His Brand Was Adored by Surfers, Skateboarders, and 'Spicoli'

Paul Van Doren, co-founder of Vans, dies at age 90
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2021 7:30 AM CDT
'Spicoli' Made His Shoes Famous. Now, Goodbye to an 'Innovator'
This undated photo shows Paul Van Doren.   (Vans via AP)

In the '70s, skateboarders and surfers wore them. In the '80s, Sean Penn donned a pair of the black-and-white checkerboard version as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Today, teens and young adults still sport the Vans brand, famous for its iconic canvas boat shoes with tough rubber soles. Now, just days after his memoir was published, co-founder Paul Van Doren has died at the age of 90, reports NBC News. No cause of death has been given, but according to Vans, Van Doren died Thursday surrounded by family, reports the Los Angeles Times. Vans announced Van Doren's passing "with a heavy heart," noting in a statement that "Paul was not just an entrepreneur; he was an innovator." That innovation began when the Massachusetts teen quit school to work in a Boston-based shoe factory, eventually landing him in Southern California to help his employer turn around a faltering Garden Grove plant.

It was there, in nearby Huntington Beach, that Van Doren met surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku and promised he could craft a pair of shoes for him out of a Hawaiian shirt, Van Doren's son Steve told the Times in 2016. From there, Van Doren co-founded Vans, along with his brother, Jim Van Doren, and partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, opening up a shop in Anaheim in 1966 that bore a sign reading "House of Vans," per the Orange County Register. The company expanded with more retail stores, and skateboards, surfers, and snowboarders started flocking to them in the '70s. But it was Jeff Spicoli who really put the brand on the map in 1982. "We were about a $20 million company before the movie came out, and we were on track for $40 million to $45 million after that," Van Doren told the Times in 2016. The company weathered some tougher times, but in 2004, Vans was sold to VF Corp. for $396 million. Today, it's a multibillion-dollar company. (More shoes stories.)

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