There is a certain scheme I follow when designing—well, assembling, maybe—a pair of Vans on their custom site. I always do a pair of Eras (Authentics are too flimsy, Slip-Ons too Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Old Skools need that suede toebox), and while the major pieces change, a few things remain consistent. The foxing stripe is always orange and the laces are always neon green. I did my first pair like this, and just ordered my fourth. Some consistency throughout is nice.
We are in the golden age of custom sneakers (factory customs, that is), when it’s possible for everyone to have a one-of-one, or share their design to essentially create their own GR. Every major brand does this, all have their own advantages. NikeID allows one to create what are in effect PEs of current signature basketball sneakers, miadidas allows for exotic takes on the classic Stan Smith or Superstar, New Balance offers Made in USA 574s and 993s in a matter of weeks. It’s bespoke virtually everyone can afford.
I’ve tried them all, some more than others, yet Vans is the one I find myself coming back to again and again. Maybe it’s because a vulcanized canvas shoe needs to be re-upped more often, maybe it’s because the color and pattern options are seemingly endless, maybe it’s just because they’re $65—Eras are anyway, and none are more than $85. In reality it’s probably all of the above. But Vans’ history has something to do with it, too.
The whole concept of to-order sneakers started with Vans. Founded in 1966 in Anaheim, Vans’ retail operation was right by the factory. So when customers wanted something a little different, they just made them. “In the sixties, we had Catholic schools that had uniforms,” Steve Van Doren told Sneaker Freaker, “so we’d make shoes out of their plaid uniforms and stuff.” This led to people bringing in old board shorts or anything else that struck their fancy. “I remember a lady coming in with a mink coat who had just divorced her husband and didn’t want the coat anymore. She made a pair of Vans out of that mink coat. I remember Jackson Browne sent some pants down to us that was a snakeskin looking fabric and we made shoes out of that for him.”
Not every custom was that luxe or that exclusive. But with the factory right down the block rather than in China, the options were endless. Want every panel of each shoe to be a different pattern? No problem. (This can still be done now, but would require ordering two separate pairs and end with two mirror-image mismatched pairs.) Got an old Hawaiian shirt to be repurposed? Bring it on down. It would be cool to see this aspect brought back now, although the logistics would be wild complicated.
As it is now, the Vans custom program is pretty comprehensive and delightfully without any sort of aesthetic limitations. Want a pair of Eras with checkerboard, camo, tiger stripes AND stars? Not a problem. You are limited only by your willingness to wear outlandish shit. They just make it. Eight styles, 27 colors, 22 patterns. It all starts here. Just leave the orange foxing stripe/neon lace combo alone. That one’s mine.