Vans Celebrates 50th Anniversary in Style

From California to the rest of the world, this famed and well loved brand was adopted by Aussies early on, and continues to reinvent itself with capsule collections from the likes of Toy Story and Mario Bros.

image courtesy of; the Toy Story for Vans capsule collection
image courtesy of; the Toy Story for Vans capsule collection

In the beginning, Vans was little more than a skateboarder thing; now, it’s an obligatory style staple to all kinds of shoes lovers. This year, the beloved American brand is celebrating their 50th year birthday, and never looked better. From the classic models to the new feature collections, Aussie’s have adopted the tennis and Vans lifestyle to the fullest. But first, a little history: On March 16th, 1966, Paul Van Doren and his partners opened up their first-ever store in Anaheim, California as The Van Doren Rubber Company. It was the first place that manufactured and sells shoes directly to the public, and the recipe worked!

On that first morning, all 16 customers that came into the store purchased a pair of shoes which were made that day, and were ready for pick-up that very afternoon. If you can beleive it, the original price was $2.29 for a women’s pair, and $4.49 for a men’s pair! “We didn’t even have names for the styles, we had numbers. Style #44 is our “Authentic” deck shoe. In the 44s my dad had navy blue, white, loden green and red. We didn’t have black at first; it became our best seller in later years”, explained Steve Van Doren, son of the creator of Vans to ‘Sneaker Freaker’.

image courtesy of; a vintage ad for the brand
image courtesy of; a vintage ad for the brand

Over the next few years, the brand started to invest in custom shoes after women began to frequently request different colours. However, it wasn’t until 1975 when Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta asked for a specific custom-made shoe that quickly became the favoured footwear of choice for the skater crew — the Vans #95, known today as the Era, was born.

“We decided to add padded backs, an outside heel counter and the ‘Off the Wall’ label. The tennis had padded sides so when the board flew off the pool and into their ankles they didn’t kill themselves. That was a big thing, that saved lives for skaters, they loved them”, told. In the late 70s, the brand launched the Slip-On model with little buzz at the time. A few years later, they quickly became world famous when they were worn by Sean Penn in the 1982 iconic youth film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. “I got to meet Sean Penn years later and it was really enjoyable getting to say ‘thank-you so much for being Spicoli, you made my life a lot easier’”, remember Steve.

image courtesy of; Penn as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

But the history of the brand it has not always been a fairytale. Although Vans shoes were selling really well, the wide range of products that the company offered had ended with the companies resources and they were forced to file for bankruptcy in 1983. Just three years later, Vans had paid back all creditors and emerged from bankruptcy stronger than ever.
By 1988,  Vans was sold to investors that are well known for global expansion of brands around the world, and the company continues to grow in success.

Currently, they sponsor a host of sport personalities, musicians, artists, public skate parks, movies like ‘Dog town and the Z-boys’, and were the creators of the inaugural Triple Crown, which has snowboarders, skateboarders and surfer in a competition incorporating each discipline.

image courtesy of; a pair from the Marc Jacobs x Vans collaboration
image courtesy of; a pair of Era’s from the Marc Jacobs x Vans collaboration

They also have more than 450 retail stores worldwide, and have just begun to invest in special collections — like the ones designed by Marc Jacobs and inspired by Toy Story characters — to continually bring something new  and exciting to their customers. “My Dad didn’t really want to sell shoes outside of California and now he had no choice as people everywhere wanted our shoes! It’s amazing”.