Way back in 1908 Malden, Massachusetts, a successful manager at a footwear manufacturing firm left his post to open up the Converse Rubber Shoe Company. By doing so, Marquis Mills Converse not only shaped the image of sport, music and fashion, but his brave move to set up shop changed American culture forever. The beginning of the Converse journey saw the creation of rubber soled footwear for men, women and children – with a daily production rate of 4,000 shoes. Skip forward to 2002 and just one range of Converse shoes reached a staggering 750 million sales – a figure that Marquiz Mills Converse would find utterly unfathomable.
1917-1920: Converse Makes Its Mark
10s – It would be of no surprise to you that the 750 million sales mark was achieved by Converse’s most coveted invention – The All Star. Previous to this, Converse were producing tennis-style shoes, but in 1917 they changed their tact and started to design the All Star shoe, consisting of a tough rubber sole and a canvas upper. The prime intention was for the All Star to be used in basketball – Marquiz believed that the shoe would fit perfectly for the professional basketball league. However, there was a little bit of tweaking required and in stepped Charles “Chuck” Taylor, a young basketball player who ended up joining a Converse sponsored basketball team.
20s – Chuck lived and breathed basketball; he became America’s first player-endorser and was faced with the challenge of training basketball in high schools across the country. As well as training America’s youth to bounce, he was also tasked with selling All Star shoes and it was here where Chuck Taylor really became interested in the design. He began contemplating an improved composition for the shoe, thinking about how the shoe could better accommodate a player, as well as looking the part too.
Chuck shared his thoughtful expertise and deliberated with Marquiz and it was after these discussions that Converse started to further develop the original design. Chuck helped to enhance the shoes flexibility and support, which included the implementation of ankle support. Converse repaid his understanding and started to use his signature on every All Star shoe.
Sooner than you know it, All Star shoes were a popular fixture amongst professional basketball players. Not only did the professionals dig the All Star performance and image, but this attention soon filtered down to younger up-and-comers who wished to make their mark in the sport. Every young aspiring B Boy wanted a pair.
It was also in the 20s when Converse and music started to connect, all be it just the green shoots of the relationship. Afro-American basketball teams would compete and train in music halls rather than the typical traditional gyms — the perfect platform for friends and family to join in with dancing after a hard-fought game.
1930s – 1950s: All Stars Begin To Gain Mass Recognition
30s – In the mid 1930s Chuck continued to improve common features within basketball. He helped invent the first “stitchless” leather basketball, a ball that upgraded its rebound from the surface. Basketball in general made huge strides within the 30s, so much so that it was introduced as an official event in the 1936 Olympics. This event saw the entire US team wearing Converse Chuck All Stars to defeat Canada 19-8 in the final to win gold.
40s – Although Converse found dominance within basketball the company switched their attention to a much more serious cause. With World War II in full swing, Converse concentrated on supplying the US Army, in particular the US Air Force, with the A6 Flying Boot.
The A6 Flying Boot was a robust alternative for the Air Force but Converse’s influence within American military didn’t halt there. Many soldiers wore the Chuck All Stars to train in, and as well as this being a comfortable shoe for activities, perhaps this was another way to show patriotic loyalty to their country.
After the conclusion of the war, Converse remained the staple brand for basketball, 0with pretty much every professional player wearing a pair of Chucks. In 1949 the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League combined to form the NBA and in the early to mid-50s Converse Chuck All Stars became the number one basketball shoe in America.
The 50s saw the US face-plant into a brand new breed of consumerism. Rock n Roll was hitting the nation hard and Chuck Taylor hi-tops were becoming the most desirable shoes for rockabilly styles. James Dean was famously photographed wearing a T-shirt, blue Levi’s and white Converse sneakers. It was around this period that the cool, rebellious and anarchist image of Converse was born.
1960s – 1980s: Music, Culture And New Converse Designs
60s – Just like many successful accessories within a designated sector, the image can easily cross over into a much wider realm. With basketball being such an impressionable feature it was no wonder that the All Stars began to cross-breed within common culture and fashion. More and more athletes, tennis players and even wrestlers turned to the distinctive laced boot. Hollywood also continued to pitch in, increasing the popularity and relationship with the All Star and the public. Off the back of their new found fame Converse started producing shoes with a lot more punch, colour and a higher leather performance.
Converse also launched the ‘Oxford’, a low cut version of the Chuck Taylor All Star which soon became an attractive choice for players. The Converse Oxford ignited a fresh and relaxed look, becoming a lifestyle statement in the West Coast — but with little hesitation this image was also embraced eastwards. Within basketball, Converse continued to pump out top notch shoes but this time more colours were added to help marry the boots with the team strips. Chuck Taylor established himself as a focal point within basketball and this admiration was met when Chuck landed himself a position in the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. Soon after this honour, Chuck Taylor sadly died in 1969.
70s – In the 70s Converse bought the rights to the Jack Purcell shoe. This shoe was derived to increase protection and support on the Badminton court and is still a firm favourite today, with the basic model continuing to be modified for contemporary tastes.
In 1974 the One Star was injected into the mix — another low cut performance shoe, the One Star went on to become admired by surfing and skateboarding cultures.
In the mid 70s a huge development for Converse saw Julius Erving begin endorsing the brand. Erving was a huge star within basketball; he made his mark by revolutionising the Pro Leather shoe that would later become known as The Dr.J. Although Converse were still churning out their latest models they were confronted with stiff competition from the likes of Reebok and Nike, with both brands pushing excitingly fresh trainers that seemed to conflict with Converse’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile the US punk scene was truly coming to life, with the likes of The Ramones finding huge success. The Ramones were avid fans of Converse and continually wore the shoes to keep up their rebellious appearance. Both The Ramones and The Clash somewhat resurrected the thirst for Converse as other subcultures — mainly punks — started to follow in their footsteps, turning to Converse to become an important part of the punk image. The front cover of Blondie’s album Parallel Lines also featured her backing band wearing Converse shoes. The Converse became the staple shoe for either trendy or anarchic popular musicians.
80s – Converse made a big commitment to invest in bio-mechanics to get the best out of their innovative designs and image. Technological advances and upgraded performance footwear was an important way to restore the faith and build extra relationships with athletes. To the credit of Converse in 1984 they were announced the official sponsor of the 1984 Olympic Games. More impressively, Converse shoes has appeared in final medal rounds at every Olympic competition since 1936.
Bio-mechanics were still hot on the agenda in the 80s and it was this dedication to performance levels that resulted in the industry’s first high-tech mid-sole cushioning system courtesy of Converse. Energy return technology and motion control devices prompted Converse’s next big feat and the revealing of The Weapon. As well as the clear technical advantages of the shoe, Converse decided to help heighten the profile of The Weapon by using the ‘Choose Your Weapons’ ad campaign. This commercial featured two of the best NBA players at the time – Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
1990s – 2013: Competition, Dip In Sales And A New Found Status
90s – Converse stuck to high profile commercials and in early 90s they released the ‘Grandma-ma’ advert. This comedic Converse advert showcased their REACT shoe and the invented character ‘Grandma-ma’, who was played by NBA rookie of the year Larry Johnson. This again demonstrated Converse’s social awareness of what could help sell their products to the mainstream without seeing them ‘sell out’ or losing loyal fans. The React was introduced as a state-of-the-art custom fit tech shoe, increasing cushioning, stability and support to the wearer. In 1996 we saw the return of the Chuck Taylor All Star patch and this was the first time since the 70s that Chuck Taylor’s signature was once again used on a Converse shoe. The All Star 2000 immediately sold 1 million pairs, securing the iconic status of Chuck Taylor and paying true homage to the innovator.
The rebirth of the Chuck Taylor was certainly done to improve sales as Converse found itself lagging behind other shoe manufacturers. Having said this, the Converse image and style continued to be admired by specific factions of society. Grunge music played a pivotal role in resurfacing the appetite for Converse. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana showed his fondness to the Chuck Taylor shoe and was often photographed rocking the shoe.
2000s – In 2002 Converse formally announced they had sold 750 million pairs of Chuck Taylor All Stars. This was recorded across 144 countries since the shoes birth in 1923. Converse continued to have one eye on the past, creating the Re-issue shoe. This saw a merge of authentic designs from the Converse archive with a modern day edge featuring quirky designs and energetic colours. In 2003 Converse were bought out by Nike, and although this dampened the hearts of many, Nike swore to never adjust the timeless image that Converse had so successfully created. In 2009 Converse started to make skateboarding footwear, with Converse skateboarding making their debut with a host of ambassadors including Sammy Baca, Ethan Fowler and Rune Glifberg.
Present – modern day Converse shoes have remained similar to the models that were so impressive when they first started out. The main difference is that the designs have become a lot more elaborate with animal prints, flames, glittered laces and rainbow colours all being used as aesthetically pleasing and dynamic artwork. Converse has continued to find endorsers to push the brand, although this time it’s mainly musicians, with rappers such as Wiz Khalifa having their very own Converse line. Special edition Converse’s have also been produced — contributors such as DC Comics, The Ramones, The Clash, Dr. Seuss, Hendrix, Nirvana, Green Day and Gorillaz have all carried the essence of Converse.
Another feature of the Converse shoe that has changed is the rebellious stigma that was once attached to the shoe. Even the most timid of celebrities can be seen rocking the Converse shoe. Junior Converse and Converse shoes for children have also hit the shelves, allowing the little ones to experience the All Star style, and although Converse may have switched from a strictly sporting brand to a much more fashion savvy outlook, they still continue to use creativity and technology to supply people with fantastic shoes — long live Converse and thank you Marquiz!
All images are used with Creative Commons license and the original source can be viewed by clicking the image.
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