Why Is the Reebok Instapump Fury So Popular in Asia?

We investigate why and how the retro-futuristic sneaker made its stronghold out east.

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Within the pantheon of sneaker greats, the Reebok Instapump Fury has presided since its 1994 debut when it almost single-handedly redefined what was possible in sneaker design for its brazen, tech-infused construction. While its classic status is all but cemented in sneaker history, the Instapump Fury has seen a revival in the past two years that has reached a sustained fever pitch in Asia, specifically in Japan, Korea and China.

It is here that the futuristic sneaker consistently commands prime real estate in sneaker store windows, where demand has only increased year after year to the point where seemingly every third person on the street is wearing a pair. Compare this to North America and Europe where, for all its pomp and history, the Instapump Fury remains very much a niche sneaker, and a picture emerges of the sneaker’s curious and unmatched popularity in Asia that has arisen from the region’s own blend of pop culture, aesthetics, and plain good marketing.

Designed by Steven Smith, the Instapump Fury built upon the proprietary Pump mechanism developed only a few years prior in 1988 for use in basketball and tennis footwear, and combined several emerging technologies at Reebok to create a ”showpiece of footwear” that bordered on a proof of concept. These included the paradigm-shifting air bladders that forwent any and all previous lace systems, the segmented Hexalite cushioning that reduced the shoe’s weight by one-third, and the Graphlite carbon arch that bridged the two halves of the sole.

Decked out in its original flaming “Citron” colorway, the Instapump Fury was destined to split opinions upon its debut, but as for the eventual migration to its spiritual home in the East, that was not to happen until 1997 when Hong Kong native and kung fu superstar Jackie Chan personally lent his name to a neon yellow colorway of the sneaker, thus introducing it to a whole new fanbase. In the same year, a special colorway dubbed “Hong Kong Handover” was also released to commemorate the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Great Britain to China, making its presence especially acute in the former colony.

Fast forward to 2014, which marked the Instapump Fury’s 20th anniversary. That year Reebok pulled out all the stops in its ensuing celebration, which saw 33 collaborative colorways released over the course of the year and included any sneaker boutique, pop culture franchise and brand worth their salt. Within the Asian realm, collaborations with the likes of Japan’s atmos, BAPE, UNITED ARROWS, BEAMS and mita sneakers; Hong Kong’s MILK Magazine; and Taiwan’s Invincible pushed the silhouette to the forefront of the fashion consciousness, while colorways dedicated to the hugely popular Gundam and Ghost In The Shell anime franchises transcended fashion to reach the general public. In the aftermath, the Instapump Fury’s renaissance was only solidified by its appearances on the feet of the most popular Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong celebrities.

Within Asia, Hong Kong is often a locus of trend-driven street fashions and the most representative microcosm of the Asian fashion scene for its massive consumption of Japanese, Korean and Chinese pop culture. To this end, we asked prominent members of the local sneaker scene for their thoughts on the rise, frenzy, and future of the Instapump Fury within the city.

Gundam x Reebok Instapump Fury (2014)

What have sales of the Instapump Fury been like at your shop?

Billy Pang, founder and owner of Dahood: The Instapump Fury is a constant seller — we have both regular customers and walk-in customers asking for different colorways on a daily basis. For us, its basically a proven winner amongst the consumers in this part of the world.

Kay Wong, Reebok Assistant Merchandising Manager: It has always been our most iconic item and we launch several new Pump Fury [models] every month to keep people’s interest. People love them so much and it’s always our top selling product.

Theo Ng, founder and owner of Second Kill: We sell around 500 pairs a month.

Henry Chow, owner of Attitude Sneakers: We started selling the Instapump Fury about three years ago because of the 20th anniversary, and right now we sell over 100 pairs every month.

What makes the Instapump Fury especially popular in Hong Kong?

Dahood: There are many factors, such as the colorways being worn by different local, Japanese and Korean celebrities in TV drama series, as well as the various collaboration with notable brands such as mastermind JAPAN, BEAMS, X-Girl, BAPE, Gundam and atmos. Combining these factors along with the affordable pricing, it creates an irresistible appeal for the fashion-centric crowd to buy into.

Reebok: Combining the Pump technology with its unique look, the Instapump Fury is not only a pair of sports shoes, but also works for street-style outfits. Retro sneakers are also a trend in Hong Kong, and now that Reebok has brung back this classic design with modern colorways, people have gone crazy for it.

Tat Chan, sneaker collector: Mostly because of Korean dramas. In My Love From the Star, [lead actor] Kim Soo-hyun plays [alien in disguise] Do Min-joon, whose favourite sneaker in the show is the Instapump Fury “Brazen Berry.” He also brang back the hype of Reebok, in the same way that [lead actress] Jun Ji-hyun sold out every fashion item she wore.

Second Kill: Firstly, because of the return of the OG “Citron” colorway during the 20th anniversary of the Instapump Fury. And secondly, because of Korean TV dramas. Kim Soo-Hyun, the lead actor of My Love From the Star, wore the Instapump Fury which familiarized many of the younger generations to the sneaker.

Reebok Instapump Fury OG ”Jackie Chan” (1997)

The Instapump Fury was originally released in 1994. Why do you think it has only become so popular in the past 2-3 years?

Dahood: The design of the Instapump Fury was way ahead of its time back in 1994, and since then we’ve seen more radical footwear designs, so it doesn’t look as alienating to the current generation compared to when it first debuted. Combine it with a strong marketing campaign, celebrity endorsement and collaborative roll-out with other brands, and it was groomed for success with the current generation of sneaker heads.

Reebok: The Instapump Fury has always been popular, but it is just on fire these past few years. When it first launched, Björk wore and popularized them, while Karl Lagerfeld chose the Instapump Fury as the catwalk shoes in his 2001 Chanel fashion show. In the past 2-3 years, we have had different collaborations with fashion brands that have caught people’s attention. This has intersected nicely with the rapid increase in the demand for style-centric sneakers recently.

Second Kill: People like crossover sneakers, especially the Instapump Fury’s crossover with popular brands like BAPE, Disney, and Mastermind JAPAN. Its many recent choices of colorways and textures don’t hurt either.

Chan: The 20th anniversary was important for its [current] hype, but actually it all started in 1997, when Reebok released an Instapump Fury collaboration with Jackie Chan and raised the awareness of Hong Kong sneaker heads.

What do you think of footwear trends in Hong Kong?

Dahood: People tend to buy what their friends are wearing, what celebrities are wearing or what magazines are manipulating them to buy. It’s not a healthy trend and at Dahood we are trying to diversify people’s choices by offering them a mix of the hottest products along with more obscure ones where it may resonate more with sneaker collectors.

Reebok: Hong Kong consumers are trend followers and the sneakers trend is going to stay for a long while across the globe. We forsee that the demand for sports footwear and sneakers will keep outperforming other categories of shoes and continue growing.

Chan: The footwear trends here are mostly driven by [local] celebrities such as Edison Chen and Shawn Yue, as well as by the likes of Kim Soo-hyun [from My Love From the Star].

Second Kill: Hong Kong people are influenced a lot by the Korean Wave, and oftentimes their popular singers and actors become sneaker icons. Hong Kong people also tend to prefer sneakers with lots of colors.

BAPE x mita sneakers x Reebok Instapump Fury (2014)

Do you think people are getting tired of the Instapump Fury yet?

Dahood: Not yet. There are still many people wearing various colorways on the streets so that may be a hint of what’s hot on the scene right now. From a business perspective, we still see the Instapump Fury as a very strong product with demand and with some pretty good colorways coming out in the next few months. We think the momentum will definitely keep on continuing throughout 2016.

Reebok: As a pair of sneakers with a long and interesting history, the Instapump Fury has its own intrinsic value and we believe it will continue to attract new fans.

Chan: Definitely. There are too many colorways of the same style, and not much variety in materials and textures.

Second Kill: I think people are still in love with the Instapump Fury. If Reebok keeps releasing limited editions or special colourways, people will continue to buy the Instapump Fury. The coming Packer x atmos x BOUNTY HUNTER limited edition collaboration will be the next popular crossover sneaker model for [the Hong Kong market].

Attitude: I think there are still a lot of fans. We’ve also discovered that our clients like to buy different colorways to match with different outfits. We believe that as long as Reebok continues to produce original, conversation-provoking colorways and continues to add new elements onto the Instapump Fury, its hype will easily continue for another year or two.

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