Bootlegger to Shoe Hustler: The History of the Asics Gel-Lyte V

Onitsuka Tiger sports shoe company was founded in Japan in 1949 by Kihachiro Onitsuka (1918-2007) who got into the making of sneakers during World War 2 reconstruction and after a brief stint selling bootleg beer.   By 1977, the Kobe-based company was renamed ASICS – an acronym of the Latin anima sana in corpore sano, which translates as ‘healthy soul in a healthy body,’ an ethos still central to the brand’s philosophy today. At this writing, ASICS is the largest athletic footwear and apparel maker in Japan and the fifth-biggest in the world.

Onitsuka Tiger started their line with basketball shoes, on the assumption that the sport was about to take hold in Japan. The initial attempts were failures but in the summer of 1951, inspiration struck Onitsuka in the form of a cold octopus salad. While chewing on cold octopus, he realized that the rubber soles of his shoes should mimic the suckers of an octopus tentacle, thereby providing a better grip of the basketball court. By 1956, the Japanese Olympic team was all kitted in Onitsuka Tiger as were following generations of gym class students in Japan. It is important to note that the Japanese Olympic team has never won a medal in the sport, but looks sharp nonetheless.

Oddly enough, at the London 2012 Olympics Games, The Netherlands chose the ASICS GT-II as their official shoe to be worn at the opening and closing ceremonies for the whole delegation. The design sported orange suede and nylon uppers, 3m-trim form stripe, the colors of the Dutch flag on the sole and top eyelets, and ‘Nederland’ on the insole. 

By the 1977 transformation into ASICS, the brand evolved into a general sporting goods brand with lines for skiing, baseball, swimming and golf, but their most lasting line was high-end trainers and racing shoes. ASICS continued to mine inspiration from unlikely sources and applied the air-cooling methods used in motorcycles to create vents in marathon shoes.

The brand hit a rough patch as Japan’s bubble economy burst- a time in the 80s which was basically the Wolf of Wallstreet minus Jonah Hill and all the drugs. This was an unsustainable time when middle class salary men were popping thousands of dollars of bottles a night, while everyone embraced European high fashion brands.


ASICS bounced back in the late 1990’s with the retro craze, reintroducing their thin-soled basketball boot to a robust European market and also getting huge pop culture come up from when Uma Thurman’s character “The Bride” in Kill Bill slaughtered the Crazy 88’s in a full Onitsuka Tiger kit.

In 1993, ASICS put out the Gel-Lyte V following the success of it's predecessor the Gel-Lyte III (there was never a Gel Lyte IV because the number four is considered unlucky in Japan). The Gel-Lyte line evolved into a lightweight performance running series with considerable style. Sleeker and more form fitting, the model fell in line with designs of the time featuring a sock-like neoprene slip-on core. This mono-tongue system was a trending technological advancement in the early nineties, keeping a supportive grasp on the mid-foot and ankle of runners. That midsole is a masterpiece too, and the retro celebrating the 20th anniversary of the model's debut was a welcome resurrection of a cult favorite.

Early October 2013 marked the re-introduction of the Gel-Lyte V in the original white, purple, and teal colorway. Shortly after, Asics built on their ongoing collaborative catalog with Kith's Ronnie Fieg to introduce the first ever co-branded Gel-Lyte V, in the form of the 'Volcano.' Fieg went on to touch the model four more times over 2014, with two separate packs - the Cove/Mint and Rose Gold/Sage. RF's Cove/Mint as well the Commonwealth 'Gemini' marked instances where the revamps stayed within tonal takes - focusing on premium material usage over everything. Other collaborators went on to further highlight the branding and unique paneling of the GLV, prime examples include the UBIQ 'Midnight Bloom', Offspring 'Desert Pack', and Concepts 'Cement Greys'. Since GLV collaborations started releasing about a year ago, there have been 12 drops to date - we are proud to present installment number 13 and 14, with the Bodega x Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Get Wet Pack'.

The Bodega Get Wet Pack features two pairs of GLV's that sport palettes reminiscent of 90's outerwear with neutral bases that come laden with hues of teal, pink, yellow, and blue. Uppers on both pairs show great range and sure durability with the use of ripstop nylon, 3M reflective fabrics, nubuck, and neoprene. Furthermore, the pairs are built around a Gore-Tex membrane - making them completely weatherproof, an integral characteristic of the pack. All pairs will also come equipped with custom branded footbeds, alternate trek lace options, and a USB drive containing the exclusive Get Wet Mixtape by Durkin. Retail is set at $170 per pair with a release slated for December 13, 2014.

Photography: Tommy Bebo + Marisa Benjamin