Paul Van Doren, co-founder of Vans shoe brand, dead at 90

Paul Van Doren, who co-founded the footwear brand Vans out of a small retail operation in Southern California more than five decades ago, died Thursday. He was 90.

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The brand became a multibillion-dollar action-sports empire, thanks to the California skating community and Sean Penn’s black-and-white checkerboard slip-ons he wore as Jeff Spicoli in the 1982 movie, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Doren’s death was confirmed Friday by Vans, based in Costa Mesa, California, the newspaper reported. His death comes nine days after the publication of his book, “Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans.

No cause of death was given.

Van Doren and his partners, including his brother James Van Doren, dabbled in the retail world after founding the Van Doren Rubber Company in 1966, The Orange County Register reported. James Van Doren died in 2011 at the age of 72, the newspaper reported.

“It is with a heavy heart that Vans announces the passing of our co-founder Paul Van Doren,” the company said in a statement. “Paul was not just an entrepreneur; he was an innovator. The Van Doren Rubber Co. was the culmination of a lifetime of experimentation and hard work in the shoe industry. Like Paul, from the first day of business, Vans was uniquely innovative. When the first Vans store opened, there were no stand-alone retail stores just for sneakers. Paul’s bold experiments in product design, distribution, and marketing, along with his knack for numbers, and a genius for efficiency turned Paul’s family shoe business into an all-American success story.”

The Van Doren brothers, along with partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, opened a small manufacturing storefront in Anaheim on March 16, 1966, KTTV reported.

A sign outside read “House of Vans,” a nickname still used and printed on the backs of shoes today.

The styles on the racks were organized in color-coded boxes, with men’s shoes selling for $4.49, and women’s footwear for $2.29, The Orange County Register reported.

On that first day, the Van Dorens forgot to put money in the cash register, the newspaper reported. Paul Van Doren told the 12 customers that day to pick out the style they wanted, then return later in the day with cash when they picked up the shoes.

Born June 12, 1930, in Boston, Van Doren left school at 16 to work in a local shoe factory, the Times reported. In 1964, his employer, Randolph Rubber Co., sent him to Southern California to revive a Garden Grove factory, the newspaper reported.

A chance meeting with surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku gave the Van Doren brothers the idea for Vans.

The Van Doren brothers sold the company for $396 million in 2004 to VF Corp., which also owns Supreme, The North Face, Timberland, Dickies, Eastpak and Jansport, KTTV reported. The company was founded with a $250,000 investment, the television station reported.

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