In 1966, business partners Paul Van Doren and Serge D'Elia moved to Southern California and founded the Van Doren Rubber Company. The two also brought Van Doren's brother James into the business and partnered with experienced shoe manufacturer Gordy Lee. The company opened a modest retail store in Anaheim and sold 12 pairs of shoes (which would eventually come to be known as Vans) on its first day of operation. The business expanded quickly during its first year, opening a new store almost every week. In the 1970s, the brand caught on with skateboarders and BMX bikers, and Vans rose to national prominence when Sean Penn wore a pair in the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
In spite of increased demand, Vans encountered major financial woes in the mid-'80s, and the company declared bankruptcy to reorganize itself. The brand emerged from the proceedings a few years later stronger than ever, and the company went public in 1991. Vans shut down domestic manufacturing in the '90s and took operations overseas as part of an international expansion. Today, the company continues to be a major player in the specialty footwear market, and it also manufactures an expansive line of apparel. The company operates its own stores in addition to partnering with other retailers as Authorized Vans Dealers.
Vans has made several iconic shoe styles that have stood the test of time. The brand's Authentic shoes are only slightly redesigned versions of the #44 deck shoes that launched back in 1966. The checkerboard slip-on also helped define a generation and continues to be extremely popular. Both of these styles--and others like SK8-Hi and Atwood shoes--are available for infants, toddlers, and young kids. They can be found in several different colors, and many also feature licensed prints. Beyond shoes, the brand makes boys' apparel, including graphic tees, sweatshirts, hoodies, chinos, boardshorts, and more. Accessories like hats, socks, and beanies are also available.
The women's shoe selection is similar to that for kids when it comes to Vans' basic styles of skate shoes, slip-ons, and hi-tops. Options for different prints, patterns, colors, and materials are even more expansive in adult sizes, however. You can also find flip-flops, snowboard boots, surf shoes, and a few other specialty options. In apparel, the women's collection includes short- and long-sleeved tees, button-down shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, crop-tops, and tanks. Bottoms range from jeans to leggings to sweatpants. Vans makes a wide array of accessories, such as backpacks, totes, purses, scarves, gloves, sunglasses, wallets, and more.
When it was first founded, Vans created a brand identity for itself that has remained practically unchanged for almost 50 years. The iconic shoe styles caught on with the skating crowd just as the sport was starting to come to prominence, but they began to transcend that niche almost immediately and helped launch Vans as a lifestyle brand as well. The brand continues to cater to a wide array of customers, and you or your kids might love its shoes and apparel regardless of whether you have any interest in skating, surfing, or snowboarding. Considering its broad appeal, we give Vans 4.5 stars out of 5.