How a skater shoe company stayed relevant for more than 50 years

Vans president on 50th anniversary

Vans shoes took off when skateboarders discovered that their sticky soles gave them a competitive edge while riding. The shoe company — now a style staple for skateboarders and nonskateboarders alike and owned by VF Corp — has kept momentum going ever since, reaching a whopping $2.2 billion in revenue last year.

Having weathered more than five decades of wear and tear, the company's products are still relevant and even went viral in a series of Snapchat videos showcasing a college student wearing Vans. How does the company do it?

A general view of atmosphere at the Vans Women's Collection
Angela Weiss | Vans | Getty Images

Vans and VF Action Sports President Kevin Bailey says that's all because the company realized it wasn't just selling a shoe.

"It was recognizing that in youth culture, finding yourself, expressing yourself through the music, the art and the activities you participate in, as well as your own individual style, footwear, apparel, etc. That's where Vans fit in with this young consumer and allowed us to expand into a more global consumer mindset," Bailey said.

The company's young and edgy brand stays that way, in part, by keeping in touch with its consumers.

"We shifted a great deal toward the digital front and the social front," he said. "Social media allows us to have a two-way conversation."

Vans has about 16 million followers on Facebook, 4.6 million Instagram followers and just more than 1 million Twitter followers.

It was really about creative expression
Kevin Bailey
Vans and VF Action Sports president

The company recently ran its "House of Vans" series of music, art and skateboarding events in 10 cities around the world.

"That allowed us to connect directly through an experience that [customers] got to have and be part of our brand and participate with us," he said.

Vans has come a long way since brothers Paul Van Doren and Jim Van Doren along with two partners opened for business in Anaheim, California, in 1966.

"It's been a really exciting journey," Bailey said.

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