The History of Converse and the Iconic Chuck Taylor All-Star

The Converse All-Star, one of the most recognizable sneakers in history. The All-Star has so much heritage, history and is a silhouette so iconic that even non-sneaker enthusiasts know its cultural impact. With one of the cheaper price points for a sneaker that looks so clean it is easy to see why from LA street gangs, punk rock and the hoop court the Converse All-Star has touched many subcultures from all eras. 

In 1908 Converse Rubber Corporation was founded and at first the company was open seasonally offering a variety of work related rubber shoes. Eventually the company looked to keep their workforce open year round and began to produce athletic sneakers and in 1917 the precursor to the Converse All-Star, the Converse non-skid was born. Due to the growing popularity of basketball, the company took advantage and this sneaker became the first mass produced basketball shoe in America.  It had a canvas tan upper with a black trim and sole. Like any sneaker company would, the Non-skid was marketed as innovative for its lightweight design and soft canvas upper which helped Converse promote the shoe as an advantage to any athlete who wore them. 

Along came Charles “Chuck” Taylor in 1922 a player coach from Converses basketball affiliate The Converse All-Stars. Hiring Chuck may have been the company's greatest move as not only did Taylor improve the shoe's design, enhancing flexibility and ankle support but he also knew the importance of marketing and branding. Taylor decided to incorporate the iconic Converse All Star logo on a circular patch above the ankle all while adding his signature, becoming the first athletic endorse signature shoe. The Chuck Taylor All Star was born.

The roaring 20s saw many sports like football and baseball being brought into the limelight but, basketball was one of the least popular among the general public at the time. Converse had a dilemma as they didn’t know how to market this shoe but Chuck Taylor would travel the United States hosting basketball clinics and promoting the All Stars to young players and potential buyers. Soon young American boys and basketball teams across the nation were all wearing All Stars.

Converse “Chuck Taylor” All Stars were not limited to the basketball court as a white high top model was the official shoe for the Olympics from 1936 to 1968. Even the armed forces in World War II were praising converse for their technical innovation as the All Stars were the official training shoe for the U.S Army. During this era Converse became a symbol of American Culture.

In the 60s converse controlled the general public as the All Star became the most sought after shoe post World War and with converse having nearly 90% of the basketball footwear market, big named athletes such as Bill Russel and Wilt Chamberlain were endorsing Converse. Even NBA stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bernard King were part of the Converse team for the 70s and 80s, but the rise of sneaker culture quickly killed the hype of the All Stars.

As Nike and Adidas began to improve their technology in sneakers, Converse became outdated. Daryl McDaniels of Run DMC said, “Sneakers were aspirational in the 80s. Nobody in the NBA was wearing old-school Chuck Taylors. They got old looking fast”.

But as the NBA grew out of the Chucks another sub culture took rise to them. The era of punk rock and grunge music adopted the simple looking silhouette. With bands like the Ramones and Nirvana constantly rocking a pair of chucks some even have had their own signature Chuck collaboration, including Pink Floyd. The shoes outfitted the rebellious youth of the times which includes its ties to West Coast gangsta rap. The All-stars may be one of the most gangster shoes of all time (at least in the west coast), as it was a clean and sleek shoe that would allow a pair of khakis to hug them perfectly all at a cheap price point. It took some time for Converse to embrace their new found life in the music industry as they still saw themselves as a performance sneaker, not an everyday lifestyle one. Which may be the reason for it’s rough times.

Over 600 million pairs of Converse were sold by it’s 80th birthday, but due to poor corporate decisions and the rise of Nike, Adidas and other sneaker companies Converse filed for bankruptcy multiple times throughout it’s tenure. Converses’ inability to accept change eventually led to the company being bought out by Nike in 2003. 

Today the Converse All Star is a popular shoe for collaborations. These include the ever popular Comme Des Garcons Play line, J.W Anderson, Golf Wang, Dior and Off-White. Showing that this old school design will always be relevant. The All-Stars influence on not only basketball but fashion as a whole may really be unmatched. As this sneaker paved the way for companies to one up the All-Star, but those Chucks may be the reason why so many took pride and love into what they put on their feet. Thank you Converse and Chuck Taylor for laying the foundations of sneaker culture.

Written by: Hector Nilo

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