For more than a generation, Vans shoes have been synonymous with cool. Now, in his refreshingly candid memoir, AUTHENTIC, founder Paul Van Doren takes you behind the iconic sidestripe as he shares his unlikely journey from high-school dropout to industry legend.
A blue-collar kid with no higher education and zero retail experience, Van Doren started out as a 16-year-old “service boy” at a local rubber factory. In 1966, when the first House of Vans store opened, there weren’t even any stand-alone retail stores just for shoes. But over the next few decades, he leveraged a knack for numbers, a genius for efficiency, and the know-how to make a great canvas tennis shoe into an all-American success story.
And yet, it wasn’t always easy. There was also back-breaking work, a shocking bankruptcy, family turmoil, and a profound shift in how customers think about athletic shoes. Still, Van Doren’s bold experiments in product design, distribution, and marketing—aided by legions of fans including skateboarders, surfers, and even Sean Penn wearing Vans’ famous checkerboard Classic Slip-On in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High—made Vans into a globally recognized brand beloved by athletes, artists, and creative people everywhere.
AUTHENTIC details Van Doren’s personal life, but also hard-won business lessons learned over six turbulent decades in the shoe trade: the importance of deep-rooted values, of improvisation, of vision (and revision), and above all, of valuing people over profits.