How Vans Shoes are Made: Vulcanized Construction
How Vans Shoes are Made:
Do you want to know how Vans shoes are made? The Vans classic slip on and skate shoes are made by the vulcanized shoemaking process. The Van Doren brothers, Paul and James, started The Van Doren Rubber Company in 1966. Over the next 40 years, they opened factories in California and later contracted factories in China and Vietnam to make the classic Vans vulcanized shoes.
“vulcanize: The process of heating raw rubber to cure it. This process creates crosslinks inside the rubber compound bonding it together. Before the rubber is vulcanized it is stretchable, gummy, and easy to tear. After being vulcanized the rubber is tough, stretchable, and ready to wear.”
How Vans Shoes are Made: Vulcanized
In the Vans vulcanized shoemaking process, the rubber shoe outsole parts are assembled onto the lasted upper before the rubber is completely cured. With the sole attached, the entire shoe must be heated in a vulcanizing oven. The shoe must be heated to around 110˚C/230˚F for 80 minutes. The heat required to vulcanize the rubber sole will melt nylon and polyester fabrics, making them unfit for vulcanized shoes. Also, certain types of foam, like EVA and PE, will get damaged by the heat. This can limit the material choices for footwear designers. Uppers must be made of heat-resistant materials like suede, leather, and cotton canvas with metal hardware.
The vulcanized shoemaking process must be done in a specific factory equipped with lots of special machines. The shoemaking equipment required for vulcanizing is very different from the equipment needed to make cold cement shoes. A shoe factory will usually specialize in one process or the other, you will rarely find both vulcanized and cold cement processes inside the same factory.
The upper stitching and construction of a Vans vulcanized shoe are nearly the same as a cold cement shoe, with an exception being the inside reinforcements for the toe and heel counters are made of thin rubber sheets instead of plastic. Again, due to the high temperature required for the vulcanized rubber, any kind of plastic, PVC logos, or trim treatments must be avoided when designing a vulcanized shoe. The lining of a Vans shoes is made from lightweight cotton canvas.
While the uppers are being stitched, the rubber components for the vulcanized sole unit must be prepared. The rubber components have a shelf life of only a few days. If the rubber parts are made and set aside, the rubber will begin to oxidize, partially cure, and leading them to not cure properly when the shoes are being vulcanized.
Want to learn more about how vulcanized shoes are made and other shoe construction techniques?
Check out Chapters 12 in the book How Shoes are Made. We will cover all the popular shoe construction methods. You will learn shoe construction terms, sneaker construction, and common shoe construction terminology.