We may have been a bit remiss in not throwing up a post about Paul Van Doren’s death earlier this month. The Vans founder passed away on May 6 at age 90. The New York Times published a piece yesterday that puts Van Doren’s contribution to the culture into perspective nicely. While skateboarding has done as much for Vans as it has for skateboarding, you have to credit the brand as being the archetype for the skate shoe business. Sponsoring skateboarders? They invented that. The vulcanized sole? That was them, too. Consulting with pros on product design? They’ve been doing it since the ‘60s. You get the point.
The idea was straightforward: sell high-quality but inexpensive sneakers from a store adjacent to a factory in Anaheim. The company handled production on-site, making it easy to fill orders of different sizes and allowing buyers to customize their shoes in a rainbow of colors and patterns.
The first Vans sneaker adopted by skateboarders was a canvas boat shoe, now called the Authentic. It was set apart by its unusual sole, a diamond waffle pattern that gave way to star shapes on the ball of the foot. A vulcanization process made the rubber especially grippy, helping skateboarders stay on their boards and control them better as they whipped down a sidewalk or an embankment.
Mr. Van Doren recognized an opportunity in the burgeoning sport, and skateboarding became Vans’ focus.
“Until the skateboarders came along, Vans had no real direction, no specific purpose as a business other than to make the best shoes possible,” he said in his memoir, “Authentic,” published this year. “When skateboarders adopted Vans, ultimately, they gave us an outward culture and an inward purpose.”
This article is definitely worth checking out.