Kamala Harris caused a stir this past September when she stepped off a plane in Milwaukee.
Harris was there campaigning after Joe Biden selected her as his presidential running mate. But instead of dressed-up heels or sensible leather flats—the usual footwear of female candidates for high-profile political offices—Harris arrived wearing a pair of black low-top Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, a.k.a. Chucks. The sneakers are what caused the sensation. By the following morning, the Washington Post reported, videos of the moment shot by reporters had garnered nearly 8 million views on Twitter.
Chucks were central to Harris’s image as she became the country’s first female vice president of color, even if she still wore plenty of other shoes. In October, she talked about her love of Chucks on “Sneaker Shopping,” an online series by streetwear and music site Complex. She chose Chucks, too, for her appearance on the much-criticized February cover of Vogue.
The association with Harris appears to be working in Converse’s favor.
“The Converse business has been really challenged in the US for four or five years now,” says Matt Powell, the sports industry analyst at research firm NPD Group. But for the week of the inauguration, he says, “sales of women’s Chuck Taylors doubled versus a year ago.”
NPD says its data cover about 75% of sales made by US retailers but does not include direct sales from brands to shoppers. The data is based on actual purchases.
Converse, which is owned by Nike, would not share sales data or comment on whether Harris has given it a boost, but it said in a statement, “We are pleased that the Madam Vice President has chosen our sneaker as a staple in her wardrobe.”
The company could use the help at the moment. Like many other footwear companies, it has taken a hit from Covid-19. Sales in its most recent quarter, which ended Nov. 30, were down 4% (pdf) compared to the same time last year. In 2019, the low-top Chuck Taylor was one of the top-selling shoes in the US by dollars sold in NPD’s data, but in 2020 it fell off the list after experiencing a sharp decline.
Lately, the brand has been receiving more attention because of Harris. After the Vogue cover, there was a spike in online interest (paywall) around Converse. On inauguration day, some Americans put on their Chucks to celebrate the moment the first woman—and first woman of color—became vice president.
Whether or not the momentum lasts for Converse remains to be seen, especially since Harris is no longer on the campaign trail and may not be out wearing the shoes publicly as much. Many of her appearances are now in more formal settings, such as the Oval Office.
When she does wear her Chucks though, shoppers notice. “We talk about influencers and who can move the needle,” Powell says, “and it’s a politician who does it as opposed to some kid on TikTok.”