R.I.P. James Van Doren 1939 – 2011 | VANS’ Co-Founder + The Mechanic Behind The Brand

By - November 3rd, 2011

It was truly “made by hand” operation back then. Twelve customers came and placed their orders in the morning. By the afternoon, the three partners of the store had churned out the orders in a workshop across the street and ready for the sale. The year was 1966. The place was Anaheim, California. The orders were for pairs of deck shoes, renamed “Authentic” years after. And the store was called The Van Doren Rubber Company, the origin of today’s VANS.

After a long bout with cancer, James Van Doren, one of the original three VANS co-founders, passed away on October 12th at the age of 72. What was then an intriguing business plan at the time, James, his brother Paul Van Doren, and good friend Gordon C. Lee, made the decision to sell shoes directly to the customers, cut off the middleman. With Paul’s business acumen and Gordon’s knowledge of the footwear industry, business bloomed. But it was the company’s secret weapon, James’ comprehension with material sciends, that established VANS’ die-hard following in South California. In the workshop, James created the last of every VANS designs during the company’s early day, including the now iconic waffle-like tread pattern. James was also instrumental in the application of the sticky rubber sole, the very feature that early skateboarders treasured. Long a favorite among the So-Cal locals, the brand gotten an unexpected boost by actor Sean Penn in the 1982 film “Fast Time at Ridgemont High”. As his son, also with the name James, recalled “”He was a very driven man, a hard worker, very giving, very funny. He could control a room with his stories.”

James Van Doren is survived by his wife Char, his children, James, Mark, and Eric; his brothers Paul and Robert, sister Bernice, five grandchildren, and millions VANS wearers.

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