History of Vans: America’s Skate Shoe – The-House

By Published On: October 26th, 20098 Comments

It’d be pretty hard to picture the skateboarding would without the presence of Vans skate shoes. Often considered the industry leader in skate shoes and apparel, the California-based company has grown from a local favorite to a household name, and has even branched out to sponsor events such as BMX, surfing, and snowboarding.

<h2>Humble Beginnings</h2>

Originally named Van Doren Rubber Company, Vans is an American based manufacturer that specializes in shoes specifically made for the extreme sports of today.  They produce skate shoes, BMX shoes, snowboarding boots, as well as a variety of other shoes. They provide mostly to the youth market in skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing. Vans also sells a wide range of apparel like t-shirts, hoodies, socks, watches and other accessories. All of their products are made to be comfortable, sturdy and stylish.

From early on it never looked like Paul Van Doren would be a successful business man. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade to pursue his fascination with horses, but ended up at the race track. His disappointed mother forced him to go to work at the shoe manufacturer she worked at. Over the next 20 years Paul worked his way up to executive vice president at Randy’s, a shoe company in Boston.

In 1966 Paul decided to branch out on his own to start his own company. Along with Serge D’Elia and Gordy Lee the three men started a company that would manufacture and sell shoes directly to the public and cut out the retailers. They built a factory in Anaheim, California and a retail store that was a mere 400 square feet.

When they first opened their store they only offered three styles of shoes in just a few different colors ranging in price from $2.49 – $4.99. If a customer wanted something other than what they had the customer would be asked to return later that afternoon to pick up their order, as Paul would scramble to make it for them that day. One woman in particular wanted a shoe in a color they didn’t have. So Paul asked her to bring in the color of fabric she wanted and they would make her shoes from it. That was the start of Vans’ customization.

Over the next year and a half Vans was opening a new store nearly every week. Now with 50 retail stores Vans was bringing in much more revenue while at the same time allowing for them to be closer to the consumer. Although the name of the company was still Van Doren Rubber the customers began to call their shoes Vans.

Then Van Doren was given the chance to prove his ability to please his consumers. The soles of these first shoes would easily crack along the balls of the outer sole. So Van Doren patented a new waffle designed sole. The skateboarding fever of the early 1970s created a plea for different colors and patterns, which Van had originally been producing. But in response to this they released the Era line. It was a red and blue shoe that had been developed by professional skateboarders. This is when Vans became the choice footwear for skateboarders.

It was in 1979 that Vans introduced the slip-on line of shoes and they were quickly the most popular shoe to have in southern California. Vans reached its nationwide popularity when Sean Penn wore a pair of checkerboard slip-ons in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But this nationwide success posed a problem for Paul because he didn’t want to sell his Vans outside of California. Regardless, the shoes soon started moving from Van owned retail stores into department and third party retailers all across the United States.

This success would be short lived as troubling times were soon to come. Van Doren was forced to reduce the price of his shoes due to rival companies selling cheap substitutes of the popular slip-ons. By 1984 Vans was $12 million in debt and the bank was requesting at least $6.7 million be paid back. Paul had no choice but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the company he had founded nearly two decades earlier.

It took two years for Paul to pay off his debts and reclaim his shoe company, but when he did Vans came back with a bang. The demand for shoes was high, so in their factory in Orange, California they produced 2 million shoes. These shoes quickly sold and brought in over $50 million in sales. Van Doren was then able to reach into other countries such as Mexico and Europe. At this time other sneaker manufacturing companies were having their shoes made in countries like South Korea and then shipped back to the U.S. to sell. But Vans refused to follow suit as they wanted to keep to its American roots.

In 1988 Paul Van Doren decided it was time to throw in the towel and he agreed to sell Vans for $74.4 million to the banking firm McCown De Leeuw & Co. Paul was now the chairman of the company and his partner, Gordy Lee, was vice-chairman. Richard Leeuwenberg was brought in to be the new president of the company, which was now simply called Vans, Inc. One year later Vans, Inc. decided to go public offering $14 per share of the company and this is when Paul stepped down from the board. But the company grew to 70 retail stores, 4,500 independent outlets and over 200 different styles of shoes in their inventory.

Throughout most of the 90s Vans struggled with loss of revenue and low sales, but by 1996 they had seemed to be back on track. Later in 2000 Vans started to re-release their old styles of shoes with the resurge of the retro, and business was going good. The VF Corporation bought Vans in 2004 for $400 million.

<h2>The Vans We Know Today</h2>

Now Vans has been able to get their name out in the world by sponsoring many events and athletes. They have been sponsoring the Warped Tour for 15 years and have some the biggest names in extreme sports riding for them. In skateboarding there are people such as Bucky Lasek and Dustin Dollin. In snowboarding, people like Danny Kass and Daniel Franck have come on board. Some of their sponsored riders even have their own shoe from Vans like Omar Hassan, Christian Hosoi and John Cardiel.

Check out our full line-up of Vans Shoes and Clothing.

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  1. Zabree Rusell October 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Yay! Thanks, very useful!

  2. Angela Soglo January 7, 2021 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    I like his determination and hard work. I love Van’s shoes very much. His story is very inspiring.

  3. Paula van Buche February 11, 2021 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    Hey it’s Paula here I LOVE VANSSSS

  4. Kuzco February 12, 2021 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    BOOM BABY I just bought some stylish vans there red and black they feel like I’m stepping on Clouds. Also there stylish like me

  5. Dutch February 12, 2021 at 7:53 pm - Reply


  6. Dutch February 17, 2021 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    I’ve got a plan! Once we get to Tahiti we’re buying some Vans!! Yee haw

  7. Bill Barry July 16, 2021 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    I met the two Van Doren brothers in Anaheim in 1966. I worked with them and developed their first logo. I was just out of college and worked at J.O. & Associates. They were great to work with!
    Bill Barry

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