Probably one of the most iconic shoes of all time, the Converse All Star.
This is a shoe that defined the sport of basketball for nearly half a century. It is a shoe that is so well known that at the height of its popularity it’s estimates that 60% of American citizens had a pair.
The brand began in 1908 and was started by Mr Marquis Mills Converse, a career shoe manufacturer. The company had humble beginnings selling waterproof overshoes – a business found it difficult to pay its staff in the warmer months of the year.
To solve this, Converse began looking into more sporty shoes, an evergreen product. The first sporting market Marquis moved into was tennis.
Following this trend and with basketball’s popularity strongly on the rise Converse rose to the opportunity to fill this ever increasing demand. It was this trigger that led to the creation of the original All Stars in 1917 – marketed under the term “Non-Skids” (it appears skidding was a problem at that time).
From this stage there were two major factors that led to the immense success of the brand. Firstly, the launch date was right in the middle of World War 1. In times like those there was a high demand for athletic men. And this originates with sports. This led to strong promotion for getting involved in all sports.
Secondly, there is the fact that Charles ‘Chuck’ Taylor stumbled into a Converse store complaining about how his shoes hurt his feet. Charles was a talented basketball player and although there is no record of him making the pro leagues, he enjoyed playing the office league teams.
Chuck’s gripe with the current All Star’s was that they were not comfortable to play in. Converse were quick to see his passion for the game along and this in combination with his salesman-like charm led to his rapid employment at the company. Here, Chuck was able to make changes to parts of the shoe such as decreasing the rigidity and ensuring more ankle support. This led to his name being added to the shoe – an addition which is still around today.
However, Chuck received no percentage on the All Star sales. He earned his salary in the same way as others but there are whispers that he used the company card to the max.
In his white Cadillac – Chuck made his way around the country with a boat load of shoes in the trunk. As he went made hi way into different towns he was warmly greeted by it basketball inhabitants. When he made a stop he would run basketball sessions in schools and colleges and charming local retailers into stocking his product.
A few years into his selling tour, Chuck created another gem, the Converse Basketball Yearbook – his opinion on the greatest team, coaches and individuals every year. Due to the nature of his shoe promotions he regularly visited a lot of towns and went to places the talent scouts didn’t. This led to a sport-wide respect of his opinions and solidified the reputation of Converse as the market leader in basketball shoes.
Chuck’s relentless passion for his sport and ambition for his product not only led to an increase in basketball players wearing the All Stars. It also led to a massive increase in the number of people taking up basketball as a sport.
His ambition paid off. The All Star made its Olympic debut at the 1936 games and it was with his shoe that USA national team went onto win not only that year but for the next 7 Olympic games in a row. A pinnacle to the success of Chuck, the All Star and the brand was when it was named the official sports shoe for the Olympics every 4 years from 1938-1968. Just a year before Chuck passed away.
Chuck however, had created a powerful movement in terms both the popularity of the sport and the fact that his shoes were worn by roughly 90% of college players.
A few years after his death, the decline of his Converse started. Competition from other shoe brands who had entered the basketball market with shoes that out-competed the All Stars. All Stars were out of date both in terms of how they looked and the they performed on the court. This lead to the last sighting of the shoes on the professional court in 1979.
More recently though, there had been a trend of wearing sports clothing in public. Sports clothing was seen more as a fashion item. Seeing this trend, Converse began to offer more different colours and branched out into different styles – over 400 colours! The All Star increased its market as a sports shoe to a fashion item.
In 2003 a deal was made so that Nike would buy the brand for just over $300 million. A deal which later led to the the modernisation of the original All Stars. The biggest difference is the addition of a lime-green sock liner known as Nike Lunarlon to provide more padding and support the arch of the foot. Also there is a micro-suede exterior to increase breathability.
Converse seems to be gaining the strength of it 20th century days. Nike reported that in 2015, the same year the Chuck All Star II’s were released, Converse sales were up 21 percent providing a revenue of over $400 million dollars. It seems the power of Chuck has lived on.