From School Dropout to Sneaker Industry Legend: Vans Founder Paul Van Doren to Publish Memoir

For over fifty years, Vans shoes have been synonymous with cool. Now in “Authentic,” a refreshingly candid business memoir, meet Paul Van Doren, the charismatic founder of Vans—the shoe company beloved by skateboarders, creatives, and fans everywhere for its laid-back, colorful SoCal vibe, and famous for its people-oriented company culture.

vans paul van doren memoir

In “Authentic,” he shares his unlikely journey from high-school dropout to sneaker-industry legend. A blue-collar kid with no higher education and zero retail experience, Van Doren started out as a 16-year-old “service boy” at a local rubber factory. Over the next few decades, he leveraged a knack for numbers, a genius for efficiency, and the know-how to make a great canvas tennis shoe into an all-American success story. What began as a family shoe business has today evolved into a globally recognized brand with annual revenue of more than four billion dollars yet maintains its core belief that it isn’t just a shoe and apparel company but a people company that makes shoes and apparel.

Van Doren is not just an entrepreneur, he’s an innovator. In 1966, when the first Vans store opened, there were no stand-alone retail stores just for sneakers. Paul’s bold experiments in product design, distribution, and marketing, aided by legions of fans—skateboarders, surfers, even Sean Penn wearing Vans’ famous checkerboard slip-on shoe in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”—made Vans a household name. But there was also back-breaking work, a shocking bankruptcy, family turmoil, and a profound shift in how customers think about athletic shoes.

“Authentic” details Van Doren’s personal life, but also hard-won business lessons learned over six turbulent decades in the shoe trade: the importance of deep-rooted values, improvisation, vision (and revision), and above all, valuing people over profits. Bracingly forthright and totally entertaining, “Authentic” is a business memoir by an American original.

The books are now available to order via (taxes and shipping fees may vary).

(ALSO READ: WATCH: Philippines Wins Obstacle Design at Vans’ Skatepark of the Future)

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