Bob Marley Spread Adidas From Jamaica to the World

How the reggae icon has influenced the sportswear world.

Bob Marley sitting, wearing an adidas tracksuit, with a sneaker visible
Bob Marley wearing Adidas / Via Getty
Bob Marley sitting, wearing an adidas tracksuit, with a sneaker visible

Adidas was born out of Germany and gained a stronghold in England, but one of its cultural homes is actually across the Atlantic Ocean, on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. It makes sense that the football-loving nation would have a soft spot for the Three Stripes, but it’s not solely because of a shared appreciation for the beautiful game—it also goes back to the island’s greatest cultural export: Bob Marley.

Bob Marley is at the center of the conversation once again. Not that he ever went away, but the film One Love, a biopic that charts his rise to fame until his death in 1981, hit theaters this week. It’s giving Adidas a chance to roll out product, affiliated or unaffiliated, that shows the ties between Marley, the Stripes, and Jamaica. There’s the relaunch of the Adidas Island Series with a new Jamaica shoe, the official partnership between Jamaica’s Football Federation and Adidas created by all-star designer Grace Wales Bonner, and an official project between Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God Athletics and the Marley estate through Rohan Marley.

One of Adidas’ greatest attributes is its archive. That doesn’t just extend to the shoes it has stored away in Herzogenaurach, Germany, but to the moments over the years that impacted people and can never be erased. Some of the strongest connections to Adidas for some people lie in the images of Bob Marley wearing the brand: him in a pair of the SL72s or Rod Lavers, a pair of football boots while either tearing it up on the pitch or drinking on the beach, or wearing one of the Beckenbauer track tops or a Three Stripe ringer tee.

Marley functioned as a walking billboard for the brand. Today, when partnerships between artists and sportswear companies can be calculated and often feel stale, the combo of Marley and Adidas is refreshing. He wore the clothes because he loved them, and it made it that much cooler. He’s not a “sneaker icon” as we’ve come to know them these days—either an athlete with a signature shoe or an artist designing hype product—but someone who went out and lived an awesome life and made the things he wore that much cooler by association.

Man in sportswear juggles a soccer ball, showcasing classic sneakers. Text overlay promotes 'Fear of God' brand

That’s what inspired Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo to create a merch collection with the Marley Estate for the One Love film. Lorenzo says he collaborated with Bob Marley’s son, Rohan, to get the project done.

“The 3 stripes number one global unofficial ambassador in the world, and without doubt the most influential…. the reason 3 stripes had any cultural meaning to me as a kid,” Lorenzo told me over Instagram. 

While the collection is just hoodies and T-shirts with an image of Marley kicking up a football at this point, Lorenzo said there was more on the way in an Instagram comment on the @complexstyle account.

“Small seed and look into what’s to come,” Lorenzo wrote. “Yes, designed into apparel etc and a deep story around the marley’s soccer and american football legacy will be told thoroughly… we wanted to drop, a small capsule to celebrate the film today… yes, any honor of bob marley deserves a deep nuanced collection, and that’s coming.”

It’s hard not to see the impact he’s had on the brand and Jamaica’s influence on sneaker culture. Travel back in time to the early 2000s and go into any Journeys store, and you’ll likely see a host of Rasta-themed product from the brand. Shell toes with red, yellow, and green stripes were commonplace in that era; some made out of hemp too. Jackets and T-shirts, too, were done in a matching fashion. In 2008, Adidas was able to do a collection with Marley’s Tuff Gong records that included a Pro Model sneaker with the Lion of Judah on the heel and an apparel range that was all done in Rasta colors.

Marley’s Adidas lineage was maybe best expressed by Gary Aspden’s SPZL line in Spring 2017, when the former Adidas head of entertainment marketing crafted a campaign through a Jamaican lens. He not only recreated 1970s and ‘80s styles, but enlisted current reggae superstar Chronixx for the lookbook and shot it in Jamaica to really drive the point home.

Person in athletic wear with sneakers standing in a forest clearing

“I am a huge fan of Bob Marley (I don't trust anyone who isn't), and it was him and his peers who were the first people, as far as I am aware, to adopt head-to-toe sportswear as a look off the field, way before hip-hop and rappers took on that look,” Aspden told me back then. “The apparel range uses a graphic that says ‘Two Elevens Clash’ in reference to the clash of two subcultures: Jamaican roots reggae and British football ‘Casual’ culture. Both have a strong connection to Adidas.”

The connection with Marley, Adidas, and British style was also embraced by Sean Paul during his appearance on Full Size Run in 2022.

“Adidas was my thing for a while too,” Paul said. “Marley used to wear a lot of Adidas football boots. But what Jamaica’s also pretty big on, which I’m sure y’all know about, is Clarks.”

While they aren’t directly related, we saw these three worlds collide for one of the best sneakers of 2023 with Ronnie Fieg’s work on the Kith x Clarks x Adidas Samba. It’s easy to look at that shoe and, if you know a bit of history, see how it all comes together—a pair of football shoes in the Samba with a thick crepe sole from Clarks, which have both been kicking around Jamaica for decades.

Another tie between Jamaican culture and Adidas is the recent partnership between the brand and the country’s national football team, the Reggae Boyz and Girlz, and British-Jamaican designer Grace Wales Bonner, who has garnered well-deserved attention through her work on the Adidas Samba. Bonner was able to design official uniforms and warm-up jackets for Jamaica that harken back to yesteryear and fit perfectly within the ethos of the brand.

Three soccer players in yellow and green jerseys, one looking down at another's sneakers, on a field

Bonner has also reworked the SL72 on several occasions, a shoe that Bob Marley famously wore with a pair of trousers and a button-up shirt. There’s also an SL72 that’s part of the Jamaican football collection in green, yellow, and black.

In 2021 we almost got another Bob Marley x Adidas sneaker, when Dutch football club Ajax collaborated with the brand on a Samba that donned the Rasta stripes and was inspired by Marley’s song “Three Little Birds.” Supporters of the club sing this song at matches, as the lyrics, “Don’t worry about a thing/’cause everything little thing is gonna be alright,” give hope to the faithful, even in hard times. The club themselves also wore a third kit inspired by Marley and the song.

The connection between Adidas and reggae music is still going strong, especially in the UK, where both scenes connect as a crossroads of culture.

“Reggae music is life. Reggae music is heartbeat. It’s part of my everyday being,” said British-Jamaican Adidas collector and collaborator Robert Brooks in a 2019 film for Adidas SPZL. “A new pair of trainers at an all-dayer said a lot. And at that age, you want to say a lot.”

Black sneaker with green, yellow, and red stripes on the side

Another moment to come from the combination of  Adidas, Bob Marley, and Jamaica is the upcoming re-release of the Adidas Jamaica. The shoe comes in a charcoal grey upper and black stripes, with the outlines of the stripes being in the Rasta red, yellow, and green. The Adidas Jamaica last came out in 2015 in a yellow and black colorway.

We’re more than 40 years past the death of Bob Marley, and his legacy is stronger than ever. And while I can’t imagine he wanted his lasting impression to be in the world of footwear and clothing, it doesn’t hurt as a vessel to spread his message of peace, love, and unity.