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Paul Van Doren (1930–2021), co-founder of Vans

by Linnea Crowther

Paul Van Doren was an entrepreneur who co-founded Vans, the iconic skateboarding shoe company.

Creating Vans

Van Doren was working at a rubber company in Boston when he and his brother, James Van Doren, decided to go to Southern California and start a business together. Along with two friends, they opened the Van Doren Rubber Company, later shortened simply to Vans. In 1966, they opened their first retail shop, knowing they could keep costs down by selling directly to customers.

The Anaheim, California shop bore the sign “House of Vans,” and inside, customers could buy men’s shoes for $4.49 and women’s shoes for $2.29. But on the first day of operations, the founders forgot to bring in money to make change. So Van Doren told customers to come back later with cash – and they did. It was the beginning of what would become a skate apparel empire, anchored by the famous low-profile shoes. Van Doren ran Vans for the company’s first 10 years, then turning it over to his brother. In later years, the company was sold outside the family.

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Van Doren’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

“My famous credo: get your hands dirty. If a young entrepreneur came to me today and asked how to start a company, I would say right off the bat: know what goes into making what you’re selling. If you sell from a place of total confidence in the quality down to the details, you will succeed.” —from a 2021 interview for Fortune

Tributes to Paul Van Doren

Full obituary: The Orange County Register

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