LOS ANGELES - James Van Doren, whose Vans
sneakers are coveted by skateboard fanatics worldwide, has died at the age of 72, the California-based company said Friday.
Van Doren -- who co-founded Vans with his brother Paul, long-time friend Gordon Lee and partner Serge Delia in Anaheim, California in 1966 -- died October 12 after a long illness, the firm said on its website.
"Jim Van Doren will always be remembered by Vans as a great innovator and the mechanical mind that joined with brother Paul's retail acumen and Gordy's shoe manufacturing expertise to take Vans from that single store to national prominence and setting the stage for the global brand that Vans is today," the company said.
Van Doren personally created the molds of the original canvas-top Vans in his garage, then grew the company as California skateboarders soon discovered the solid grip of the sneaker's thick rubber soles.
Hollywood star Sean Penn raised Vans' profile when he appeared in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" in a pair of checkerboard slip-ons in 1982.
"He guided Vans through the checkerboard era, and we were flying," his nephew Steve Van Doren told the Los Angeles Times. "We were the hottest thing going."
Van Doren passed the corporate helm to his brother in 1984 when Vans, losing money, went into bankruptcy and reorganized its operations. He became a general contractor, often working for free for the needy, the Times said.
Vans today is owned by the VF Corporation, a North Carolina company whose big stable of brands includes Lee and Wrangler jeans, Nautica sportswear, Kipling bags and North Faceoutdoor products.