photo & text by nacrowe
released nine days before his passing, AUTHENTIC (VERTEL, 2021) by VANS founder PAUL VAN DOREN is another addition to the growing catalogue of stellar recent retail business memoirs alongside the likes of SHOE DOG (review linked HERE) and LET MY PEOPLE GO SURFING (review linked HERE), which were authored by the founders of NIKE and PATAGONIA respectively.
AUTHENTIC is less the story about the VANS shoe company and more about the philosophy behind the brand. VAN DOREN himself often restates throuhghout that VANS was not a shoe company, but rather "a people company that makes shoes." that emphasis on both the consumer and the people that worked for him is what he credits for his success. and it was that ethos that led him to listen to his customers and the burgeoning SURF / SKATE scene of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA of the 1970s.
VAN DOREN was not a RUNNER like PHIL KNIGHT or a CLIMBER / OUTDOORSMAN like YVON CHOUHINARD. it may surprise some that the founder of the foremost ACTION SPORT brand in the world, as well as his family, was not a personal participant in those activities at any point in his life. what VAN DOREN did excel at, however, was the ability to solve problems dealing with business applications in supply chain, production, warehousing, marketing and sales on a systematic level. this memoir goes into great detail about how he solved said issues during his time at the RANDOLPH RUBBER MANUFACTURING COMPANY and later at the VAN DOREN RUBBER COMPANY.
VANS had been in business almost a decade when SKATEBOARDING fell into its lap, as the nexus of that world was in the LOS ANGELES / ORANGE COUNTY region that surrounded their main original factory in ANAHEIM. up until that inflection point, they were a local company that made custom shoes for local schools and businesses. SKATERS were drawn to the thick, sticky rubber outsoles that held up better. seeing this market, VANS adroitly decided to sell by the shoe (not in pairs) and allowed for extensive customization options. they also sponsored legendary skaters TONY ALVA and STACY PERALTA early on and collaborated with them on future models. in essence, when the mid-70s SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SKATE CULTURE embraced VANS, they returned it wholeheartedly. in essence SKATEBOARDING provided them an identity, which is interesting relative to the examples of KNIGHT and CHOUHINARD.
where this book slightly comes off a bit cumbersome is VAN DOREN's emphasis on being an inclusive and community-driven project, yet he rolls over clear information to the contrary. he is decidedly anti-UNION and makes a real haphazard job of foreseeing issues in finding a competent successor, which effected the livelihood of real people. both make his claims of business prowess and community-driven motivations come off a bit suspect. a cursory mention of his DIVORCE and its impact on his family is not even a page long, before rolling on about corporate ethics. its an odd juxtaposition, which makes his professional pronouncements come off a bit hollow. maybe that was an editing mistake, but glossing over such was an unfortunate choice.
in my estimation, most of this book describes an operation that is fairly garden variety. the only thing they having going for them is the cult loyalty of a creative and massively influential following that they basically lucked into early on in there formative years as a company. even at the close of the memoir you dont get the sense of whether the company even maintains any semblance of the ethos of the original, family-owned enterprise.
in summation, i thought this book was interesting but nothing revelatory. having attended catholic school in ORANGE COUNTY during my early elementary school years in the early 1990s, my introduction o the brand were custom sneakers the school made my parents purchase as part of our uniform. reading that such was a key early business strategy was pretty cool to learn. VANS along with FENDER and DISNEY, are the three local businesses that had a global impact and defined huge swaths of AMERICAN CULTURE. so anything related to such i will always be interested in investigating.
do i recommend this book? yes, only if you are interested in the business aspect of manufacturing. the fact that they made innovative products for SKATEBOARDING and other ACTION SPORTS almost seems like an ancillary detail here. no cool stories to uncover here. which was a bit of a disappointment no doubt.
rest in peace PAUL.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
it is really hard to not love this guy. JEFF GROSSO was the type of opinionated curmudgeon you rooted for. i think this appeal was based in his intense love of SKATEBOARDING and its all-encompassing culture. his VANS YOUTUBE series JEFF GROSSO's LOVELETTERS TO SKATEBOARDING was an embrace of the CULTURE, COMMUNITY and the wider INDUSTRY and very much succeeded in spreading that contagious passion the sport. as he would always say with his fierce call to action, "why are you watching this? go out and skate!"
on this first anniversary of his passing i wanted to pay respects and try to make people aware of his legacy. he was not the most athletic and had insecurities, but was brave enough to share his shortcomings and vulnerabilities with the world. LOVELETTERS TO SKATEBOARDING was his way of spreading the gospel and reflecting the full spectrum of talent and enthusiasm in the culture. and we are the richer for it.
i remember being in college and taking a FRENCH FILM course knowing nothing about the subject. within a few classes and a few films i was made aware of the politics and aesthetic discourses at play and how such discussions transitioned over time. in turn, i became pretty intimately aware of a number of directors, actors, producers and production companies that hitherto i was blissfully unaware of.
for me GROSSO and his LOVELETTERS are very much of that vibe. some competitors and online keyboard warriors have dismissed GROSSO and considered him a gatekeeper and a self-appointed arbiter of SKATEBOARDING history, but i feel like they miss the point. he was presenting his passion, his knowledge and his opinions. if anything he wanted to share that passion and i feel all the richer for it becoming aware of how SKATEBOARDING shifted in terms of TRICKS, CUSTOMS, TECHNOLOGY, PUBLICATIONS, GRAPHICS, PRODUCTS, OBSTACLES, PERSONALITIES and FASHION to what it is has become to day: an eternal youth movement based on individual expression that has influenced global culture. there is literally no wrong way to SKATEBOARD.
i think one aspect of his influence that is often overlooked is his push for INCLUSIVITY, especially with regards to his efforts to push companies to promote women. he in essence leveraged his influence and attempted to make the industry more accessible and to a wider demographic that transcends GENDER IDENTITY, SEXUAL PREFERENCE, GEOGRAPHY and SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS.
so yeah, in summation GROSSO in my mind was pretty PUNK ROCK. you cant watch his YOUTUBE series and not buy into his DIY ethos of just go make it happen.
go skate. no expectations, just go.
again, hard not to love the guy. rest in peace. GROSSO forever.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
in the right circumstances i think its all good when a corporate entity that has a relationship with a SUBCULTURE attempts to get some good marketing going by using its platform and advertising muscle to promote it.
such is the case with VANS which obviously has a long-standing relationship with the SKATE, SURF and BMX communities that has only flourished since the 1960s. makes perfect sense for them to develop a series of performance videos to showcase talent associated with those scenes.
kudos for creativity to whomever decided to have the bands play in a shoebox. its a great idea. i look forward to watching these whenever they come out irrespective of the band.
the following embedded below are what i consider the highlights of the ongoing SIDESTRIPE SESSIONS series. enjoy!