How Vans went from a SoCal skater brand to a global icon that teens love

VansFacebook/VansVans has the ability to be ‘cool with everybody,’ says Vans’ global president, Doug Palladini.
  • Vans sales are soaring.
  • In just over a decade, Vans has grown from a mostly local brand to a global one.
  • Global President Doug Palladini says this is due to the emotional connection that fans have with the brand.

Southern California culture has gone global with an assist from Vans.

The brand, which is rooted in 1960s SoCal skate culture, has grown into a worldwide phenomenon under the stewardship of VF Corporation, which acquired it in 2004. In the years since the acquisition, Vans has gone from selling 90% of its products in California to growing its reach across the globe, making the leap to Asia and Europe.

“We are constantly blown away by the level of loyalty consumers have for our brand,” Vans’ global president, Doug Palladini, said to Business Insider.

Sales of Vans shoes are soaring

VansFacebook/VansVans started as a Southern California skater brand, but it now has sizable presence in Europe and China.

In its lastest earnings report, VF Corp reported a 26% increase in Vans sales year over year.

Teens in North America are increasingly flocking to the brand, and Vans landed its highest-ever spot on a semiannual survey of teen buying preferences by Piper Jaffray.

As teens shift from favouring athletic styles to street styles, Vans is apparently one of the first brands they pick up.

But, Palladini said that he sees a “multi-generational” appeal in Vans that makes it unique, adding that both parents and teens can wear it.

“Vans has this incredible ability to be cool with everybody,” Palladini said.

Vans’ popularity isn’t sudden, Palladini said, but gradual. It has five iconic shoe styles, which take turns in the spotlight.

Back in 2004, any shoe with Vans’ signature side strip had poor sales. Now, Palladini said, it’s the best-selling category of Vans shoes, which includes the super-popular Old Skool model.

VansFacebook/VansVans’ customers are from every demographic, but they are especially loved by teens.

“It’s nice to have those cycles and it’s nice to see things come back around,” Palladini said.

Vans famous checkerboard models, which the company has incorporated as an iconic style, are also popular.

Vans’ biggest moments happen organically

Take, for example, “Damn, Daniel,” the 2016 viral Vine video of a Southern California high school student showing appreciation for his friend’s white Vans shoes.

“I’d love to sit here and tell you that we’re so smart we masterminded it,” Palladini said, calling the viral Vine video “purely organic.”

The brand did see a meaningful bump in sales after the video appeared online, and sales of white Vans Authentics shot up. But to Palladini, it’s just another example of how Vans fans express their loyalty and admiration — and how much the brand has integrated into the fabric of the culture.

“This is absolutely how our fans show their appreciation for our brand. We see it all the time. It’s incredibly humbling,” Palladini said.

He added: “‘Damn Daniel’ was just a perfect example of an organic expression of love.”

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