the late autumn of ’82 and worked in many roles until ’90 when I moved over to the USA as a designer for The Rockport Company. I finally left Reebok altogether in ’93 to work for Clarks, Karrimor and set up ION in 2000. As one of the founders sons I did spend many summer holidays working in the Reebok factory, making shoe boxes, cementing insoles, etc. I ran the move of the UK factory from Bury to Bolton in ’86.”
What responsibilities did you have? “I held many varied jobs at Reebok as the organisation grew: Assistant Designer, Pattern Cutter, Designer, Production Commercialisation Manager, Senior Designer, International Design Manager, Special Projects Manager.”
During your time at Reebok, where were you based? “For the first couple of years I was based in Bolton UK, then gradually I spent more time in the USA and South Korea where production was based, between ’85 ad ’89 I spent approximately 6 months of the year in Korea, 4 months in the USA and 2 in the UK.”
From Retroboks’ perspective the 1980’s seemed to be a golden era for Reebok – would you agree with that? “Yes, Reebok grew from a £10 million company to £1 billion company in that period, there was a massive amount of change from a small UK based company with some Korean sub-manufacturing, to a USA-based mega corporation.”
I gather you hand-made the 1983 Sydney Maree shoe – is this correct? “Yes, among many. I was responsible for making all athletes footwear, with bespoke features and sizing for each athlete.”
Can you tell us other shoes you designed or made? And which you are most proud of? “Most of the shoes from the early ’80s where designed by a small group of people and worked on by them all: Paul Brown, Steve Liggett and myself. From ’86 Tuan Le and Juan Diaz also. I took over as International Designer in ’87 which involved re-designing many old designs for international markets and adding fashion colours into these designs to satisfy the growing fashion demands of the markets! Examples would be the ‘red hot’ Reebok promotions and Orange high tops made famous by Cybill Shepherd at the Oscars, all the funky Cricket and running shoes made in the UK from ’87 on!”
Can you define the 60’s or 70’s from Reeboks point of view? This seems to be a formative period, but there is little history available. “I would say that the ’60’s and 70’s were very difficult years for Reebok. It was very difficult to grow and promote a brand in the very niche running world at this time. They (presumably Joe and Jeff Foster — BokOne) both spent a great amount of time travelling to running stores in the ’60’s as there were no really trade shows or organisations. They had to show up at running events with a tent, later a caravan and sell direct to runners. Some of these people would buy several pairs and sell them on to friends to build the word. This same approach was used much later to great effect in the Aerobic Instructor Programme (’84-’89), Instructors buying shoes and selling to their clients. The market for athletic footwear was always growing and by the mid-70’s Trade Associations and Trade Shows began to form, first in the USA and then Europe, so they would attend these and saw a massive increase in sales. During the mid-70’s Reebok had a booming California market before Paul Fireman was appointed distributor in 1978-79!”
Could you enlighten us to any of the shoes’ acronymn meanings? eg: GL, LX, DL, LC, CL? “Some meant something other were simply ripped of car badges: the product manager for footwear in the mid ’80s had a love of European cars and drove a clapped-out Volvo so these handle got stuck onto names by him LX = Luxury, DL = Deluxe, etc., some such as the GT on Victory GT meant Gore Tex, so I guess that’s where he plucked it from.”
Do you recognise these at all?
“This is something made after ’95 to look like a ’70’s World Ten. I have attached a copy of the original in the 1970 catalogue” —
Is there any history, or additional information you would like to share with Retrobok? “There is some further history and information about the Foster family on our Ion associates Facebook page“
Thanks for your time, David. Retrobok wishes you the best with ION and your future. I hope you re-visit occasionally.
Footnote — David was also kind enough to offer many corrections and updates to information here on Retrobok, these have been amended accordingly. ~BokOne