Converse shoes: In the all star game

By Katya Foreman

21st October 2014

The ubiquitous rubber-soled shoes and boots made a successful leap from sport to streetwear. Katya Foreman looks back at their colourful history.

As one of the most democratic – and omnipresent – footwear icons of American pop culture, with fans ranging from young skater dudes and grungy rockers to Michelle Obama, Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Star boasts as colourful a history as the brand’s rainbow range of shoes. A masterpiece of utilitarian design, with its sleek lines and textured contrast of canvas and vulcanized rubber, the trainer’s black-and-white beginnings were rooted in basketball.

Founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse in Malden, Massachusetts, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company started out as a specialist in winterised rubber-soled shoes and boots. Within a few years, the firm had branched out into the athletic footwear market, at first targeting sports such as tennis, netball and football (at the time, Spalding had the basketball beat covered). Its first basketball shoe, the Converse All Star, was released in 1917, although the man behind its success – Charles ‘Chuck’ H Taylor – was to enter the picture a few years later.

Taylor, who as an active high school basketball player had developed a penchant for Converse All Stars, talked his way into a job at the company in 1921 as an ambassador and salesman. The charismatic young entrepreneur was instrumental in fine-tuning the shoe’s design to improve its performance on the court, but he also had the gift of the gab, a knack for networking, and an impressive knowledge of the basketball industry. “He had a fascinating life,” Joe Dean, a former sales executive for Converse, told The Philidelphia Inquirer. “It was impossible not to like him, and he knew everybody. If you were a coach and you wanted to find a job, you called Chuck Taylor. Athletic directors talked to him all the time when they were looking for a coach.”

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