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Vans Co-Founder James Van Doren Passes at 72
Boston Native Joined Brother Paul, Gordon C. Lee and Serge Delia to Establish
Orange County Company
Cypress, CA (November 3, 2011) – The Vans family is saddened to mark the passing of one of our Company’s founders, James Van Doren, at the age of 72 on October 12 after a long illness. “Jim” along with older brother Paul, long-time friend Gordon C. Lee, and silent partner Serge Delia, founded the Van Doren Rubber Company, maker of the iconic Vans shoes, in Anaheim, California in 1966. Jim, an engineer and expert machinist, set up Vans’ original machinery and created the company’s molds including the one used to create Vans’ iconic waffle sole.
Following a decade at the Randolph Rubber Company in Massachusetts, Jim joined older brother Paul and friend Gordon Lee in moving to Orange County, California in 1964 to run Randolph’s West Coast operations and revive a failing factory in Garden Grove. The trio did just that, making the Garden Grove operation even more efficient than the original Massachusetts plant. After two years, the Van Doren brothers and Lee realized a long-time dream when they created the Van Doren Rubber Company, manufacturing Vans shoes in their own factory and selling them directly to the public. The Van Doren Rubber Company opened for business on March 16, 1966 at 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim and sold and manufactured to order shoes for 12 customers that first day.
In the early 70s, surfers and skateboarders found the shoes’ sticky soles and sturdy construction designed by Jim Van Doren, to be perfect for skateboarding, and adopted the shoes as part of the burgeoning Southern California surf and skate culture. Vans shoes gained international acclaim with the release of the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in which Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli character sported Vans’ checkerboard slip-on shoes. By the early 80s, Paul Van Doren had retired and Vans tried to take advantage of the company’s popularity by creating a broader assortment of athletic shoes for such sports as running, baseball and basketball. Although the original Vans shoes were selling well, the wide range of products, along with competition from overseas manufacturers and cheap imitators, drained company resources and Vans was unable to overcome debt and was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1984. Later that year, a court-approved re-organization plan returned Paul Van Doren as president and Jim Van Doren left the company to pursue other business opportunities.
Jim Van Doren will always be remembered by Vans as a great innovator and the mechanical mind that joined with brother Paul’s retail acumen, Gordy’s shoe manufacturing and administrative expertise and Serge’s international sourcing and financial means to take us from that single store to national prominence and setting the stage for the global brand that Vans is today.
Van Doren leaves his wife of 15 years, Char; three sons: Jim, Jr., Mark and Eric; brothers Paul and Robert; sister Bernice; and five grandchildren.