Friday, March 27, 2015

Feature Friday: Converse Shoes

I think it's safe to say that most people owned at least one pair of these shoes at some point in their lifetime. Its classic, yet simple, style remains popular today.

Today's Feature Friday will walk you through the history of this famous brand!

The Converse Rubber Corporation opened in 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts. At the time, they only sold galoshes and other work related rubber shoes on a seasonal basis.

They eventually decided that they wanted to be open all season long, which resulted in their line of athletic shoes.

Basketball was extremely popular at the time and Converse saw the need to develop a shoe that people could wear while playing the sport.  After lots of research and development, the very first version of the All Star basketball shoe was produced in 1917. 

The All Star shoe originally came in natural brown colors with black trim. In the 1920's, they were made in all black canvas or leather versions. It was to be the first mass produced basketball shoe in North America. 

The shoe consisted of a very thick rubber sole, and a ankle covering canvas (or sometimes leather) upper. However, they didn't gain popularity until a man named Charles ‘Chuck’ H. Taylor came along.

Taylor was a basketball player for the Akron Firestones. He liked what he saw in the All Star shoe and saw its potential for the sport of basketball. He joined the company in 1921 and later became the coach for the Converse All-Stars, the company's industrial league basketball team.

Throughout his career with Converse, he traveled all across the United States hosting basketball clinics and promoting the new shoe. His salesmanship and marketing skills were very successful with the public. Because of this success, as well as his input in the design of the All Star shoe, his name “Chuck Taylor” was added to the ankle patch in 1932.

The white high top model was released shortly after, designed for the 1936 Olympics. It included a patriotic red and blue trim which became very popular along with all black canvas and leather models of the All Star. 

Today you can still buy either the bright optical white model or an off-white un-dyed model called unbleached or natural white. 

During World War II, Taylor served as a captain in the Air Force and coached regional basketball teams, which was considered an important morale booster for the troops. The All Star “Chuck Taylor” were used when GI's did their exercises and became the official sneaker of the United States Armed Forces.

The low cut version of the shoe, which is seen more frequently today, was introduced in 1957. Taylor passed away in 1969 but his shoe continued to live on. The 1970's saw an increasing popularity of sneakers among everyone, not just basketball players. Many companies began to emerge and Converse had a lot more competition on their hands.
The 80's and 90's saw an increasing popularity with rock musicians, and younger generations who wore them for their distinctive looks, colors, and comfort. They were also a great alternative to the high priced, high performance shoes made by Nike and other companies. They were considered a leisure shoe and now were purchased because they were fashionable. 

Converse responded by manufacturing chucks in hundreds of different variations that included prints, patterns, unusual colors, and special models for different age groups.

During the 90's, ownership and management of the Converse Company changed several times. These changes and bad business decisions, along with their loss of market share, took its toll on the company. As a result, they filed for bankruptcy in 2001. But the brand was too well established to abandon, and new ownership took over, closing all North American manufacturing and moving the manufacture of Converse athletic shoes from the USA to Asia. The brand was reestablished successfully and the company was eventually purchased by its rival, Nike.

As the decades pass, these simple but timeless sneakers are rediscovered and adapted by millions of people in each new generation who like their look and feel on their feet. (I personally noticed many teenagers wearing them in the mall the other day!) 

The brand itself is now over 100 years old but is still going strong! And since 1949, the basic design of the shoe has not changed. The distinctive high top and low cut oxford models are the classic American sneaker, and a favorite shoe for people of every age all around the world.


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