The History of Vans Sneakers

How Paul Van Doren Founded the Company

Justin Wolfe/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Vans is a sneaker manufacturer based in Southern California. The brand primarily makes skateboarding shoes and other types of sneakers catering towards youth who engage in extreme sports.

History

Vans was founded by Paul Van Doren who was born in 1930 and grew up in the Boston area. At 14, he decided that school wasn’t really for him. His mother forced him into getting a job at Randy's, making shoes and sweeping the factory floor at the company where she also worked (a one-time Boston-based shoe manufacturer).

Starting at the bottom, Paul worked his way up the ladder and eventually became Executive Vice President of Randy’s after 20 years. Randy’s had become the third largest manufacturer of shoes in the United States. The company had a factory in Gardenvale, California that was losing almost a million dollars per month and Paul Van Doren, his brother Jim and long-time friend Gordon Lee were given the task of straightening out the factory. It took them only eight months to turn the Gardenvale factory around, resulting in that location that was performing even better than Randy's main headquarters in Boston.

After saving the Randy’s plant in California, Paul decided to take on the challenge of starting a new sneaker brand. He partnered with his brother Jim and long-time business associate Serge D’Elia. All three moved their families to Southern California and set up operation in Anaheim. It took almost a year to put together the self-reliant factory, and on March 15, 1966, the Van Doren Rubber Company sneaker line began producing their unique shoes.

Vans shoes were originally made right in the store. The brand took custom orders and had them ready for pick-up within a few days. The original Vans were designed with a diamond tread but this proved detrimental to longevity, so the brand added vertical lines in the tread to increase strength, friction and grip.

The tread was then officially named the "waffle-sole."

IN 1995, Vans stopped manufacturing in the U.S. The company now does their manufacturing offshore in factories primarily in Asia.

Vans Today

Vans works heavily in the surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, urban and punk markets. They also market additional items such as clothing and skateboarding accessories.

The brand has seen tremendous resurgence in their popularity over the past few years due to the re-introduction of their much-loved slip-on sneaker model.