Posted: Mar 21 2019
March 1966 and even though its spring, Orange County, CA is its own season. You're going through Anaheim and see a new shop, the sign out front reads The Van Doren Rubber Company and they have shoes in the window. There are only three styles to choose from but there aren't any you can buy right off the bat. A guy named Paul, tells you to choose the color and style of sneaker you want and to come back in the afternoon to pick them up, he'll make them for you in the meantime. Not a problem, you can go hang around the beach. When you come back he hands you your custom shoes made with a sturdy canvas upper and a thick rubber sole. When you try to pay for them, he says he forgot to get change for transactions. No sweat, Paul says "take the shoes and you can come back tomorrow to pay for them". You're back the next day, cash in hand, with a fresh pair of Vans on your feet.
Vans have become so ingrained into the wardrobe of skaters, artists, punks, and other creatives, that it's hard to even imagine what was there before. Paul Van Doren quit school at 14 and started working in shoe manufacturing and learned the ins and outs of the trade. By 34 he was the Executive VP of the company but wanted to start his own that delivered shoes straight to the customer instead of through a retailer. When he opened the Van Doren Rubber Company in March of 66 he was ahead of the curve in customization. The first year in business he was opening close to a store a week allowing him to interact and get close to the Vans customer. He took what they had to say into consideration to try and improve his product. One complaint that kept coming up was that the sole on the ball of the foot wore out too quickly which led to the creation of Vans's iconic design feature, the waffle sole.
In the 70s a new customer was filtering into Vans stores and was the beginning of a devoted association with the brand's sport of choice. Skateboarding in Southern California was on the rise and its following gravitated towards the Vans sneaker because they were lightweight, affordable, and had a flexible sole that gripped well. Skateboard legend and pioneer Tony Alva put it in simplest terms "it's just a practical product that really works for what we like to do". Vans began designing shoes with and for skateboarders. In 1976 Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta designed the Vans #95 , now known as the Era, with a padded collar to protect ankles from catapulting boards. Vans also recognized skateboarding as a legitimate sport before anyone else, they were genuinely committed to the scene. "Vans was the first company to recognize us as skateboarders and treat us seriously." Peralta said. "They started providing us with shoes many years before any other companies would even look at us. When all the other companies looked at us as vandals and losers. When no one wanted anything to do with us because they felt it would tarnish their image. Vans was so ahead of their curve they were almost behind."
Vans have been around since the beginning of casual footwear and continue to be a staple for people from all walks of life. They were the sneakers you got in high school that you could beat up and skate around in to the sneakers you now reach for in Spring when you retire the winter boots. Skateboard or casual wear, Vans will continue to be a modern icon and uncontested cool. Shop our selection of Vans here.