What Is The ASICS Gel-Lyte III?

September 18, 2022 by Joey Birch

What Is The ASICS Gel-Lyte III?

It’s been said once and it’ll be said again, 2022 is shaping up to be the year that ASICS takes over, providing buyers with a new option when finding their next pair of sneakers. 

While we have already seen silhouettes including the GEL-Kayano 14 and the GEL-1130 causing waves thanks to a variety of collaborations from HAL Studios and JJJJound in addition to several intriguing GR colourways, it’s one of ASICS’ most synonymous models, the GEL-Lyte III that seems to be bubbling up. 

Released in 1987, the initial ASICS GEL-Lyte didn’t arrive with the GEL technology that is now featured in subsequent ASICS GEL sneakers. Featuring a similar construction to the 1978 Nike Air Tailwind, the ‘87 GEL-Lyte took a similar approach with the technology in the shoe with the creators based in Kobe, Japan, opting to include a double ridged midsole made of EVA Foam encasing their ‘Air Flex’ technology.

Before GEL-Lyte and ASICS, the brand we have come to know and love today was under the umbrella of Onitsuka Tiger. Founded by Kihachiro Onitsuka in 1949, the brand's first sneaker was a basketball silhouette which featured a similar design and construction to the classic Converse Chuck Taylor. 

By 1963, Tiger began to create a range of marathon running sneakers, which is where Nike’s founder Phil Knight came into the picture, which would further cement the brand into the global market.

Fast forward around 10 years and Knight, who had been working as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger in America, had moved on to further his own venture Blue Ribbon Sports which had since become Nike, with their first sneaker being the Nike Cortez

During this ten-year tenure, in 1986, ASICS released the GT-II and the ASICS Freaks, the first models to include the now staple GEL technology. Originally advertised as “a semi-fluid silicone-based substance with great impact absorption characteristics”, the GEL technology took the impact of a runner's stride and spread it throughout the midsole to create a more comfortable run. 

A key feature seen on the silhouette, which has since become a mainstay in almost all ASICS and Onitsuka Tiger products, is the design on the medial and lateral sides of the shoe. Officially known as ‘Waves’ the design is inspired by the Kobe shoreline where Onitsuka is located and was first debuted in 1966. 

It was just a year later, in 1987, that the ASICS GEL-Lyte I was debuted. Deemed the perfect running shoe for “speed freaks” the initial colourway features a black, white and fluorescent orange upper. 

However, the process wasn’t as seamless as that. The head designer of ASICS’ GEL-Lyte series, Shigeyuki Mitsui who joined the brand in 1984, is said to have had the original GEL-Lyte design pushed back numerous times before it was finally launched - since becoming ASICS’ lead line.

Made of predominantly nylon, EVA Foam and rubber, the sneaker weighed in at just 9.9 ounces (0.28 KG), which earned it the name ‘Lyte’. The innovative sneaker translated Onitsuka’s philosophy of better performance through better technology perfectly and quickly became a consumer favourite allowing runners to run faster, with additional comfort thanks to the lightweight design and GEL technology found in the midsole.

Two years later, ASICS released the second iteration of the GEL-Lyte which, for the most part, was very similar to its predecessor. However, with an increased GEL bed within the midsole, a feature that ASICS called a “space age silicon” in an advertisement, it was clear to see that they were on the right path in terms of innovating what had become one of their key silhouettes. 

This innovation came to a head in 1990 when ASICS released what has since become a sneaker that remains in the hall of fame 32 years later along with the likes of the Puma Suede, Nike Air Max 1 and the Air Jordan 1 only going to further the argument that the ‘90s was the golden era for sneakers. The ASICS GEL-Lyte III took what the initial two designs, along with the various other ‘GEL’ models released around the same time had introduced and ran with it. 

Continuing to develop the features showcased in previous models, the GEL-Lyte III was seen as the culmination of everything ASICS had been working towards. While previous models featured a dual-density sole, the GEL-Lyte III added an additional layer creating a triple-density sole for additional comfort. The third addition to the GEL-Lyte line also included a controversial split tongue. What has almost become a signature feature of the IIIs, the detail was originally taken from the ASICS LD-Racer which had been released just a year prior. 

The GEL-Lyte III was designed for comfort, hugging the foot with Quadra lacing and a split tongue in addition to exceptional comfort underfoot thanks to the triple-density outsole while ensuring the sneaker remains lightweight.

Despite not being an instantly popular release, the 1990 model is still beloved by Mitsui. In a 2020 interview with Fucking Young, Mitsui remarks: 

“Honestly, for me, GEL-LYTE III is like my daughter, not son. Because Japanese people raise their daughters to be carefree but it’s not the same case for the son. It’s a Japanese tradition. For me, I designed GEL-LYTE III to be carefree so that means it’s like my daughter and that means that the consumers who love the GEL-LYTE III are like my daughter’s boyfriend”.

While the launch of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III wasn’t met with immediate sellout success, it can be argued that collaborations have brought a sense of longevity and appreciation towards the model, much like the Nike Dunk which, upon its release, was mostly sitting on shelves, only to be picked up (be it under the ‘SB’ umbrella) and refreshed time and time again through lovingly thought-out collaborations from consumers and brands that had a genuine affinity for it.

While there’s been an incredible range of collaborations on the ASICS GEL-Lyte III over the years including working alongside Patta, ALIFE and Colette just to name a few, no one seems to have the same affinity for the silhouette quite like the founder of Kith, Ronnie Fieg. With over 50 pairs of ASICS GEL-Lyte sneakers being made by Fieg spanning back to his first ever sneaker collaboration in 2007 while working at David Z. through to his most recent release in 2021 celebrating 10 years of the long-term partnership between Kith and ASICS. The 2021 release of the ASICS GEL-Lyte 5 ‘Salmon Toe’ and ‘Leather Back’ were made to honour of one of the most popular GEL-Lyte III colourways of all time released in 2011 with only 72 pairs being made by way of celebrating the opening of their Brooklyn store.

While it’s not just Fieg that can be solely held responsible for the slow-burning, yet ongoing, success of the GL-III, he is without a doubt a key component. This steady success was celebrated in 2015 marking the silhouette's 25th anniversary while in the same year it was seeing the best sales numbers since its release. 

Unlike ASICS’ competitors, namely Nike, adidas etc., they focus on innovation over storytelling. While this has held the GL-III back in some regards, it has allowed the sneaker to become a canvas of sorts for the brands and individuals who have collaborated on it. A sentiment shared by its creator: 

“I made like a canvas – the first original III. There’s the consumers who can modify and customize the product themselves too which I think is the new trend…ASICS has already worked out the design, functionality and quality. The idea is to keep the quality we have already created and just let the customer have a cosmetic customisation”.  

Following its release, the ASICS’ GEL-Lyte line has grown further with the IV and V further advancing the technology and the silhouette with the fifth edition being known as the pinnacle of GEL-Lyte performance, for now at least. 

Nevertheless, much like many brands, fans seem to find solace in the classics; and the GEL-Lyte III is no exception. In addition to the new wave of appreciation for models such as the GEL Kayano thanks to JJJJound and Ice Studios, the GL-III appears to also be receiving an emergence into the mainstream with consumer taste shifting away from the brands we have become used to such as YEEZY and Jordan Brand

In addition to a range of clean GR colourways, ASICS have also collaborated with the likes of AWAKE NY, AFEW and Sneaker Freaker Mag x atmos to continue to utilise the GL-III silhouette as a canvas for customisation with an evergrowing appreciation beginning to bubble up within the market. 

The ASICS GEL-Lyte III is a sneaker that has never seemed to completely take off into popular culture. Nevertheless, it has remained a slow burner, a model that many hold dearly regardless. The newfound interest in the running shoe is a refreshing change and could lead to classic silhouettes held in higher regard similar to the movement New Balance has experienced over the past few years. 

For the latest on ASICS, keep it Kick Game.