What Brands Can Learn from Vans ‘Off the Wall’ Creativity

May 19, 2016 - By: Sarah Hovis

Vans began 50 years ago in California when brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren introduced the Vans #44 deck shoes (‘The Authentic’) which quickly became a hit with the skateboarding community thanks to their sticky soles.

Since that day in 1966, the brand has become a worldwide phenomenon with nearly 600 retail stores and is projecting business growth of $2.9 billion in 2017. So how does a half century old shoe company stay relevant in a market that’s constantly demanding the next big thing? According to Neil Schambra Stevens, VP of marketing EMEA at Vans, by not being afraid to put people first and broaden the brand’s appeal.

He elaborated in a MarketingWeek.com article: “Paul (Van Doren) wanted to make it a people company rather than a shoe company. That’s been critical for us in terms of how we develop our products. We have credibility in footwear, apparel and accessories, and so the opportunity to expand into new product groups and categories has been a key part of keeping us relevant.” And while the brand’s roots “will always be in skate culture,” broadening the appeal creatively is also important, as evidenced by the permanent House of Vans venues in Brooklyn and London.

Open four days a week (free of charge), the venues are based around art, skating, music, and fashion, and the fluidity of the space allows people to experience the brand without worrying about a hard sell. There’s also the House Parties summer series, which kicks off today. The House of Vans also engages the creative community through a number of different workshops and connects with local schools and communities for charity work.

Schambra Stevens says the brand likes having a grassroots appeal and feels they way they approach things is much more impactful because they do, rather than just talk about it. When it comes to maintaining success, he says the brand needs to maintain a close relationship with the creative community to remain prosperous: “We’ve always been about enabling creative expression. For us to stay credible and relevant, we need to maintain those connections.”

Tell us in the comments what you think of Vans brand strategy.