Despite being amongst the most iconic sneakers of the last half-century, the cultural reach of the sneaker brand is still mind-blowing. The “Off The Wall” brand has played a pivotal role around the globe contributing to street culture and skate and surf subcultures. A brand that values creativity above all else, Vans has made it a point to collaborate with the most creative minds in fashion, music and sports. To celebrate their 50-year anniversary, the storied brand is hosting 10 House of Vans events in destinations scattered around the world including Brooklyn, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Mexico City. We are truly honored to be a part of this ongoing legacy with our upcoming HYPETRAK x House of Vans event at SXSW.
To get more insight on the brand’s journey thus far and what future holds for the renowned brand, we spoke with Vans Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing, April Vitkus.
Congratulations on the 50-year anniversary. What do 50 years of “Off The Wall” mean for Vans as a company and brand?
50 years for Vans is about the creative people that have made the brand “Off The Wall”. The people that chose this simple canvas shoe and adopted it to express themselves creatively. Whether it be skaters, musicians, artists or fashion lovers these are the people that chose us and gave us a purpose! 50 years is about continuing to give back to those communities and celebrating creative expression around the world. That’s what we’re doing today and that’s what we’re excited to keep on doing for the next 50.
You are throwing a worldwide party with 10 events around the globe. How did this idea come about?
We’ve been celebrating the “Off The Wall” spirit for 50 years now and as “The Story of Vans” shows, we have a long history of supporting music, art, street culture and action sports. House of Vans is a place where all those things come to life under one roof. While we have two permanent House of Vans locations in Brooklyn and London, House of Vans will travel with pop-up editions scheduled in Hong Kong, Toronto and Mexico City. It only made sense to celebrate half a century of heritage in a big way by gathering all of our friends around the world who have helped Vans get to this point. This anniversary events are also the kick off to the global expansion of House of Vans. That expansion means that throughout 2016 and beyond, Vans will be hosting a variety of activations including skateboarding demos, music events, interactive design workshops and art installations, all to continue to encourage the creative communities that have supported Vans for the past 50 years all under the House of Vans roof.
How have the regional teams worked together on this initiative?
Vans is a global brand in that we work closely with our counterparts all over the world to bring forth a consistent brand message. What’s special is that Vans and “Off The Wall” mean the same thing to kids in Australia as it does to kids in Canada, and for us that makes bringing everyone together a no brainer. It’s a universal celebration of creativity. One of the many exciting components of these events is that no matter where you are in the world, if you are attending a House of Vans event you’ll be immersed in the same experience that brings “The Story of Vans” brand campaign to life. Walking into the House of Vans, you’ll be transported into the world of Vans through an interactive, 3-D experience where you can live the creative components of the campaign. It will be a unique experience created just for our anniversary.
What is the biggest challenge in throwing a House of Vans event?
One of the biggest challenges in throwing the House of Vans anniversary event was finding ways to include all parts of our history for that one magical evening–as you can imagine 50 years means a lot of memories and that’s also more shoes than I can count. Jokes aside, I think with being a family company, finding ways to make sure everyone is able to be a part of the celebration was important to us. Thankfully we’re celebrating the anniversary with various great product stories including our Pro Classics 50th Collection which consists of reissues of historical styles and color ways that feature new and innovative technology in additions to all the House of Vans events kicking off on March 16.
Having a global team with offices around the world, how does Vans manage to keep a consistent balance between brand heritage and local trends?
No matter where you are in the world, Vans supports and enables creative expression. For us “Off The Wall” is a state of mind, thinking differently, embracing creative self-expression and really paving your own path and that idea has transcended borders. Creative expression across music, art, action sports or street culture is a universal language so when Vans shows up you just know. That’s the beauty of it all. Some of the acts or artists that have left their mark in London have also left their mark in Seoul, and that’s because the feeling is the same, that’s “Off The Wall.”
How do you choose collaboration partners? What are the main criteria’s that you are looking potential collaborators?
Customization is at the core of our history. Folks used to come into our factories with their own fabrics back in the day and we’d make custom shoes for them, we still offer that on vans.com. In a sense collaborations have always been a part of who we are. From that day forward, I would say that the majority of our collaborations truly happened organically and they continue to. We really look to people who embody the “Off The Wall” ethos. If you look at Gorilla Biscuits, Public Enemy, Tyler The Creator, Murakami, Supreme, Disney and Marc Jacobs, these are just a few very different examples of people and brands that come from different walks of life but that have left their mark in their respective worlds in unconventional ways.
Where do you see street culture going in the future?
The beauty of a movement like “street culture” is that it’s ever-growing. It draws inspiration from history and sees its evolution rough the lens of a new generation or underground culture. As we turn this page, I think more than ever we’ll continue to see youth culture draw inspiration from iconic moments in history to bring forth the next trends. We’re excited to continue to be a part of that conversation.
What was your favorite House of Vans event?
It’s so hard to pick. (laughs) I’ve seen legends like Public Enemy, Kathleen Hanna, Iggy Pop, Foo Fighters and Ghostface take our stage and I think what makes all these House of Vans events so memorable is that the stage really belongs to them and the people in the room. Whether it’s Tony Alva skating the bowl at House of Vans in London, or Mac Demarco stage diving off the Brooklyn stage, people feel at home and that’s the whole.