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What Happened to LA Gear Sneakers? The Company’s Rise to Fame, Bankruptcy and Comeback

LA Gear defined shoe trends in the 1980s and early 1990s, quickly becoming a recognizable silhouette amidst the bright neons and chaotic patterns of those decades.

The chunky, high-top athletic shoe was distinguished by featuring the brand’s name on the foxing, tongue and especially on the iconic license plate attached to the laces.

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Karl Malone, Dream Team Olympics, LA Gear, Boardwalk shoe, LA Gear sneakers
Karl Malone in the LA Gear Catapult in 1992. AP Images.

With the turn of the century came a turn in fashion, leading to the rise of ballet flats, Uggs and Converse shoes. In 1998, LA Gear filed for bankruptcy, reducing the lines of shoes it was selling.

With the return of ’90s trends in fashion — including slips, dresses, scrunchies, overalls and platform shoes — the footwear brand made a comeback. But what really happened to LA Gear sneakers? Here, FN takes a look back at brands’ history.

When was the LA Gear sneaker created?

LA Gear was founded in 1983 by Robert Greenberg, Ernest Williams, and Stephen Williams, and it was launched to the public three years later.

Originally from Boston, Greenberg moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s and sold roller skates during the disco roller skating mania. But by the ’80s, Greenberg saw a vision of athletic shoes in mainstream fashion and sought to capitalize on it.

LA Gear, Star Shooter, Sneaker
LA Gear’s Star Shooter SneakerLA Gear

The Los Angeles-based shoe company was targeted toward women as a sporty shoe that centered fashionable qualities over actual athletic features. So, while the sneaker may not have been the best for a morning jog, the colorful high-tops easily became staple items that paired well with tracksuits, leggings and monochrome fitness outfits.

In its first few years, LA Gear sneakers were usually available at high-end department stores and eventually became accessible at discount locations. By the ’90s, LA Gear rivaled brands like Reebok and Nike, competing against well-known shoe styles, like the Air Jordan.

LA Gear aimed to capture the essence of the Los Angeles aesthetic at the time through its shoe designs; its ads often included sun-kissed teens enjoying themselves amidst bright color palettes.

Michael Jackson, LA Gear, sneakers
Michael Jackson at a press conference for the release of his LA Gear sneaker collection in 1989.Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The company also managed to gain celebrity endorsements, including NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had ended his long-term Adidas partnership to work with LA Gear. Other celebrity athletes followed suit, like NBA players Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, NFL player Joe Montana and NHL player Wayne Gretzky.

LA Gear even branched out beyond the athletic sphere and signed on major artists like Belinda Carlisle, Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson.

LA Gear’s Bankruptcy

LA Gear’s athletic shoes featured designs like the “Catapult” and the “Regulator” to compete with other popular shoe brands at the time. As the early ’90s continued, LA Gear’s popularity declined. While its products were once sold in high-end retailers, the sneaker company started producing shoes specifically for distribution at discount stores, like Caldor.

By 1992, the company’s stocks began to plummet and Greenberg stepped down as CEO. Within the year, Greenberg founded Skechers and has remained CEO since.

To boost sales, the company signed a significantly pricy partnership with Michael Jackson, which would include several commercials from the King of Pop. This partnership proved turbulent, even with Jackson advertising specially-designed sneaker styles, due to the shoe’s impractical design and the star’s lack of music releases at the time.

LA Gear, Boardwalk shoe, LA Gear sneakers
LA Gear’s “Boardwalk” sneaker style.LA Gear

LA Gear attempted to return solely to high-end retailers, which caused such an influx of inventory that the once-popular sneakers were being sold at supermarkets and flea markets. The company also branched off from women’s sneakers and attempted to boost popularity with men’s and children’s footwear.

In 1995, the company signed a three-year contract with Walmart in an effort to boost revenue through made-for-store shoes, which also led to unsuccessful sales. What was once a bright and bedazzled staple of the ’80s, was quickly pushed into a corner as the ’90s grunge scene took over the decade’s trends. In 1998, LA Gear filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

LA Gear’s Comeback

Since filing for bankruptcy, LA Gear hasn’t completely disappeared from the sneaker scene. The company has made several attempts to reach the recognition it once received in the ’80s, with notable launches in 1999, 2003 and 2008. Among these launches were light-up shoes from the “LA Lights” line, a revamped “Catapult” line and retro designs.

LA Gear's Kaj Sneaker, shoes, sneakers, LA,
LA Gear’s Kaj SneakerLA Gear

The company signed a partnership with rapper Tyga for its spring 2015 launch, which featured the “LA Lights Liquid” in gold and “T Raww Runner”.

LA Gear relaunched the ’90s-inspired Boardwalk lifestyle sneaker in spring 2023, under the newly appointed creative director, Dave Osokow.

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