pillowHeat x sneakers MAG ¬ under the RADar ¬ collab experiments! ~ the history of vans collaboration May 18 2015
here under the RADar we seek to bring to a wider audience the (arts &) crafts of the vans back catalog which flew low & barely registered on the radar of radical. we dig deep for the long lost narratives & day-to-day operations of the van doren rubber company which seemingly went unnoticed & somewhat unloved. often these products & pasttimes (such as ankle guards, factory-to-you customs or friction scenes) were taken for granted at the time however proved to be pioneering & light years ahead. another trail that was blazed by vans that would prove profoundly influential was their early work in collaborative efforts.
the term collab is so engrained within & such an intrinsic part of footwear culture right now that one struggles to imagine where we'd be without it. collabs are now thrown around left, right & center to every rapper & his dog to the saturation point of a diluted market & ambivalent punter. this was not always the case however & collabs were considered not long ago to be almost counter intuitive. coming from the grass roots beginnings of a family owned start-up business vans were by necessity open-minded & all-inclusive. the brand had no budget for advertising in the early days & what better way to shape the perception of your brand than conscious alignment with the like-minded in collaborative effort!
1 such example of early brand flexibility was vans innovative practice of private label licensing. private label was a business strategy whereby vans would cater to & offer full artistic license to an external company, to utilise a van template as they see fit. in the early 70's for example vans were under license of the US department of defence to produce military spec extreme cold weather mukluks to the US army & navy. similar targeted strategies sought to increase the scope of factory production & increased overall revenue at reduced retail risk.
many vans fans were perplexed by their recent joint venture with speciality retailer j crew, however very few people are aware Vans produced private label footwear already for said account over 20 years ago! similar examples were produced in-house for high end french boutique facconable, japanese denim house chuck roaste, department store nordstrom, fashion brand mossimo, outdoor brands l l bean & britches the brand one212 which still remains an absolute mystery. trainer spotters note well however, such examples are almost completely devoid of any vans branding & as such require a discerning eye! the exclusivity sought by the associated party allowed an element of anonymity & 'privacy' of branding & heel tabs. relinquishing complete retail ownership also worked in van's favour in their recovery from mid 80's bankruptcy whereby they could defer responsibility & reduce risk of non-sale at retail level, thus increasing profit. freedom was also afforded to the involved party to utilise signature materials of pendleton blankets or tog shop plaid for example. if not for the unmistakeable waffle sole still featured on the majority of projects, one could be forgiven for thinking them fraudulent. the exciting thing for stock hunter like myself however is the slim chance that there still may exist a neglected stock-room cache of unmarked & undocumented deck shoes that are essentially deadstock vans!
private label was relatively short-lived due to the logistical upkeep of ensuring the happiness of both parties & instead the mutual benefit of the collab would see this practice more enduring & influential. vans collabs were driven less by profit & more by passion, which ultimately proves more fruitful by nature. again masterminded by the genius mind of steve van doren, vans aligned themselves often with socal local & culturally synchronised kinds. vans had strong links with disney from very early on including producing cold cure style #49 (chukka boot) for disneyland employees, selling pendleton style #19 (cvo) in frontier land, & the og gift-shop/mail-order disney private labels come collabs. similarly the og peanuts collab of the early 90's originated from links with knotts berry farm, as did the documented costume footwear for the knotts berry troll!
all the while, vans were still on the fringe of cementing their profile as family-friendly advocates & core sports leaders & it was their pioneering collabs which helped facilitate this. of course vans consulted stacy peralta & tony alva when designing their skate-specific style #95 (era) in 1976 however the earliest evidence of collab proper is with dg bmx in 1978. thereafter the floodgates opened & the possibilities became endless for joint (misad)venture with artist, retail store, radio station, comedian et al.... including some memorable tag teams with mtv, levis, kroq, supreme & weird al yankovic.
as such, vans may not have been the first but without question paved the way for the current acceptance of the collab with trailblazing private labelling & pioneering passion projects. long before heineken dunks there were coors deck shoes. light years before the yeezy there were sammy hagar's i cant drive 55's. eons before palace workouts there were madrid flys. what better way to achieve vans 1st attempt at marketing slogan "tell a friend about vans", than through symbiotic relationship of 2 like-minded advocates of the off the wall & the gnar!