Vans slip-ons are a hit again

Still going strong.
Still going strong.
Image: Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images
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Over the past couple years, Vans has been on an impressive growth streak. Fashion and teens have embraced the decades-old skate brand, and while a number of styles fueled the growth, it was probably the Old Skool, a low-top skate shoe known for the squiggly “jazz stripe” on its side, that stood out as the company’s most recognizable hit.

Now another decades-old style is starting to take off, helping to bolster Vans’s sales. CEO Steve Rendle of VF Corp., Vans’s parent company, said on a call with investors today that Vans is seeing a “rapid acceleration” of its Classic Slip-On. Along with the continued popularity of the Old Skool and rising sales of new styles, it’s giving Vans a boost as its formerly soaring growth inevitably moderates.

“That didn’t happen by accident,” CFO Scott Roe noted on the call. He described the recent success of the slip-on as the result of an orchestrated series of events, including campaigns to raise its demand with both the general public and the 8.5 million global members of Vans’s loyalty program.

Vans first introduced the shoe in 1977—the same year it released the Old Skool. Skateboarders and BMX riders made the shoe popular in Vans’s backyard of Southern California, but it became a national success in the US after the 1982 release of the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In it, Sean Penn played Jeff Spicoli, a goofy stoner who wore the black-and-white checked version, a pattern Vans borrowed from kids who may have shared some similarities with Spicoli. “Our checkerboard shoe came from kids drawing on sidewalls of the shoe back in the day,” Kevin Bailey, Vans’s former brand president, previously told Quartz.

VF Corp. bought Vans in 2004, and today the brand is driving its expansion. For the past few years, it has been outgrowing the other big names in the company’s portfolio, the North Face and Timberland, and climbed to a peak in early 2018. It has come back down since, but continues to be strong.

The brand’s sales were up 20% globally in the recent quarter, and VF Corp. said on its call that it’s raising Vans’s full-year outlook to growth of 11% to 13%. It’s also confident that Vans will reach $5 billion in sales by 2023, if not before.

Vans, meanwhile, has stayed relevant by introducing new innovations, such as updated cushioning, and releasing new colors and prints on its heritage styles to keep customers excited. Though sometimes, of course, shoppers just want a classic.