For those who want to get technical, Vans, the game-changing sneaker company-turned-creative-empire, has more years on Hip Hop, historically speaking. Therefore, it’s really interesting and inspiring to think about all the ways the brand intersects with the culture itself. Sneakers have always played an important role and a presence in the world surrounding rap music, and Vans in general has been an iconic staple from the jump. From the feet of skateboarders to artists to rappers to students to your hip uncle to photographers and so on, the reach and reign of the company is quite impressive and intriguing.
The brand hit an incredible landmark this week, celebrating its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, March 16. In honor of its influential five-decade-long anniversary, the House of Vans hosted 10 events around the world, combining music, fashion and art in the spirit of company, reminding fans that they are much more than just a well-designed and comfortable sneaker.
Vans Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing, April Vitkus, took the time out to talk with TheSource.com about the global expansion of House of Vans, as well as her work on the history of Vans video, which was narrated by living legend, Chuck D.
Putting together an historic compilation of memories of the brand’s 50-year history is no easy task. How did you all go about figuring out what to highlight?
This job is really special because it’s for our 50th Anniversary, one of the things that we didn’t want to do was go back in history and just rely on old images to tell our story.
The most interesting thing for me to work on regarding this specific project is thinking about the fact that this brand is so rooted in history but we’re always finding ways to progress and make something new. I think my favorite moment was just going through all those milestones from looking at Fast Times At Ridgemont High and the impact that film had in the 80s, all the way back to the beginning when skateboarders Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta were wearing Vans and helped us to develop the first skateboarding shoe in the world.
I feel like Vans is more Hip Hop than people realize.
[Laughs] You know, there’s an interesting thing about that. It’s really natural that the culture of Hip Hop gravitates towards Vans, because we’re a brand that embodies creative self-expression. Sneaker culture has always been an important part of culture. Ever since the Hip Hop movement started, Vans is one of those brands where it’s natural to see supporters of the culture think, why not make these a wardrobe staple? It’s just what we stand for. There’s an authenticity to Vans that you also see in Hip Hop.
We were first adopted by skateboarders in the 60s and as a result, we’ve had this deep relationship over the last 50 years with street fashion, with art and with music that’s really happened organically. We attribute being adopted by Hip Hop culture as a way to help us remain authentic and give back to the communities that really show us love.
Hip Hop, is one of those communities that when you think about Vans as a parallel, you have this “off the wall” state of mind, and a lot of what Hip Hop is about really taps into that way of thinking. It’s that mentality of speaking your mind, expressing yourself creatively and walking your own path.
What are some future plans that the company has been cooking up?
2016, our 50th year, is the year that we had a choice of how we wanted to celebrate our anniversary. We couldn’t think of a better way to go about it than to expand the House of Vans. It’s our cultural hub. We started off five years ago in a warehouse in Brooklyn, then we built the House of Vans in London, and in 2016, we are introducing pop-up House of Vans experiences across the globe. We’ve created a space where Vans enthusiasts can really interact with the brand one-to-one. The House of Vans is our way to giving back to the creative communities that have supported us throughout the years while also really speaking to the next generation.
In what ways has the House of Vans helped to give back to the creative community?
What’s so neat about the House of Vans is that anything can happen there, but it’s always free to attend. That’s something that is so critical to us as a brand. There aren’t any strings attached. From a music and performance standpoint, we have set up a small venue with bigger artists and that creates a really unique and inspiring experience that has allowed us to level the playing field as a brand. We want to feel like people can interact with the performers, with the brand and with their idols. It’s such a critical part of who we are by becoming a platform for this interactive experience to happen.
What comes after the 50th Anniversary celebration?
We kicked off our anniversary with 10 events across the world in Austin, New York, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Soeul, Cape Town and Kuala Lumpur. From there, we are doing a handful of things. DIY workshops and shoe personalization are two really important aspects of the brand that we are going to do more of. We want to make sure people are getting their hands dirty and having fun. We’ll also host a retrospective from 50 years of Vans within our curated musical performances. It’s an ongoing process. Throughout the years there have been so many key milestones and things that people think they already know, are learning something new about the brand that they had no idea about.
What are some tips for a first timer at SXSW?
In terms of survival? [Laughs] You have to bring your phone. If you’re sensitive like me you need some earplugs, and of course, an open mind. The best experiences that I’ve had at Southby are where I’ve really planned out out every single day, but as a result, didn’t stick to that plan. The best times I’ve had are when I’m just wandering around. You hear some music playing and you’re like, ‘what is that?’ To be able to go and see something that you may not have experienced normally is the true magic of SXSW.
Also, you have to go to Heavy Metal Pizza. It’s a landmark for me. The food in Austin, of course, you can’t go wrong anywhere. There are so many purists that would probably freak out at my recommendation of Heavy Metal Pizza but it’s just one of those late night things you gotta do.
From working on a global scale, is there anything interesting you personally have noticed from experiencing House of Vans around the world?
Earlier when we were talking about Hip Hop in relation to Vans and how it may not feel like an obvious cultural connection for many, for me, it comes down to this powerful energy. We experience it when we experience live music. At House of Vans, that energy really comes to life.
It’s amazing because you can go to one of our events in Mexico City, London, Brooklyn, etc. and there’s this universal and unique thing that I’ve witnessed across the map. The way that the performers interact with the audience and they way they are channeling this energy back and forth is something really special that Vans has embraced. It’s not so much about a specific genre within live music, but more so it’s about authentic performers. It’s so cool to be able to see the ways in which they excite and inspire people through their performances at House of Vans.
If you are at SXSW, be sure to check out the House of Vans event schedule and keep an eye on what the iconic brand has in store in 2016.