converse, still on the ball…

…the shoe manufacturer’s tradition of bouncing back.

Converse is said to produce the world’s best selling shoe, the “All Star” or “Chuck Taylor”. Towards the end of the sixties, after decades of being a monochromatic shoe, it diversified its offer and reached a new public: footgear could now match school team colours for example.

The American brand has a history in conquering new markets, both voluntarily and involuntarily. In 1941, the company joined the war effort by producing military apparel. It became the staple accessory for a number of subcultures: the greaser and rockabilly in the 1950s, punk rockers in the late 1970s. The shoes were adopted by the grunge movement in the early nineties.

However, the heat was on when the competition -namely Nike, Adidas and Reebok- started turning out new, cutting edge designs. This ultimately led to the loss of its traditional monopoly as producer of the official National Basketball Association shoe: the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

Over the years, the shoe had been narrowly linked to a variety of musical trends, however, failure in its original identity is what led to the company’s downfall.

It seems quite surprising, in the light of these events, that the brand has lived to see its hundredth birthday.

Following the bankruptcy, Converse changed hands, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of long-standing rival shoe manufacturer Nike. All its production was relocated, from US-based plants to Asia, sparking much controversy.

Since the nineties, Nike had been the target of fiery criticism and protest as the poor working conditions and low wages in these sweatshops were exposed. The company strived to clean up its act by complying with regular inspections of its factories for example.

Yet Converse’s link to Nike remains relatively un-publicised. On Nike’s website, a brief paragraph presents the old school brand, however, on Converse’s, no mention of its affiliation with the product heavyweight is to be found, not even in its timeline.

Some see, in the case of “America’s Original Sports Company”, an example of brand dis-synergy.

Once they’ve merged, often big brands use their notoriety to boost smaller brands in the portfolio, they work on creating what marketeers refer to as synergies. In this case however, the parent brand Nike is kept quite seperate, possibly in a bid to not tarnish Converse’s popular image.

The punk revival and emo culture rekindled the craze for the legendary shoes at the turn of the century. They even conquered a new fringe of the population when advertised as vegetarian or vegan shoes. Certain enlightened consumers felt torn between the desire for « fashionable » footware and the thought they might be, unwillingly, supporting sweatshop labour. Very similarly designed « vegan-no sweat » are now widely available. Treading the fine line between ethics and counterfeiting perhaps?

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