The History of Vans – Horse Racing, Boston, Anaheim, and Rubber Soles

Rubber soles, canvas uppers, not exactly comfortable, but cheap enough to not really matter, Vans were and still are the everyman’s shoe.  No matter who you are, no matter what kind of style you have, odds are pretty good that a pair of Vans have found their way into your closet at one time or another.  The shoes seem to capture this laid back west coast attitude that has always had universal appeal, yet the company’s roots actually lie on the other side of the country.

In the fourties, Paul Van Doren was just another teenage dropout living in Boston, making a few bucks here and there by giving out odds at the horse track and generally aggravating his mother.  Eventually, his mother had enough and got Paul a job at Randy’s Shoe Factory, where she worked.  Paul started out sweeping the floors, and working the line making shoes, but over the next couple decades he rose through the company until he was Executive Vice President.  By the early sixties, Randy’s was the third largest shoe manufacturer in America, but they still had a factory in California that was bleeding money at an alarming rate.  Paul, his brother Jim, and their friend Gordon Lee headed west to save the factory, and eight months later it was more successful than Boston.

Paul Van Doren

While Paul was thriving at Randy’s, he still wasn’t satisfied.  The problem was that Randy’s was only a manufacturer, and in the shoe business most of the profits end up going to the retailers.  So Paul thought why not change this, why not create a business that makes shoes and sells them directly to the customer, cutting out the middle man.  In 1966, Paul left Randy’s and he, James, and a few friends opened up the Van Doren Rubber Company in Anaheim.  Customers would come into the store, order a pair of shoes, the Van Doren’s would custom make them right there, and customers would pick them up that afternoon.  The process revolutionized the shoe industry, but that alone couldn’t make Vans popular, the shoes had to be worth buying.

Paul and his partners opened up shop at exactly the right time-late sixties California was on the brink of a skateboarding explosion, and Vans’ thick sticky sole and canvas toe were tailor made for these skaters.  As skateboarding went nationwide so did Vans, first strictly as a part of skate culture, but then swiftly crossed over into the mainstream, offering a bit of California cool to the rest of the country.  To this days Vans’ line of classics still represent the best of brand, embodying that clean and casual aesthetic that looks just as good today as it did in the sixties when the Van Doren’s created their first pair.

Making a Pair of Vans

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  1. Just bought a pair of vintage Vans yesterday, black and white!!!! Thanks for the article

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