Mizuno: Complete History & Timeline of the Japanese Sportswear Brand

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The beginnings of nearly every one of today’s relevant athletic footwear brands can be traced back to two specific activities: basketball and running. Whether it was Nike’s quest to perfect track spikes for the University of Oregon, Converse’s introduction of the Chuck Taylor All-Star in the early 1900s or Asics’ start as a Japanese basketball shoe manufacturer, the ties between sneakers and the two sports are numerous. There were, of course, exceptions to this rule, and one of the most notable brands boasting unorthodox roots is Japanese company Mizuno.

Rather than the track or the hardwood, Mizuno found its earliest footing on the baseball diamond. In 1902, founder Rihachi Mizuno was just 18 years old when he attended a baseball game in the Japanese city of Kyoto. He was so enamored with the sport that a few years later, in 1906, he partnered with his younger brother, Rizo, and started selling baseballs and other products imported from America. Founded in Osaka’s Kita Ward, the company was known as Mizuno Brothers Ltd. and quickly expanded its offerings to include made-to-order athletic apparel.

By 1910, the brothers had moved to Osaka’s Umeda district and added another product to their lineup: Mizuno’s first-ever baseball shoes. The clunky, boot-like high-tops were primitive compared to today’s models, but the brand was laying the groundwork for what would come in the decades to follow. Following its first foray into footwear, Mizuno’s focus on baseball would continue as it started to manufacture its own sporting goods. In 1913, Mizuno opened a larger factory and began making baseballs and baseball gloves.

Mizuno's first baseball shoes from 1910. Credit: Mizuno
Mizuno’s first baseball shoes from 1910.

The diamond would be Mizuno’s muse for years to come, but in the 1920s, the company started to expand by adding wooden skis and track and field cleats to its catalog. During this period, Mizuno also prepared to start producing its own golf clubs, a goal which was achieved in 1933 with the introduction of Starline. It was the first line of clubs ever made in Japan, and Mizuno would fine-tune them over the years, resulting in a reputation as a top-of-the-line golf outfitter. By the late 1940s, Mizuno had added the sport of tennis to its repertoire.

More than just a sportswear company, Mizuno also made a name for itself in the world of aviation when it started manufacturing glider planes in 1936 for its 30th anniversary. It created the Mizuno Shinryu interceptor for the Japanese military during World War II, but the plane was ultimately never completed.

Mizuno's Grand Monarch golf clubs.
Mizuno’s Grand Monarch golf clubs.

Mizuno’s strides in golf brought international growth. In 1968, it launched the Grand Monarch clubs, which were entered into the American Golf Hall of Fame in 1977. It soon began exporting more clubs to Europe. By 1982, Mizuno again made history in the world of golf by creating the Vanguard club, the first club to use carbon in its head.

While basketball prevailed as the most popular sport in the United States and other locales, Mizuno kept doing what it did best. Its baseball and golf equipment remained top performers and its other footwear began to catch on as well.

The brand outfitted gold medal-winning track and field athlete Carl Lewis during the Olympics in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It also had an endorsement deal with former NFL superstar Joe Montana, who wore Mizuno shoes during his MVP-winning performances in Super Bowl XIX and Super Bowl XXIV.

These days, Mizuno maintains its status as one of the leading baseball and golf equipment brands. On the footwear side, it has also found success in both performance and retro running. Throwback looks such as the Wave Rider 10 and Sky Medal have connected with lifestyle consumers, while collaborations with Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama are some of the brand’s top earners on resale platforms.

Hajime Sorayama x Mizuno Wave Prophecy.
Hajime Sorayama x Mizuno Wave Prophecy.

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