Created for the elite basketball community in the early 1900s, you’d be pressed to find a sneaker with a richer history than the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star. Over decades, Chucks spread seamlessly through popular culture to high end couture with the likes of COMME des GARÇONS and Maison Margiela.
Although successful from early on, Converse nearly disappeared in 2001 when they were forced to file for bankruptcy; fortunately, Nike was there to save the day. It was a no-brainer for Nike to purchase Converse, with the Chuck Taylor alone coming with a unique combination of history, versatility and ubiquity. There are plenty of hyped collabs with the Chuck, and Nike even updated the cushioning with Lunarlon in the All Star II, but the originals are still one of the highest selling sneakers of all time, and will be around for a long time to come.
Century Old Sneakers
Converse was established in 1908; that’s over 100 years of making and selling sneakers; and sell they do, with over 800,000,000 sold to date. Nine years from the company’s inception, they created the world’s first performance basketball sneaker, the Converse All Star; the oldest sneaker still in production, made from canvas and vulcanized rubber.
Four years on, the All Star began to fill basketball courts across the US, thanks mainly to a man named Charles Hollis "Chuck" Taylor, a basketball player for the Akron Firestones who joined Converse as a salesman in 1921. For 11 years, Taylor travelled across the US running basketball camps and promoting the All Star as he’d realised the best way to get the sneakers on players feet was through their coaches. In 1922, he introduced the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which included tips, techniques and strategy around the game of basketball, as well as rosters and most importantly, team photos. Taylor would insist that teams wanting to have their photos in the yearbook should be wearing Converse.
Such was his success that Converse began consulting with Taylor on modifications to the already iconic footwear, and he requested the adding of extra ankle support and improved grip, which Converse happily incorporated.
Come 1932, Converse made the historic move of adding "Chuck Taylor" to the logo patch (placed on the medial side of the sneakers to help protect players ankles from hitting together), a move that was the first of its kind; offering an athlete a signature shoe. On a side note, it was also the time of a regrettable decision on Chuck Taylor’s part, as he signed on for a new car every year, rather than a royalty on every shoe sold. We all make mistakes.
The Olympics Sneaker of Choice
The sneaker became so well-loved that when basketball was officially introduced to the Olympics in 1936, the US played (and dominated) in Chucks; in patriotic red, white and blue of course. Post-World War II, the US would continue to dominate the game at Olympic level, winning the next seven straight Olympics… with Chucks still the main choice of team footwear. They were even worn by Wilt Chamberlain in his record-breaking 100-point game in 1962.
In 1968, Chuck Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and although he died shortly after in 1969, the shoe continued to sell as its dominance shifted from the basketball court to rock and pop culture.
On-Screen and On-Stage
As future powerhouses PUMA and Nike entered the sports scene, Converse made the decision not to compete on the technology front, but stayed true to their original style instead, and simply introduced seven new colours in 1971. We would begin to see everyone from Elvis, to Kurt Cobain, to Tupac Shakur rocking Chucks; Tupac famously rapping the line "In L.A. we wear Chucks not Ballys" on his track California Love in 1995. At the time, an endorsement couldn’t come bigger than that.
Chucks were also appearing on-screen more than ever in the '80s and '90s, most notably in iconic films like Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club and cult classic Pulp Fiction. It was clear this sneaker had hit its stride in the world of streetwear as it began appearing on album covers across genres, taking particular hold in the world of hip hop, with the likes of Eazy-E, Warren G and The Game donning the streetwear staple.
This pivotal moment in Converse’s timeline would ensure the longevity of the sneaker as it became a staple piece of streetwear for celebrities and the public alike, helping to cement their place as a must-have piece of timeless fashion.
Over to You, Nike
Although the company changed hands a few times early in its life, it was in 2001 that Converse was forced to declare bankruptcy, and it looked like the footwear giant could be gone for good. Whilst brands like Nike, adidas and Reebok were spending millions on research and development, producing sneakers for a wide range of sports, in various styles, with innovative technology; Converse were still betting it all on the Chuck Taylor.
They had also missed a trick years earlier by not signing Michael Jordan. When the opportunity to sign him came up, they said that having already signed Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dr J, they couldn’t see any room for Jordan. What could’ve been.
With Converse seeking a lifeline, Nike stepped in with an offer of $315 million and things drastically improved. According to Forbes, Converse’s revenue took a jump from $560 million in 2007 to more than $1.9 billion in 2019, making Nike’s original purchase price a bargain.
Once Nike took the reins, not only did the range of prints on Chucks increase, collaborations did too. Nike knew what to do, and had the power, marketing and money to do it. They were able to breathe new life into Converse as a whole and particularly the Chuck, by collaborating with an incredibly diverse range of high street brands, artists, musicians, boutique shops, and high-end fashion designers. They collaborated with everyone from GAP, The Simpsons and Nintendo to Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and streetwear brand Chinatown Market who created a custom pair of Converse x Nike x Chinatown Market sneakers for LeBron James, which he switched into before a warm up session in the NBA finals. Once again, does a co-sign get any bigger?
Here to Stay
Looking back at the incredibly rich history of the brand, and the Chuck Taylor, it’s no wonder it’s still around today and as strong as ever. Converse as a brand did have its troubles, but none related to the Chuck itself. It’s been a mainstay since the beginning, and I’m glad. A simple design, with a timeless aesthetic, worn by everyone from John F. Kennedy to Rihanna to… well… us. Clean, dirty, old, new; there’s nothing like throwing on a pair of Chucks. Be sure to keep an eye on The Sole Supplier for all the latest releases and collabs when it comes to all things All Star.