Having survived two world wars your Chucks will still be kicking after the next one
While we love us our tech fabrics, cushioning soles, velcro straps, Quick Strikes, Originals, artist collaborations and shoes that integrate with our cellphones to track our athletic performance, our Chucks will always take pride of place in our closet. Like bacon, they’re just so damn versatile!
From the beaters that got us through our awkward teenage years to the pristine pair we teamed with our matric dance dress, our Chucks have been with us every step of the way.
In production since 1917 and unchanged since 1949, the original canvas kick referred to as Cons, Chucks and All Stars is an exercise in simplicity. Stitched canvas upper, white rubber toecap, brown rubber sole. Done.
Sure, today you have all sorts of fantastical versions in luxe materials, glow-in-the-dark colourways and tie-dye. But look past those bells and whistles and what you have is still one of the most recognised silhouettes in the world. As a result a pair of Chuck Taylors is sold every 43 seconds, a stat that made the company a cool $450 million in 2012.
Marquis Mills Converse probably didn’t know what he was on to when he created his Converse Rubber Shoe Company back in 1908. The basketball team that he then sponsored, the Converse All Stars, had a player by the name of Charles Taylor, who along with playing for the team held basketball clinics where he sold the All Star’s shoes.
Not just an athlete and salesman for the company, it was Taylor’s ideas and improvements for the shoes - enhancing their flexibility and support, the patch on the ankle – which elevated the shoe to a place where it was worn by the majority of basketball players, Olympians and even American soldiers training for World War II.
Converse thanked his employee by putting his name on the ankle patch and then later, his signature, too. Which is why today we affectionately refer to a pair of Converse All Stars as Chucks.
There were a few tweaks and changes throughout the years. Those ventilation eyelets on the side in 1932 and the white Chucks were introduced four years later.
Still, the iconic Converse with the toe guard that you know today hasn’t changed since 1949. The low-cut version, the oxford, wasn’t even a thing prior to 1957, but after 1971 the floodgates opened and the Chuck Taylor All Star was available in a wide array of colours, prints and fabrics.
Gold, green, orange, red, blue and light blue were introduced in 1971, camouflage showed up in 1983, those glow in the dark versions lit up 1988 and today there are some 500 versions of the Converse Chuck Taylor.
Still, what goes up must come down, and even though the company had an 80% share of the sneaker market in 1966, Nike purchased the flailing company in 2003.
We’re grateful to the mighty Swoosh for making it possible for future legends to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dennis The Menace, Kurt Cobain and Hunter. S Thompson.
But it’s not the unpaid celebrity endorsements that matter; instead it’s how a sneaker has been able to appeal to male and female, all demographics and across subcultures, which makes the Chuck a shoe that’s stood the test of time.