Californian footwear brand Vans has spearheaded the global skateboarding movement for generations – but it’s firmly setting its sights on its London community this summer.
Steve Van Doren, son of Vans’ co-founder Paul Van Doren, is carrying his legacy forward by championing global skate communities through interactive events and empowering initiatives. “When my dad started Vans in 1966, we just made shoes; we didn’t really have a purpose. He would make a really good quality product with a good value, and sell through his own stores with exemplary customer service while forming the community we have today. I’ve been working at Vans for 57 years, and I look at community in many different ways,” says Steve Van Doren.
Skating has always been at the heart of Vans, becoming a cult classic on skate ramps across California. Checkerboard slip-ons become a uniform for athletes in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach, migrating to Anaheim, where Mr. Van Doren sold his first pair of Vans 57 years ago. It wasn’t until 1982 that Vans rose to international success when Sean Penn hit himself over the head with a checkerboard shoe in the comedy film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
“I’ve been working at Vans for 57 years, and I look at community in many different ways.”
Steve Van Doren has traveled worldwide to promote Vans’ community ethos, growing its fanbase while bringing people together. “Skaters in the mid-70s brought us a purpose and allowed us to find other skaters that fit into Vans. It would be individual, off-the-wall characters that like music and art, and that community has always been part of our culture. For the proceeding four and a half decades, I’ve been supporting — whether it be amateur sports, women and men in skating or BMX, or surfing and snowboarding — anybody that loves to do something different.”
Known as the ambassador of fun, Steve Van Doren embodies the freedom and spirit of the Vans community. Vans holds annual events where people can show off their skills in an easy-going environment. “Every skate, surf, and music event we’ve ever done has been free, and I normally barbeque there. We give products to our local community, trying to give back,” Van Doren says.
“We’ve had our House of Vans location in London for eight years, New York for ten, and have expanded into Mexico City and Chicago. It’s always free, and we’re always inviting our community to come in. There is music playing, skaters skating, and we have art shows for the community itself to come in and show their products and sell for free.”
“We’ve had our House of Vans location in London for eight years, New York for ten, and have expanded into Mexico City and Chicago.”
Van Doren clarifies that he’s a different executive compared to his father, not the president or CEO, but standing as the brand ambassador and the Vice President in charge of events and promotions. “Being around for 57 years, I know that you’ve gotta be out there with the people.”
Steve Van Doren headed to London last week to bring his LONDON CALLING community together under one roof. The five-day event hosted over 500 people to celebrate the UK skateboard scene, bringing an inclusive endeavor to British soil.
Van Doren didn’t come alone, bringing American skateboarding pioneer Tony Alva to experience the magic. Known as “the godfather of skateboarding,” Alva is an originator of vertical skating and is credited as one of the first athletes to achieve a Frontside Air. “A lot of successful skateboard businessmen live in LA and San Francisco, and they came over here to organize the event; Steve Douglas and Don Brown are in town,” Van Doren says. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve made some shoes for them. The original navy blue and red Vans Era, and I made a special box that has LSD branding — “London Skate Dominate” were the words that we used back in the ’70s, so we made a special pair exclusively for our LONDON CALLING community.”
The Vans Era “London Skate Dominate” is dressed in classic red, white, and blue hues, boasting clean-cut canvas uppers with contrast stitching throughout. The latter hits the toe boxes, tongues, and heel counters, outfitting the liners with flexible tinted leather. Vibrant red tones adorn the medial underlays, while vintage “London Skate Dominate” skeleton illustrations enhance the heels and insoles with a painted finish stacked atop white rubber bottoms. The low-top shoe is delivered inside aged boxing, featuring yellowed Vans branding and hand-drawn community graphics.
The LONDON CALLING community event is destined for history books, promising a sizeable outcome packed with playful activities and unforgettable moments. “We made some shirts for our LONDON CALLING event so that guests can sell them and pay for some of the things they will be doing at the different seminars,” Van Doren states.
As for what Vans has got its eye on in the future? While pushing forward its LONDON CALLING brotherhood at its Covent Garden retail store, Vans will progress in creating the largest skate community in the world through new projects that keep its audience at the forefront. “There’s a new category coming out in the spring of 2024 called “OTW by Vans.” It’s a new platform where our most elevated product expressions and brand experiences come together with the innovators of art, design, style, skate culture and entertainment. Let’s say we did Vault for 18 years, so that product chapter will sunset by the end of 2023 and this new line will take its place. So prepare for that to come out next year with tons of exciting projects currently in the works.”