Long before a kid name Daniel was making viral waves for his all-whites, before Lil B was rapping that they looked “like sneakers,” before people where snapping Kanye in them, Vans shoes were synonymous with "cool." Most people know Vans Shoes as a reputable player in the global economy, seen everywhere from high-end boutiques to skateshops to their own storefronts. Since its inception in 1966, Vans Shoes has had a long and colorful 50 year history, becoming the powerhouse in the sneaker and apparel game it is today.
The Vans story goes to back to March 16, 1966 when Gordon Lee, Serge D'Elia, Paul Van Doren and James Van Doren opened a store in sunny Anaheim, California aptly named The Van Doren Rubber Company after brothers Paul and James. The shoe that launched with the newly formed company was a canvas low top that featured the iconic "rubberized waffle sole." Nowadays, we call this sneaker the Authentic, a timeless low top sneaker that has gone through many iterations.
Since its inception, Vans have been associated with Southern California. If you’ve never been to Anaheim, it’s located in the heart of the Southern California’s Orange County, close enough to the beach to balance surf and skate culture. As the Van Doren shoe’s popularity spread, it made its way up the freeway to Los Angeles’s Venice Beach and Santa Monica. In the early 1970’s, a group of Venice Beach skaterats that were sponsored by Zephyr skate shop, better known as the Z-Boys were enthusiasts of the Van Doren.
The Z-Boys revolutionized the way people looked at skateboarding with their aggressive “Dogtown” aesthetic. As they entertained the mainstream eye, Vans went with them. The classic Dogtown look was a pair of Levis, a Zephyr skateshop tee, and a pair of navy blue Van Dorens. From there, Vans shoes became synonymous with skateboarding, surf, and counter culture in the 1970s and 80s.
At some point in their history, Vans no longer solely associated with action sports, but also with designers and cultural influencers. In 2003, Vans Vault was conceived to expand the once quintessentially Southern Californian sneaker into the more forward, high end marketplaces in Tokyo, London, Paris and other metropolitan cities.
Even music’s loud voice dropped an homage to the 66 brand in his song “No More Parties in LA.” Yeezy raps, “some days I'm in my Yeezys, some days I'm in my Vans.” While this might sound like a throwaway line, it shows how ubiquitous the Southern California brand has become with mainstream pop culture. The man who designed the hottest sneaker out right now will still throw on those same blue Authentic's that the Z-Boys were rocking back at skate competitions in the 70s.
Luckily, the canvas silhouette of the Authentic has become a mainstay for sneaker customization. The canvas construction has always allowed for personal imprint, whether it was a sharpie or a full blown piece like our very own ChadCantColor out in on these Vans.
The Authentic and their predecessor, "the Era" aren’t the only Vans that find themselves on the end of a customization. Check out these Sk8-Hi’s that sneaker artist and customizer Johnny Bágö aka BagoCustoms did just in time for Spring.
So many thanks to Vans for putting out sneakers for a solid 50 years. Here’s to another 50 more! Check out this retrospective on the infamous waffle soles below.