Converse is an American shoe company that designs, distributes, and licenses sneakers, lifestyle brand footwear, skating shoes, apparel, and even accessories. Even though the brand has existed since 1908, Converse’s history is filled with a rich sports and pop culture heritage. Anyone and everyone can wear their shoes, whatever your style. This article will explore the history of the Converse brand and how it became one of the leading shoe companies in the world.
Converse History – The beginning
Mr. Marcus Mills Converse founded the Converse Rubber Company in 1908, located in Malden, Massachusetts.
The well-known shoe company was once a rubber company that tried to make anything they could out of rubber.
Product merchandise included galoshes, leather duck-hunting boots, automobile tires, tennis shoes, and basketball shoes.
Converse History – Creating a Brand
By 1910, Converse Rubber Company had started producing rubber-soled shoes daily. The company had expanded its plant to make about 4000 pairs of boots and rubbers daily.
In 1915, Converse Rubber Shoe Company decided to enter the sporting industry. The company’s first focus was on tennis. Converse Rubber Shoe Company began producing shoes specifically for tennis players.
Moving on to 1916, when basketball began to thrive as a sport, the company noticed that there weren’t many shoe options for basketball players. The basketball sport was relatively new but had already taken the United States by storm. Springfield, where basketball was invented, was less than a hundred miles from the Converse company. Surrounded by colleges and private schools, the relatively new sport became interesting to young people.
Although the timing wasn’t perfect, focusing on a sport already taking the states by storm made sense. With the increasing popularity of basketball, Converse Corporation saw the need to manufacture suitable shoes for playing the sport.
After much research and development, Converse Rubber Company introduced the first version of the All-Star basketball shoe to the market in 1917. The All-Star shoe originally had a brown color with black trim.
The All-Star wasn’t the first basketball sneaker. However, it had certain features that gave it an edge over its competitors. These features included the inner heel patch (usually placed on the outside) and a feature supposedly designed to protect the ankle bones of players. Aside from these, the diamond-thread pattern, which allowed players to move in any direction and stop quickly, was the bedrock of the design.
Converse History – The Legendary Charles “Chuck” Taylor
In 1921, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, a basketball player, joined Converse after complaining to the sales office in Chicago about having sore feet from wearing their shoe. Soon after, he persuaded the company to create a line of shoes designed solely for basketball on the condition that he would work for the company as a salesperson. This deal meant he would market and promote the All-Star, which didn’t initially bear his name.
Soon after, Charles Taylor headed the Converse sales team, being an exceptional salesperson. His clever sales pitch and unique marketing ideas, such as the basketball clinics and mini-training he held across high schools in America, made him memorable. He also taught basketball to kids and gave them Converse basketball yearbooks that aimed to celebrate the culture of basketball, promoting the shoe all the way. The brand and the shoe became somewhat synonymous with the sport, loved by players worldwide.
Charles “Chuck” Taylor kept influencing the designs of the All-Star, and sales kept booming. In 1932, Converse’s history took a new turn when Converse added his name, “Chuck Taylor,” to the famous ankle patch design. Then the “Chuck Taylor All-Star” was born.
Converse History – The Chuck Taylor All-Star shoe becomes a patriotic symbol
In the 1930s, Converse had a breakthrough and became a patriotic symbol when Charles Taylor was given the honor of designing the sports shoe for the United States Olympic Basketball team. Charles Taylor designed the white high-top model with patriotic red and blue accents that symbolized the American Flag.
Also, during the second world war, the Converse white high-tops became the official sneakers of the United States Armed Forces. Soldiers wore the white high-tops during exercise and training because they were much more comfortable, flexible, and lighter than the heavy leather boots issued for combat. These happenings cemented the reputation of the All-Star as a symbol of patriotism.
After the second world war, the popularity of the Chuck Taylor All-Star increased even more. Everyone who loved basketball had or wanted a pair. The shoe grew in popularity so much that Converse decided to make a low version of the All-Star Chuck Taylor shoe, called the “Oxford,” in 1957. The Oxford was available in various colors in Converse’s history and became hugely popular with those looking for a casual alternative to the basketball-focused high-top version.
Converse History – Converse’s First-ever Black Version
In 1946, the two American rival basketball associations, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) merged to form the National Basketball Association or the NBA. This same year, Converse released the first-ever black version of Chuck Taylor All-Star. This black version became very popular among professional basketball players due to its sleek look.
In its white and black variations, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star became the go-to shoe for professional, college, and high school basketball players. It became so popular that you had to own a pair of Chucks if you wanted to take basketball seriously.
A few years after the launch of the Oxford model in 1957, Converse released an upgraded version of the All-Star in 1969. This upgraded version was made from premium materials like leather, with a revised fit. However, this was a gloomy year in Converse history because Charles Taylor suddenly passed away from a heart attack.
Converse History – Nike’s Rivalry and a shift in Converse Brand’s Focus
Following the passing of Charles Taylor, companies like Nike started to emerge. With new technologies and Innovations in sports footwear, the basketball footwear market saw its athletes looking to these “futuristic” performance-enhancing designs favored over the classic, flat-soled Chucks.
In the 1970s, Nike offered new technologies and specialized footwear options for professional basketball players and professional players in other sports. Before long, the Converse brand quickly faded from the sporting industry.
However, the demise of the Converse brand in the sporting world presented opportunities in other markets. Big names in the music industry adopted the simplistic style – Particularly the punk rock movement. The shoe also became a symbol of rebellion and acted as an alternative for those looking for a laid-back style but wasn’t willing to pay the higher prices for technology-backed performance styles from the likes of Nike.
Rather than battle endlessly with Nike, Converse shifted its brand focus to fashion rather than functionality. Converse brand’s focus went from solely athletic shoes to casual shoes, cementing the image of the Converse All-Stars as a cultural icon for the people, not just the athletic elites. The Chucks, initially in only black or white, became available in a litany of colors, prints, and pattern designs. The shoe was originally made in cotton, but Converse soon made suede and leather variations available. All these actions made Converse shoes a fit for various fashion styles.
Artists and musicians quickly picked up the Chuck Taylors as a symbol of the underdog. In this era of Converse history, Elvis Presley, Michael Meyers, and Michael J. Fox all wore the Chuck Taylor in their films, further marketing the shoe as one for young rebels. These inexpensive sneakers became a symbol of the U.S subcultures as the retro look of the grunge style of the punk rock era. The popularity of the Chuck Taylor All-Star shoes skyrocketed as it did in the basketball sector, serving Rockstars, skateboarders, and people wanting to achieve a laid-back or rebellious attitude.
Converse History – Filing For Bankruptcy
Despite moving into new markets and increasing popularity, Converse was unable to profit due to changing ownership and management, and as a result, Converse eventually filed for bankruptcy.
However, due to Converse’s rich history and culture, Nike Inc. Purchased the company for $305 million and brought it overseas, where Nike produced most of its goods. With the rise of “alternative trends,” pop culture, and skateboarders, Nike’s creative marketing team launched several creative campaigns and capitalized on these factors. A few years later, Converse was back on track, and the sale of the Chuck Taylor All-Star reached an all-time high of $450 million in 2012.
In 2015, Converse released a collection of Chuck Taylors inspired by Andy Warhol, famous for his pop-art depictions of the U.S popular culture. The high-top and low-top Chuck Taylor shoes continued to remain popular. In 2017, the Chuck Taylor low-top shoes were the second bestselling sneakers in the U.S. and had been historically consistent with being among the top ten bestselling shoes.
The Converse brand and its shoes are unique. Having dominated two markets (sport and fashion), it is one of the few brands that has survived. Even after being in existence for over a century, the brand is showing no signs of slowing down, as its shoes continue to be among the top bestselling shoes in the world.