From the first time four wheels hugged the walls of an emptied out pool, to becoming a central part of pop culture and fashion, skateboarding has had a lifelong friend in Vans. The small deck shoe company out of Anaheim, Calif. was the earliest of adopters for the burgeoning sport as it established a legacy by placing its kicks on the feet of the Z-Boys, a group of California teens that would become the true godfathers of skating. Like the sport itself, Vans’ popularity has waxed and waned over the past 50 years. But today it’s both the quintessential skate shoe and a staple fit for anyone’s wardrobe. Both qualities are only possible because of Vans’ embracement of its past, and as long as that lasts, it’s hard to imagine Vans ever approaching the difficult times it has in the past.
On this episode of Why It’s Cool, we examine how Vans has made shoes so excellent, versatile, and affordable that you can find them on the feet of Frank Ocean in the White House or any kid looking for there next skate spot across the world. Vans’ core models are popular among many disparate crowds—what other shoe could be embraced by both cheerleaders and goths?—and yet that ubiquity somehow hasn’t hampered the brands’ identity. No matter what, Vans is a skate shoe. And by staying true to that culture, even when it wasn’t as popular, the company has set itself up for true authenticity, not the sort that’s thrown around as a buzzword.
Of course, this wasn’t just a faceless corporation making these moves. It was people, inside the company and out, that made this all possible. We talked to some of the most important players throughout the shoes’ journey, including Stacy Peralta, the seminal superstar of skating; Rian Pozzebon, the designer who helped guide the company back to its roots; and Brendon Babenzien, NOAH founder and former creative director of Supreme.
In case you missed it, you can check out all the episodes from the season on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or any of your favorite podcast apps.