Vans' classic Era silhouette debuted in 1976 as the company began to align itself with the professional skateboarding community, cementing the brand's punk status as the official sponsor of America's outlaw youth culture.
"It [was] like saying we're going to sponsor burglars," Vans vice-president of creative Jamie Reilly told The Drum.
Now, both Vans and skateboarding are in the American mainstream. Reilly said he isn't worried about the brand turning old hat as it becomes more widely accepted because Vans listens to its consumers and has its eyes on new markets.
"We have fans all over the world. What's been interesting to me is to watch how skateboarding and punk, in particular, manifest in places like China. In America, skateboarding is much safer now... [but] in China skateboarding is an act of rebellion.
"If you're a kid who's into punk rock and into skateboarding in China, you're like, 'I'm cutting my own path.' There's not really a road map for this. I'm inventing these things. I think that's been something that's been a great breath of energy for us, is this global stage to play in," Reilly said.
According to a company spokesperson, Vans has over 2,000 retail locations globally and expects to see $5bn in revenue growth by 2023 as it expands in new markets while still staying relevant to loyalists.
While the brand is acting as anything from renegade to beloved standby within different global markets, Vans is launching new footwear technology to give loyal consumers what they want.
Reilly said that, simply, people wanted more comfortable Vans, so the company has come out with ComfyCush technology that sits inside the time-tested Era shoe.
"We've always thought about the consumer as part of the brand. When you see the checkerboard, it feels like an essential strand of our DNA. That came from kids doodling checkerboards on the sidewall of their shoes. We've always had a back and forth with youth culture where we promote it and support it. It feeds our energy; it's a fountain of youth for us," said Reilly.
Vans is embracing youth culture with its 'ComfyCush High School' activation to introduce the new tech. The activation series kicked off yesterday (21 February) in Brooklyn and will take off to other global locations, including London and Shanghai.
Vans has also posted black and white ads above and below ground throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Now that ComfyCush has gone live, a color-version of the ad highlighting the new shoe will be posted over half the original ads, bridging together the old and new Vans Era.