A Day At The New Vans Corporate Headquarters (8.30.17)

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I know it’s been a few weeks since we were invited to tour the Vans Corporate Headquarters, but life has really been in the way and I haven’t been able to really sit down and write.  I mainly wanted to share with you, some random photos that I was able to take while touring this amazing new facility.  Situated right off the 405 freeway in Costa Mesa, just West of Harbor Blvd., perfectly visible from the freeway, stands this gigantic checkerboard wrapped building, with an even more giant Vans logo on each side of the building.  It’s even more magnificent from the inside courtyard, where you’ve all seen that big red staircase that connects all 3 floors together.

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I started out my day meeting up with the Strictly Waffles fam Eddie and Joey in the parking lot.  We arrived inside to all of our Vans PR friends, and a few familiar faces I’ve met at past events.  We were provided with some breakfast items and Stumptown Coffee which is the coffee of choice throughout the main cafe, and the coffee kitchens situated on each floor.  I was all about that nitro cold brew that was on tap, served up by their very own barista Brandon.  This was too awesome.

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The day of course started with a nice introduction from Steve Van Doren, and his sister Cheryl, talking about what was important when asking employees about what they wanted the new building to have, as well as making sure it was a place that made you love being at work.  There are private think spaces throughout the entire building, an outdoor courtyard complete with a bell that can be rung and heard throughout the entire place, when you make a significant achievement, and there’s even a game room loaded with air hockey, foosball, and shuffleboards to blow off a little steam on.  Vans memorabilia is on display almost everywhere you look.  Band collab shoes, custom Fender guitars, and even the Vans Born Free 9 motorcycle that was built by Thompson Cycles.

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Although I could go on for days about the architecture and design of the new headquarters, we weren’t just here to see that.  We were being introduced to a new customs process created by their new Vans Waffle Works Innovation Center, a skunkworks if you will, located in a workshop just behind the main building where a bunch of the sampling and early physical design work is done.  The place is full of 3d composite printers, large inkjet printers, and this amazing new machine that can churn out fully all-over custom-printed Vans in less than 15 minutes from the time you upload your art to the app, to the shoes being laced up and on your feet.  Case in point, they had taken a photo of Steve Van Doren’s shirt, uploaded it to the iPad app, printed out the transfer sheet, loaded up the shoes into the machine, and a few minutes later Steve was rocking some shirt-matching new Authentics!  Pics can be seen in the photo gallery.  The process uses a form of sublimation, and transfers whatever you print on to these specific transfer sheets, to a Vans shoe that has been constructed with specially engineered recyclable canvas that takes to the ink very well and allows for spot-on accurate color replication.  After the ink has transferred to the shoe, it pops out of the oven, where you lift off the transfer material, which has now hardened into a shape of the shoe, and sort of looks like Han Solo in Carbonite, and there you have it, your creation in all of it’s glory.  If I could choose any place to work there at corporate, it would be with this team.  I love manufacturing and creating things, and this is what they get to do all day long.  It’s a little bit of design, mixed in with a whole lot of engineering and hands-on work.  This is where the proverbial vulcan rubber meets the road!

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After hanging out there for awhile, we made our way back in to the main building, into their mock-up store that even features store windows, and a layout that includes all of the familiar wall displays and build-outs that you see in all Vans retail locations.  We were mainly there to listen to some exciting new features for the Vans Customs program, which now features a few new lines, like the MTE program, but I was distracted by the yet to be released Karl Lagerfeld collection.  You bet I snapped a few photos of one of this year’s biggest collaborations with Vans!

It was now break time, and we slowly made our way down the hall to the company game room, where we got to experience Ray Barbee just jamming on his guitar, with another Vans employee who was on the drums.  Forgive me for not knowing who you are!  We were all too consumed with this awesome experience, that we didn’t even play with any of the cool game equipment they had.  This was about the time I nursed my caffeine withdrawal and grabbed myself that Stumptown cold brew on nitro.  I’m no coffee snob, but I drink coffee every day, and I know this stuff ain’t cheap, so you know I indulged myself.

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We continued our tour by visiting the 2nd floor, where most of the worker bees are.  The outer facing windows of the building are where most of the open air offices are at.  They aren’t quite cubicles, but the layout is such that everyone can collaborate and interact by just peering over their computer monitor, or leaning back behind them to another row of desks that are right behind.  One of the dopest features of their office space, was the installation of these speakers throughout the office that emit a pink noise that suppresses sound from traveling, thus a conversation happening about 20 feet away is practically silent.  Another cool thing to see at corporate, was all the cool art installations throughout the building, and while strolling the halls we came across Jay Howell, of Bob’s Burgers, putting up his contribution on their hallway walls.  Once again, see the pics in the gallery.

Next, was a brief stop to the 3rd floor, where the design team works.  We wished we were allowed more time and access to this floor, but understandably, this is where the livelihood of this company stands.  We were brought to the main entrance of their workspace, and that was it.  No wandering the floor, or seeing personal work spaces.  Doors kept closing as our tour guide led us down the halls.  They made it perfectly clear that there were to be no pictures taken on the 3rd floor at all.  I did get to see an awesome brown couch though, made with some pretty premium leather!

What Vans gathering would be complete without a good old fashioned BBQ lunch from Steve Van Doren, Bob Provost and team?!  The top deck of one side of the building has a giant built in grill, including a large concrete counter-top, and a great big patio, perfect for functions like the one we were a part of.  Sitting down to talk about the state of our beloved sneaker culture with fellow industry friends was nice, over a lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and a big spread of other things including some awesome desserts curated by Kristy Van Doren.  Food + friends = great times for sure.

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After lunch, we got to take a look at some of the product releasing later on this year.  I mostly recall seeing a bunch of Womens line, MTE, and a Vault embossed leather collection that looks really promising.  The tour then took us over to their in-house gym and yoga room, where we awkwardly crashed a few people’s workouts.  After that, it was outside to hear about some of the environmentally friendly features that were introduced to the remodeled facility, including a huge solar panel array along the back parking lot, and above part of the carport.  Pretty cool stuff.

After seeing everything, we were then allowed to go and revisit any of the open areas that we wanted to go and get more pics of.  We wanted to go and try to get a few words in with SVD, and we happened to catch him between a few interviews, where he invited us into his fun office, full of memorabilia, signed posters, decks, giant size 66 Moon Eyes Half Cabs, designed similarly to the Japan-exclusive collection.  He showed us some of the artwork that they had prepared for the tees that they were going to be donating down in Houston, due to hurricane Harvey.  It was amazing to see this in the early stage, knowing what awesome work Vans was about to do in the following week after the flooding had subsided.  I also got a sneak peek at a few gifts Steve made for the now local Los Angeles Chargers NFL team, whose practice facility is right up the street from the Vans HQ.  Vans, if I need to take these down, just contact me, but since I figured these were only a gift, and are not an official collab or licensed product, it would be okay to share.  Bolt up!

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So this was pretty much the end of the tour.  We were now free to head back to the Waffle Works Innovation Center, where we were to receive our very own pair of custom Authentics, featuring artwork or a logo that we emailed a few days before.  It was awesome to see everyone else’s design, and it was even more awesome to hear that everyone really liked the ones we made.  Honestly, I sent in my circle logo that I had designed by Steve Nazar, and it was the Vans team that doctored it up and turned it into an all-over collage, making it more visually appealing.  Needless to say, it came out way better than I could’ve ever expected!  If this process can be mobilized and start to be rolled out to special events, then this could be a game changer for Vans.  Custom shoes, on the spot, in 15 minutes.  If that’s not a game changer, then tell me what is!

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Well, I just wanted to say thank you to our Vans PR family who have always been really great to us.  We’re extremely grateful for being able to join in on all of this cool stuff, and looking around at everyone else who joins in on these activities, I wonder if they have the same fanboy feelings that we have?  Strictly Waffles and us represent the Vans culture, and we feel like we have a more vested interest in Vans, so when newcomers come along and ask us for the new Vans “Lows”, or Golden Coast checkerboards, we can’t help but roll our eyes, but we also recognize the opportunity we have to convert them to possible brand loyalists.  By educating them on the shoes, the history, the culture, and just the overall lifestyle that Vans exemplifies, then hopefully they’ll buy into the brand and maybe even one day be a die-hard enthusiast like us and a few of our close friends that you see repeatedly on our social media platforms.  Just like Vans’ current campaign of being “Not Just One Thing”, specifically in our sneaker collecting culture, we are made up of not just one thing.  A few of us came from the Nike/SB/Jordan heyday, while others came from the skate world, or the fashion and design industry, but either way we all found a commonality with Vans, and have forged some great friendships as a result.  We have Vans to thank for all of that.

-Bill (@djguamstyles)

 

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