Off the Wall: A Brief History of Vans

There’s a good chance that you have owned (or currently own) a pair of Vans. But if you haven’t yet ventured down this path, we highly recommend it. Black-and-white checkered not your thing? Don’t worry: These classic sneakers come in just about any color or color combination you can imagine. There are even pairs that change color in the sunlight!

Vans has a pretty rad history. So before we present a few of our favorite pairs, let’s look back on how this little California-based shoe company became so popular in the first place.

In the Beginning

Vans started in 1966 when brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren opened the Van Doren Rubber Company with partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia in Anaheim, California. The company manufactured shoes on-site and sold them directly to the public.

By the early 1970s, the sticky-soled shoes known as Vans #44 (now called the Authentic) were being worn by skateboarders all over Southern California. In 1976, the company launched Vans #95 (now known as the Era), which were designed by pro skateboarders Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. They were reminiscent of Keds with a padded collar and different color combinations and quickly became the choice shoe for skateboarders. That same year, Vans’ “Off the Wall” logo made its first appearance.

Classic Creations

From there, it was classic trademark after classic trademark. In 1977, the Old Skool made its debut with its now-famous side stripe. That same year, the Classic Slip-On was introduced and quickly became an icon. In 1978, Vans launched the Sk8-Hi, a high-top sneaker designed to protect skateboarders‘ ankles. By the end of the 1970s, Vans had over 60 store locations in California and sold to a number of dealers both nationally and internationally.

In 1984, Vans filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but this wasn’t due to a lack of sales. Vans shoes were selling like crazy, but the company had to buy so many new materials for all of its awesome ideas that it drained its funds pretty quickly. Vans was was able to pay back all its creditors by 1987.

Not Just for Skateboarders

In 1995, Vans Warped Tour was launched; the tour had an impressive 25-year run through 2019 and is considered the longest-running concert series in America.

Throughout that time, the brand continued to expand its following beyond the world of skateboarders with initiatives like Vault by Vans, collaborations with high-end fashion designers; Vans Customs, allowing customers to create their own styles; partnerships with professional athletes; and collections featuring pop culture icons like The Simpsons and Disney.

Vans Today – and Beyond

Today, Vans is a multibillion-dollar company with over 300 stores worldwide. It continues to promote an inclusive culture that encourages diversity and individual self-expression. Its parent company, VF Corporation, is continuously rated as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies and has earned a score of 100% on the Corporate Equality Index.

Since 2010, Vans has held its Custom Culture Competition, a platform for high school students to embrace their creativity. To date, the brand has contributed more than $1 million toward art education in the U.S.

We have no doubt Vans will continue to be around for decades to come.

Our Top Picks

As promised, here are just a few of our favorite pairs of Vans you can snag right now:

Vans Old Skool in Cadmium Orange and True White ($60, shop here)

Vans Trippy Floral Slip-On SF in Marshmallow ($65, shop here)

Vans Pride Era in Patchwork and True White ($65, shop here)


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