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From the imaginations of shoe manufacturer Paul Van Doren, his brother James Van Doren, and partners Serge D'Elia and Gordy Lee, came the idea for a retail shoe store. As the story goes, the "Van Doren Rubber Company" opened in Anaheim in 1966, offering three styles of the now-famous Vans Authentic in four colors and each under $5 a pair. Only display models were shown in the store; the racks were filled with empty boxes to make the store look full. To the Van Dorens' surprise, twelve customers came in and ordered. Dumbfounded, the owners asked the customers to come back in the afternoon so they could rush to the factory and make the shoes. When the customers returned, the Van Dorens didn't have money to make change so they gave the customers their shoes and asked them to come back and pay the next day. All 12 customers did.
Business prospered, but not without the occasional bump in the road. Complaints over the early design of Vans' rubber soles, which featured a diamond pattern that cracked easily, led to the biggest change in the early years and the creation of the legendary Vans waffle sole. Over time though, the business found its groove, and eventually came to be known simply as Vans.
A new type of customer boosted Vans' customer base in the early 1970s. The skateboarding craze, an outgrowth of California's surfing culture, provided an opportunity for Vans to spread its wings. Professional skaters like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta needed custom skate shoes with a simple look and a sticky sole for tricks. Vans responded by offering the Era, a Vans skate shoe designed with input from professional skaters, that included a padded back, an outside heel counter and the Vans "Off the Wall" label. The Vans Era quickly became the skateboard shoe of choice, which began Vans' devoted association with the sport.
In 1976, control of the company's direction was given to James Van Doren. He set his sights on expanding the company's reach and experienced a moderate level of success, but it was the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High that catapulted Vans shoes into the spotlight.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High featured California surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, wearing a pair of Vans checkerboard slip-ons. Enter the Vans slip-on craze! From that point on, Vans shoes no longer symbolized footwear; they symbolized an entire lifestyle built around California surf culture. The film created demand for Vans shoes across the US and internationally, bringing Vans slip-ons to department stores and independent retailers. If kids couldn't afford a pair of Vans slip-ons, they inked checks on their own Vans look-a-likes during English class. Suddenly, Vans was a household name.
Because of the success Vans experienced with classics like the Vans Authentic, Vans Classics and the Vans Slip-On, the company decided to expand its product line. A positive step in the right direction, right? Not so much. The expansion drained Vans' resources and forced them to file bankruptcy in 1983. Just three years later, however, Vans had paid back all their creditors, emerging from bankruptcy victorious and stoked for a new era of authenticity and innovation.
The 1990s found Vans in the spotlight again when they began sponsoring a series of skateboarding, BMX, surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, motocross, supercross and musical events, including the Vans Warped Tour; a music festival originally erected in 1994 by Kevin Lyman that is still going strong today.
In 2001, Vans took the film world by storm when it produced Dogtown and Z-Boys; Stacy Peralta's look at the beginnings of skateboarding and the personalities that gave birth to the sport. The film took the Audience Award and the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It was narrated by none other than "Jeff Spicoli"; AKA Sean Penn.
Fast-forward to today and Vans' influence on today's culture is stronger than ever before. Most recently, the company expanded its product line to include clothing specifically designed for today's extreme sports culture. Although the company's history in skate is undeniable, the Vans of today inhabits more of a mainstream casual space. (You'd have a hard time finding someone who hasn't owned a pair of Vans shoes at some point in their life.) The company continues to support its motto of individualism: it stands for the vibrancy of youth, athleticism and freedom of expression. Because of this motto, Vans customers come from all walks of life. This is evident in the many different styles of Vans shoes that are available today. Although Vans customers differ greatly from one another, they all have one important thing in common: they love Vans shoes for their history and timeless style. The company's unflagging commitment to tracking the latest trends has put it in an excellent position to grab an even larger market share as it heads into the future. We can't wait to see what's next.