Few shoe styles have been alive longer than Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Star, the canvas-and-rubber basketball sneaker that legions of hard-core fans have elevated to an antifashion icon.
For almost 75 years, Converse has sold “Chucks” in a limited range of colors and just two basic styles — low tops and high tops. Simplicity has been part of their appeal, especially with teens eager to show their disregard for mainstream trends and high-price athletic shoes. Sales were hotter some years than others, but they never fizzled out, making Chucks and their steady sales a prized franchise in a fickle business.
Recently, though, sales of the All Star have been heading north on a fast track, the result of a whirlwind marketing effort this past year that brought more than 1,000 types of Chucks to retail chains such as Foot Locker and Journeys, as well as to high-end boutiques like Barneys New York. The standard high and low tops still cost only $38, but pricey variations include gold-metallic Chucks ($72), knee-high shearling-lined Chucks ($175), pin-striped Chucks ($55) — even Chucks designed by menswear designer John Varvatos ($95). “Limited edition” snakeskin high top Chucks sell for $1,800.
Converse’s transformation from fashion rebel to fashionista is largely the work of Nike Inc., Converse’s parent company since 2003. The Beaverton, Ore., shoe giant is known for smothering acquisitions with the Nike name and swoosh logo: In 1995, after buying Canstar Sports, the maker of Bauer hockey equipment, Nike changed the company’s name to Nike Bauer Hockey and stamped the swoosh on hockey sticks and skates — much to hockey fans’ irritation. In the industry, the strategy became known as “Beaverizing.”
The Nike influence also has helped Converse offer customized Chucks. Customers go online to personalize a pair of Chucks, choosing a color or a pattern, like skull-and-bones, for the shoes’ laces, rubber soles, racing stripe, tongue or canvas body. Initials or words — available in a choice of two fonts — can go above the heel. “Every part of the business has benefited” from the collaboration, says Jack Boys, Converse’s CEO. “I’m sure glad we’re part of the team,” he adds. “Nike is a little scary. … If you get in their way, they can squash you like a bug.”
By Stephanie Kang
The Wall Street Journal