A high school dropout founded Vans in 1966, and now it’s a worldwide recognized brand of shoes. 

Paul Van Doren dropped out of the eighth grade in 1944 after realizing that he didn’t like school. He had a passion for racehorses and a nose for business. His mother didn’t want him to go down the wrong path, so she insisted that he take a job at a shoe factory. Starting out sweeping floors, Paul worked his way up through Randy’s shoe company to become Vice President when he was just thirty-four years old. 

Van Doren Rubber

Following his success with Randy’s, Paul partnered with his brother James Van Doren and business partner Gordon C. Lee to open the first Vans store in Anaheim, California in 1966. The company both manufactured shoes and sold them to the public directly out of their storefront. 

The original twelve customers ordered twelve custom shoes on that first day, and would later come back in to pick up their custom designs. Upon their return, the Van Doren brothers realized they hadn’t thought to stock change to give to the customers and asked them to come back to pay the next day but sent them on with their shoes. The dozen customers all came back to pay. Those twelve styles have since been dubbed “Authentic Vans”. 

James’s son Mark designed the logo for Vans at the age of thirteen. The logo was created as a stencil that could be painted on merchandise and objects easily. It was quickly adopted by skateboarders, who built the Vans brand culture and popularity quickly. Vans’ distinctive style, high quality, and functionality marked them as a unique and popular brand from the outset. 

Beyond Shoes

Vans spread out beyond skateboarding shoes to other related apparel. 

To sell its shoes and its other products, Vans has long been a sponsor of extreme sports. The company sponsors U.S. Open Surfing, BMX, motorcross teams, snowboarding, and of course skateboarding events. Vans built a series of skate parks in both the United States and in Britain. These parks include not just skating areas, but also outdoor street courses, arcades, and more. 

For twenty-three years, Vans sponsored the Vans Warped Tour. This alternative rock tour offered an eclectic mix of artists and styles that ventured into punk rock and hard rock at times. It toured the North America, becoming the longest running touring music festival on the continent. Kevin Lyman organized and ran the tour until it ended in 2018. 

Buyout by VF Outdoor

Just after founders Paul Van Doren and Gordon Lee sold the company to a banking firm in the late 1980’s, Vans was part of an international law enforcement operation. Imitations of the shoes were being manufactured and sold falsely in both the United States and Mexico, and the governments of the two countries worked together to bust the counterfeit ring behind it.

In 2004, Vans was purchased by the VF Corporation out of Greensboro, North Carolina. VF owns other brands such as JanSport, Timberlake, Eastpak, and North Face. VF is the tenth largest shoe company in the world, with revenues of almost fourteen billion dollars per year.