...because they were cheap. I liked them because they were cool. I guess you could say they were kid-tested, mother-approved. But the fact that mom could get a pair of Vans "Off-the-Walls" for eight bucks and replace them every month wasn't the reason that Southern California kids thought they were boss. Maybe it was the unprecedented technology and innovation. Maybe it was the original style. Maybe it was because they were a skateboard shoe. And who had ever heard of that?
A shoe of unbelievable, supernatural skateboard powers they were, enabling kids to do unthinkable tricks and stunts. Any new-world monkey with the ability to reason would never dare step on a deck sans Vans. Only with Vans could you attempt a 360. Vans aided your stability while encountering the inevitable speed wobbles. And Vans absorbed blacktop shock like no other shoe. But while they were functional, they also came in many forms. And so at age nine, when I was in the fourth grade, my goal was to get as many incarnations of them as possible.
Okay, I'll admit it, my sister Maria had Vans before me. She was in Junior High and had her finger on the pulse of '70s fashion. She bought a navy blue and red lace-up combo. It wasn't long before my mom took me down to the Vans store next to Albertsons' Supermarket to get my pair of canvas beauties. In 1978, there were just a handful of Van Doren shoe stores in the San Gabriel Valley outside of LA, and we were lucky enough to have one in our own neighborhood of Rowland Heights. Today, you don't have to look far to find them no matter where you live. But when the company first started, they had no idea how big they would become.
In the beginning, Paul Van Doren and a few partners had an idea to manufacture their own line of shoes and sell them in their own stores. This was virtually unheard of because most manufacturers had a middleman distribute the shoes to retail shops. But there was a problem: nobody had any retail experience. The first shoes they sold were custom-by-default because there was no inventory; they asked customers to come back in a couple hours to pick up their shoes after they made them. When the customers tried to pay for the shoes, the store had no change. They gave the customers their shoes and asked them to come back the next day to pay for them. All twelve of the customers came back and paid for the shoes. You could say Vans was off to a good start.
In 1976, after a few successful years, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta of skateboarding fame were asked to design a skateboard shoe. The two-tone canvas upper and rubber sole with a diamond pattern was dubbed the "Off-the-Wall" and has remained virtually unchanged ever since. The only things that changed were a slight modification to the sole (the honeycomb pattern on the ball of the foot) and the addition of millions of possible color combinations.
You can see read the entire article in the Printed Edition of Aquatulle!