Apart from beautiful sneakers, projects and innovations, the world of sneakers also sometimes brings bad news. On May 6th, one of the pioneers of sneaker culture, and the person without whom many people’s sneaker collections would be much smaller passed away at the age of 90 years. In 1966, Paul Van Doren and his brother founded the Van Doren Rubber Company, later known and globally recognized as Vans.

On the West Coast, the sixties were an era full of freedom, youthful energy and technological advancement. The year was 1966 and a group of friends, led by brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren decided to open their own shoe store in Anaheim. Paul, Jim and their friend Gordon Lee already had previous experience with the footwear industry from working in a Randy’s shoe factory in Boston before moving to sunny California. In the middle of the sixties, the trio was sent to Gordon Groove by their employer to fix an unprofitable situation in one of the local workplaces. The work trip turned into a lifelong experience, as only a year later, the neighboring city of Anaheim became home to their first store.


The brand’s beginnings were quite unorthodox. On the first opening day, the store sold 12 pairs of shoes. But – it wasn’t like here at Footshop, where you come in and can choose from tens of pairs of sneakers in your exact size – a dozen customers had their shoes made during the day, and later in the afternoon, came back to pick them up.

The first designs were durable and firm. They made an immediate impression with a midsole twice as thick as usual sneakers and an upper from duck skin, which is one of the strongest types of leather on the market. The skater community quickly noticed this, and by the end of the sixties, more and more Vans sneakers appeared on the streets of Anaheim, worn by some of the best skaters of that time.

The future Vans’ first store on 704 E. Broadway, Anaheim

Upon his arrival on the West Coast, Van Doren was blown away by the local lifestyle surrounded by ever-present smiles, Hawaiian shirts and surfing competitions. Although Vans is a synonym for skating and surfing for a lot of people, Paul Van Doren was never a big fan of the sports. The brand didn’t even look for customers in skater circles, the skaters were the ones who discovered the brand. However, Paul was grateful that these subcultures took a liking to their shoes.

By the way, the legacy of their first factory is immortalized by the Vans Anaheim Factory series, which includes classic silhouettes in OG designs, but features better materials – you can find tens of these models on our website.


To say that someone was an innovator as well as an entrepreneur might sound a bit cliché, but in the case of the founder of Vans, this is definitely true. Apart from working on new silhouettes that are still as popular 50 years later, Paul demonstrated other parts of his skillset in the 70’s, when the company got into a bit of financial trouble. Closing a couple stores was one of the options to lower expenses – that might have helped the company, but it would have definitely hurt the brand. So Paul went the other way, and with the last of the company’s money, he opened even more stores. And this risky strategy paid off in the end – the public’s awareness of the brand only went up, which is closely tied to the fact that by the end of the decade, Vans was the top skater brand of choice.

Paul Van Doren was at the helm of the company from its conception till 1988, and two of his children are one of the brand’s leaders to this day. After his departure from the lead, he spent the rest of his life mainly as an ambassador, closely tied to the image of the brand and also an endless source of inspiration for millions of people all around the world. Incidentally, less than a week before his death, his own monograph, named Authentic after the iconic sneaker model, came out.

Unfortunately, none of the members of the Footshop crew had the chance to get to know Paul Van Doren personally. However, I can offer you Tomáš Velický’s insight – after working in Vans’ marketing department for five years, he became Footshop’s brand department leader. Tomáš met Paul’s son, Steve Van Doren, several times. Steve is reportedly similar to his father – always cheerful and kind regardless of anyone’s position. These are exactly the virtues that make every one of us better.

Do what’s right. Stand behind what you do every single minute of every day. Take care of people.

Paul Van Doren, 1930 – 2021

Paul van Doren and his son Steve

Since it’s conception, Vans has had an incredible evolution, surpassing many goals. The brand’s latest goal is transforming to be as environmentally sustainable as possible – by 2030. So I recommend reading this article, where I talk more about Vans’ goals to lower their carbon footprint.