Have you ever though about resurrecting those contests?
I’m proud to say, at least in the states, that we’ve brought back our custom shoe program nine months ago and it’s going sensationally. We do about 2000 pair every month. We talked about possibly putting a page in a book with just a silhouette of the slip-on and let kids develop patterns or designs they want and have a world wide contest for our 40th anniversary. We will actually print the fabric, make the shoes and maybe make 500 pairs and give a royalty to the young person who designed the fabric.
During the early eighties, Van’s diversified and started making basketball shoes, baseball shoes and then had that little Chapter 11 thing. Was that the reason why?
What happened was that my father, who was a great manufacturer and a great business person, was trying to back off just a little bit. Checkerboard was flying, Vans was going great, my uncle Jim was president and he was doing a magnificent job but he made a mistake trying to be something that Vans is not. He wanted to be Nike, you know, the next big thing.
He was very talented. We had a 5 star running shoe in runner’s world. We had widths from 4E to 4A, wide to narrow in every one of the athletic shoes we had. We had basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, skydiving shoes, wrestling shoes.... I mean we had break-dance shoes, we had all kinds of shoes. They weren’t vulcanized, they were cold cure which were all made overseas. We were making really nice shoes but my Dad kept telling my Uncle ‘Hey they’re costing us a fortune we’re losing our butt.’
My Uncle wouldn’t listen because you know, he guided Vans through the checkerboard era and we were flying. We were the hottest thing going. All the money we were making on checkerboard, we were wasting it on all of these lasts, dyes, materials, everything you could imagine on these athletic shoes. And it wasn’t selling. People don’t know Vans for that. You got big powerhouses like Adidas, Nike and Puma and we were just getting our butts kicked on the athletic shoes.
Check out our next feature: DEATH OF THE INDEPENDENT SNEAKER STORE