Fast forward 20 years and Van Doren had moved his way up to the position of Executive Vice President at Randy’s. After relocating to California to save a failing local branch, he decided it was time to put his entrepreneurial mettle to the test and start a shoe business of his own.
In 1966, Van Doren – along with his brother, Jim, and friends Gordy and Serge – opened the doors to the Van Doren Rubber Company at 704 East Broadway in Anaheim, California. Their business model was unique in that they manufactured shoes on the premises and sold them directly to the public – “Canvas shoes for the entire family”, according to the slogan on the box.
On the first morning of the operation, 12 customers purchased Vans deck shoes, now known as the Authentic. Within the first week, a customer came in requesting shoes in a different colour, and Van Doren asked that she bring a sample of the fabric she wanted – marking the beginning of Vans’ speciality for customised shoes.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Vans was fast becoming ubiquitous in the California skate scene. Just a few years earlier, the introduction of the Old Skool style, with its leather toe and padded backs, was quickly adopted by skaters looking for extra support and protection from moving boards.
A collaboration with legendary skater Stacy Peralta and the launch of the ‘Off the Wall’ slogan cemented Vans as a go-to brand for skaters and consumers with a unique sense of style.
In 2011, Twilight saga star Kristen Stewart marked her celebrity status on the Hollywood walk of fame in a pair of Vans checkerboard Slip-Ons.
In 2017, songwriter Frank Ocean attended the White House state dinner in a perfectly-tailored blue suit, and – you guessed it – a pair of checkerboard Vans. Asked why he chose Vans for footwear, he said, "You can't think; you just gotta do things.”
It’s perhaps this same ‘dont-think-just-do’ ethos that’s the secret behind Paul Van Doren’s success. An entrepreneurial spirit and go-getting attitude that started on the floor of a shoe factory has led to one of the most iconic prints in the world, and over 50 years of success for the Vans brand.