Vans has a large roster of iconic shoes that are instantly recognizable. From a mile away you’d be able to make out a Sk8-Hi or their Slip-On sneaker. Yet, what is probably most synonymous with the brand is their checkerboard motif. It is exactly this motif, incorporated on the slip-on, that put Vans on the map during the 80s. The brand already had a cult following in California, but after that, the whole world would be obsessed from that point onward. In this blog, we’ll give you a small history lesson of how this motif came to be and how the whole world got introduced to it.

In 1966 Vans was founded by brothers Paul and Jim van Doren and two of their friends; Gordon Lee and Serge Delia. The way that the Van Doren Rubber Company, which it was named at the time, set itself apart, was by making their shoes on the premises and selling them directly to the customer. Because they made the shoes on the spot, customers were able to bring in their own fabrics for custom-made shoes. At the time, the company didn’t have money to advertise so, they asked their customers to tell their friends and family about the customization option at the store.

Vans checkerboards in action in 1978 - through Vans' website.

It wasn’t someone who came into the store with a checkerboard cloth that started this all. It actually started with Steven van Doren, son of the late Paul van Doren. Vans shoes were immensely popular in the whole of California by the 70s (this was also when the company officially named itself Vans). Steve was in high school at the time and saw kids drawing the checkerboard pattern on the sole of their shoes. Steve told Paul about this high school phenomenon and they eventually started making the slip-ons with a checkerboard sole. After 6 months they shifted the checkerboard motif to the upper of the shoe. This was the birth of the iconic checkerboard slip-on, the shoe that put Vans on the map.

Still from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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