A new survey of American teens suggests the sneaker brand to watch is Vans

Teen dreams.
Teen dreams.
Image: Reuters/Max Rossi
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To figure out what American teens are into, investment bank Piper Jaffray has been asking thousands of them twice a year since 2001 about their favorite brands and what they see as the biggest fashion trends.

This fall marked a breakout season for one brand in particular: Vans, Piper Jaffray said, became the fastest rising brand in the history of its survey. “The most staggering increases came from females where Vans unseated Nike as the No. 1 brand among [upper-income] females,” it noted.

More teens by far still identified Nike as their favorite footwear label—41% of all those surveyed, which included 6,200 teens with an average household income of $55,800, and 2,400 teens from upper-income families with $101,900 in average household income.

But Vans and Adidas have been chipping away at Nike’s lead. In the recent survey, Vans hit its highest level ever, with 19% of all teens claiming it as their favorite footwear brand, marking the closest any other brand has come to Nike in years.

The Vans Old Skool—the one with the squiggly “jazz stripe” down its side—has been a star for the brand lately. It’s been Vans’s number-one classic style, and makes up nearly 25% of its sales, Scott Roe, the CFO of Vans’s parent company, VF Corp., told investors on an Oct. 19 earnings call.

But it’s not alone in its ability to attract shoppers. In the recent quarter, sales at Vans were up 26%, reflecting growth across all regions, channels, and product categories. Roe explained:

We always, within this brand, see certain franchises that are trending a little higher than others. But over time, that’s kind of the point, right? It’s not just one thing. There’s a product life cycle management, which shows as one is relatively stronger within where you’re moderating in other areas. And over time, we’ve seen this engine continue to consistently deliver. For example, apparel, which is only about 20% of the entire Vans, is growing at a rate faster than the total brand growth, right? So you should think of this as being very broad-based and not really driven by just one franchise.

That growth doesn’t seem to be slowing, certainly not among US teens. Piper Jaffray noted that the ascendance of streetwear hasn’t slowed any, and brands such as Supreme and Off-White are still gaining popularity. Vans, which shares streetwear’s roots in California’s surf-and-skate culture, seems poised to keep riding that wave too, and it fits well with shoppers’ ongoing preference for athletic-inspired footwear that’s more about comfort and style than performance at the gym.