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The History of Vans Sneakers

Brothers Paul and James Van Doren partnered with Gordon Lee and Serge Delia to open The Van Doren Rubber Company, now known as Vans, on March 16, 1966 in Anaheim, California. Vans was unique because the company manufactured their rubber footwear on-premises and sold the shoes directly to the public. The sticky-soled shoes caught on among California skateboarders in the 1970s, including famous Z-Boys Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. The two even worked with Vans to design a custom sneaker made specifically for skateboarding. This collaboration resulted in the #95 shoe (now known as the Era), which was released in 1976. Notably, these were the first Vans sneakers emblazoned with the company’s now-famous “Off the Wall” logo. In 1997, the Vans #36 (now known as the Old Skool) debuted and was the first Vans sneaker to feature the iconic Vans Sidestripe. Vans #98 sneakers (now called Classic Slip-Ons) also debuted around this time. The brand had already garnered plenty of local street cred, but its popularity was catapulted onto the national stage when Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High wore a pair of Vans Classic Slip-Ons onscreen. Despite the brand's apparent success, the company went through some turbulent years in the 1980s and even filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but quickly recovered and established itself as an icon within surf, skate, and alternative or counterculture communities. Fittingly, the brand began sponsoring the Warped Tour in the mid-1990s, and in 2001, Vans purchased a controlling interest in the concert series and the Vans Warped Tour was born; notably, while it is now defunct, it was the longest-running touring music festival in America. In 2001, Vans also assisted with the production of Stacy Peralta’s film, Dogtown and Z-Boys. By aligning themselves with these types of projects, the company further cemented the strong link between the Vans brand and the alternative sports and music scenes. In 2004, Vans launched Vans Customs online in a move that brought the company’s history of customization to a whole new level. Despite its roots in alternative youth culture, Vans has occasionally dabbled in high fashion; for example, in 2017, the company launched an exclusive Vans x Karl Lagerfeld capsule collection. Today, Vans continues to be a major player in the footwear industry worldwide, and while the brand has avid fans from all walks of life, it remains a particular icon within the alternative sports and music scenes.

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