The story of Vans begins with Paul Van Doren, who after 20 years of working as a shoe manufacturer for the Randolph Rubber Shoe company, moved to California with his family and began putting things in place for the Van Doren Rubber Company. In 1966, after careful planning and preparation Vans opened their first store in Anaheim, CA, which would house an office, mill room, making room, stitching room , warehouse and store. At the time Vans were producing a simple deck shoe – a staple casual silhouette of the time – the iconic Vans #44, now known as the Authentic, was born. On the stores first day, 12 pairs of Vans were purchased in the morning and made that day for pick-up in the afternoon. Thanks to local custom and a very low budget marketing campaign (flyers), word about the new footwear company quickly spread.
In to the 70’s and the brands commitment towards robust construction and their signature sticky ‘waffle’ soles led to some of the biggest names skateboarding in South Cali choosing Vans as their go to shoe. In 1975, the legendary Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta would reach out to Vans with some design ideas to improve the staple Authentic, which included a padded collar, hardwearing canvas, cushioning in the sole and a reinforced heel, and from that the Era, the worlds first skate shoe, was introduced.
Towards the end of the 70’s Vans had introduced several colour and pattern combinations to their current styles, and also introduced the classic Slip-On silhouette. Aided by the growth of skateboarding and BMX’ing in Cali, Vans quickly expanded and before the new decade arrived, they had opened 70 stores in their native California, selling to other areas of America and the world through Vans dealers.
The 80’s were full of mixed emotions for the brand, with huge growth thanks to Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli character donning a pair of Slip-Ons in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High which saw international sales sky rocket, to the company declaring bankruptcy thanks to financial problems just a few years later. As competition grew, Vans chose to move in to various other sports including basketball, football and baseball to name a few, and although some of these ventures weren’t t be successful, the brands product portfolio continued to develop. The late 80’s saw control of the company swap hands to larger investment banking firms, and would also see changes in the way Vans went about their business, from production to their marketing efforts.
Although they lost elements of this first hand interaction with the product and the customer, the changes in ownership didn’t stop Vans promoting the cultures and movements that surrounded them and had in the past pushed the brand to where it was. The 90’s would see the introduction of various events including the Vans Triple Crown series which featured events in skateboarding, BMX, surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, motocross and super cross and also the first Vans in-door Skate park at the Block in Orange County. Various new shoes styles would also be introduced to the market during these years as the company continued to grow and develop.
In 2001 came Dogtown and the Z-Boys, a film by Stacy Peralta’s look at the beginnings of skateboarding and the personalities that helped develop it, which was financed by brand and again help increase awareness of Vans role in the early days of skateboarding. The same year saw Vans take control of the Vans Warped tour, one of the worlds leading music and action sports festivals.
To this day Vans continue to inspire and promote the cultures that make the brand what it is, and continues to support the ambassadors who along the years added to the illustrious history of the company. Through various ventures they encourage creativity and individuality, while continuing to put out high quality, timeless footwear and apparel that sticks to their core values and in doing so remains hugely popular with various trends. Just like Converse, Vans have played a huge role in various subcultures, in music, skateboarding, film and art, and continue to do so after 50 years of existence.
Released today on Vans 50th Anniversary, the short video above gives a great overview on how Vans grew from humble beginnings to being the global powerhouse it is today.
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