There are very few wildly successful, cult-like brands from the 1970s that have disappeared without a trace. There are exceptions of course. Like Polaroid whose technology simply became outdated.
But popular fashion brands? They usually stick around. And they rarely vanish into thin air.
We discovered a Scandinavian sneaker from the early 1970s whose current level of obscurity defies its decades of success.
An American stumbled across the sneakers in a second-hand store in Copenhagen in 2015. He had never seen anything like them. They seemed to embody the 70s. Sturdy hand stitching, fluffy white laces, and a cool patch of suede on the inside toe area.
The shop-keeper, in her broken English, told him a story of a cult-following in the 70s and 80s. She had owned several pair when she was a teen. She said the shoes were once legendary in Scandinavia but had been forgotten for many years.
When he got back to the US he did some research. The sneaker was designed in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1972 by the J. Hammergaard Hansen Sport A/S Company.
Jorgen Hammergaard Hansen was a world class Danish badminton champion in the 50s and 60s and a national hero in Denmark. In the early 70s he set out to create the world's best performing court sneakers. And what he designed became the stuff of legends.
World class athletes in tennis, racquetball, badminton and squash all wore the shoe for one major technical reason. It was produced with a patch of suede on the inside toe area. This simple reinforcing patch protected the sneaker from toe-drag during serves and lunges and also provided superior support and resistance when making quick, slashing starts and stops.
Sales took off like a rocket-ship throughout Europe and the sneaker gained cult-like popularity. As new sneaker technologies emerged in the 80s the little brand from Denmark switched gears and entered the world of fashion. Much like the success of Chuck Taylors (basketball) and Vans (skateboarding) the Danish racquet sneaker became an iconic fashion statement with club-kids, artists, bohemians, disco dancers and punk rockers from London to Lisbon.
Then there was a legal battle over the brand name. Ironically the Nordic shoe company had used a Japanese brand name. When the dust settled the large Japanese motor company had won and the Danish sneakers were forced to change their name in order to sell outside of Scandinavia and Western Europe.
Leave it to the happiest country on Earth to design one of the greatest sneakers of all time. Many have wondered how in the world this product could have faded away.
Backyard Footwear (not the original brand name) is now seeing its revival and is finally available in the United States for the first time ever thanks to that American who discovered a pair in a second hand store in Denmark. It's still manufactured in a little factory in Europe on the same machines that used to crank out thousands of units in the 70s and 80s.
And American consumers are now obsessed with it for several reasons:
1. The Toe Patch:
It's the design hallmark found on every pair of Backyards.
2. The Vulcanization:
No glue is used to connect the upper to the sole. Backyard sneakers are made in small batches and they're baked in ovens until the canvas and the rubber sole melt together. This means that the shoe will never come apart. If you look closely you can see remnants of the melted rubber on every pair. This type of European craftsmanship is virtually extinct in modern day footwear.
3. The Toe Cap:
The rubber cap has a retro fashion look that brings you right back to the 70s
4. The Basket-Weave Outsole:
No other sneaker in the market has an outsole like Backyard. There are no heavy bands of glued rubber like those basketball and skateboard sneakers. Just a stylish Nordic design with a retro weaved pattern.
5. Hand made in small batches in Europe:
Each pair of Backyard sneakers is touched by 22 pairs of hands during production including cutters, seamstresses, vulcanizers, and many others.
6. The Price:
At $55 you can afford more than one pair.
As the obsession for Backyard Footwear continues to grow it is likely to become a trend-setting sneaker in the United States. Some may say that it's suffered from a 45 year delay. But others see the sweetness in discovering a classic product that stands the test of time. One thing is for sure....this classic retro sneaker is certainly well travelled.