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Hip sneaker maker Vans kicks up creative relief efforts

Paul Van Doren, the founder of skateboarding shoes and apparel company Vans, once said that Vans isn’t so much a shoe and apparel company as it is a people company that makes shoes and apparel. Although the brand originated in 1966, that statement has perhaps never resonated more than during the turbulent times of the coronavirus outbreak.

Without a doubt, this is one of the toughest times that fashion and apparel companies have faced. But this historic chapter in history is also a meaningful opportunity for businesses to show their true colors — loudly, proudly and in the case of Vans, one signature skateboard swivel logo at a time.

“Looking after our people has always been and will remain top priority,” says Nick Street, vice president of global integrated marketing at Vans, and one of the keynote speakers at the Brands Across America event on June 5.

To that end, the Costa Mesa, Calif. headquartered company has been working nonstop on a variety of charitable initiatives and donations, planning for the brighter days ahead while showing their employees and communities across North America that they are ready to lend their support and solidarity amid uncertainty.

First, back in late March, Vans began coordinating a well-deserved shoe delivery program as a gesture of gratitude for the multitude of volunteers who are working around the clock on their feet all day at food banks across the US and Canada. So far, they’ve donated more than 24,000 pairs of Vans “Slip-On” and “Authentic” shoes, and they’re working hard to make sure they get more sneakers in the hands (and on the feet) of tireless workers.

Vans covid-19 philanthropy, provided material to Hedley & Bennett
Vans covid-19 philanthropy, provided material to Hedley & BennettCourtesy of Vans

“We are grateful to Vans for donating such comfortable footwear for our volunteers,” says Ana Martinez, director of volunteer services at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, one such recipient of this offering. “The volunteers have been so appreciative, and even more motivated to help us fight hunger in LA County.”

The sneaker and apparel leaders have also quickly pivoted to help give back to the medical heroes who do so much for us all. In early April, Vans teamed up with designer Michael Schmidt and donated upward of 40,000 Vans shoelaces to enable Schmidt and his team’s efforts to create and donate medical face shields to front-line hospital workers. Since each face shield needs two 18-inch shoelaces to secure the piece to the worker’s face, Vans’ donation serves as a key element for some 20,000 units to be donated to health-care workers around the country.

As face masks have also become this season’s hottest accessory (and necessity) Vans has shifted part of their supply chain operations to collaborate with Hedley & Bennett, current Vans partner and kitchen and workwear brand, to donate more than 250,000 reusable, nonmedical-grade face masks, which are crafted from the canvas typically used in the making of Vans shoes.

In a small gesture of appreciation for first responders and health-care workers, Vans also offered a discount of 30 percent off any one-time purchase made by these individuals on their Web site from May 18 to May 25.

Vans has also stepped up to help small businesses during these difficult months with their Foot The Bill campaign, which targets community-driven restaurants, music venues, skate shops, surf shops and art galleries.

“We launched the Vans initiative [to focus on] supporting 160 small businesses who are feeling the incredible strain COVID-19 has put on their livelihoods,” says Street of this collection of Vans “Customs Slip-Ons.” “Fans can support their local business by selecting its pattern for purchase and further customizing it through the Vans ‘Customs’ offerings.”

So far, they’ve seen so much success with the program — which has sneaker designs paying homage to institutions and businesses as diverse as Amityville Music Hall on Long Island, the Meatball Shop in New York City and Homegrown Skateshop in Ithaca, NY — that they also added custom-designed T-shirts. The Vans “Customs Slip-On” sneakers cost $90 and the T-shirts $30, with the net proceeds from both going directly to the indie business partners.

Beyond all of these worthy endeavors, Vans has also taken great strides to ensure they look after their own employees. In March, as they moved from their corporate offices to remote setups, they also temporarily closed all of their stores in the US and Canada to protect the health and safety of their store associates and consumers.

Nurses wearing Vans gear.
Nurses wearing Vans gear.

Despite the closures, Vans continued to support retail associates in the US, Canada and Mexico. “In April, our parent company VF Corp. made the announcement that we would continue supporting our North American retail employees as their stores remain temporarily closed, by further extending full pay and benefits to all retail associates through May 30 and increasing pay through July for our US and Canada distribution center associates,” says Street.

For us folks at home, Vans is doing its part against the Battle of Stir-Crazy.

“We’ve been focused on not only helping our local communities through giveback initiatives and donations, but also engaging our Vans Fans through content shared across Vans.com and our social-media channels,” says Street. Most notably, they launched the Make Something campaign to spark creativity, and have shared new content on social media with the #OffTheWallsChallenge hashtag, featuring musical and artistic demos and livestream sessions with their Vans athletes.

As for what’s next for the iconic skateboarding shoes and apparel company, like businesses around the globe, adaptability is the name of the game.

“We all know how fluid the situation is and as a global brand, we are in tune with the needs and circumstances of our consumers around the world,” says Street. “Given the changing nature of the pandemic, we continue to lean into our purpose of enabling creative self-expression. We also continue to review and evolve our plans to remain reactive and agile as we navigate through these uncertain times. We remain committed to supporting our communities, fans and loyal consumers — just like we have always done.”

Makes sense — after all, that’s what a people company always does.

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