When Vans was first founded in California back in 1966, it was known as the Van Doren Rubber Company. So it’s safe to say the pliable material has always had a soft spot for the footwear manufacturer—and the Van Doren family that founded it. During a recent visit to New York City, Steve Van Doren, descendant of Vans’ namesake family, couldn’t help but talk about the natural synergy between Vans and its latest collaborator, tire company Michelin.
Taking cues from both brands, the Vans Sk8-Hi and Old Skool are rendered in Vans’ classic checkerboard motif, but this time colored yellow and blue as a nod to Michelin. The tire company’s famous mascot, the Michelin Man, also features prominently on the uppers, as well as a golf cart modeled after the Sk8-Hi.
“We’ve always built shoes on top of rubber,” says Van Doren outside the Vans store in Union Square. “The way that Michelin is called vulcanization. And our shoes, most of our classics, were all made vulcanized. Running shoes, those type of athletic shoes that you see everywhere, they’re made with cold cure cements and they’re not vulcanized.”
What separates vulcanization from other sole manufacturing techniques is a process that subjects the shoes to certain pressure and temperatures for an hour in a machine known as a vulcanizer. The result is better rubber that wears longer, which is combined with a waffle sole at the bottom—Van Doren compares this to the treads on a Michelin tire.
Each shoe is limited to just 100 pairs, and they come as part of a campaign to educate teens about tire pressure and preventative measures they can learn in order to avoid car accidents and other automotive problems. The only way to get a pair of the Vans x Michelin Sk8-Hi or Old Skool is to undergo the #StreetTreadContest, which hopefuls can currently enter on Michelin’s website.
The contest includes making teens aware of things like tire pressure and tread wear, and easy-to-remember exercises that can help them determine tread health. One such practice includes putting a penny into the tread of the tire—if you can see the embossed head of Abraham Lincoln peering back at you, that means the tread is worn and the tire should be replaced.
“I think of tread wear as how the kids wear our shoes out. Cause if they’re wearing [out] too fast, we’re not going to be successful,” says Van Doren. “We’ve been in business 52 years. Michelin’s been in business a lot more than us, but the win thing is that we have in common is that they care about teenagers.”
Although the limited-edition collaboration only comes in the Sk8-Hi and Old Skool, Steve Van Doren is a Slip-On loyalist, and came to the event wearing a 1-of-1 pair of Vans x Michelin Slip-Ons made for him. The collaboration makes sense to him not just because of both companies’ history in the rubber industry, but because of their shared passion for youths and youth culture. One of the facts that caught Van Doren’s attention was the number of teenagers lost to automobile accidents each year, and how learning about the basics of tire care could help prevent a good number of them.
“The thing I understood was that the number one killer of teenagers was car accidents, and 10-12 percent of that is coming from air pressure and tread wear,” he says. ”We’re both companies that look forward to the future and want kids to live and have a great life—have a great time driving their cars, and wearing our shoes.”
To win a pair of the Vans x Michelin sneakers, you have to enter the #StreetTreadContest at beyondthedrivingtest.com.
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