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Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans

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In the tradition of bestsellers such as  Shoe   Dog ,  Authentic  is a surprisingly candid, compelling memoir by a high school dropout who went on to establish one of the world's most iconic brands.
 You may not have known their creator, but you certainly know the shoes: for more than four generations, Vans shoes have been synonymous with cool.
 Now in Authentic, a memoir written by Paul Van Doren and published just before his May 2021 death, the charismatic founder of Vans shares his story of heading West and capturing the American dream.   
Authentic is a celebration of Van Doren’s remarkable life and the iconic brand he built, beloved by skateboarders, creatives, and fans everywhere for its laid-back, colorful SoCal vibe, and famous for its people-oriented company culture. In Authentic, he shares his unlikely journey from high-school dropout to sneaker-industry legend. A blue-collar kid with no higher education and zero retail experience, Van Doren started out as a 16-year-old “service boy” at a local rubber factory. Over the next few decades, he leveraged a knack for numbers, a genius for efficiency, and the know-how to make a great canvas tennis shoe into an all-American success story. What began as a family shoe business has today evolved into a globally recognized brand with billions of dollars of annual revenue. Van Doren is not just an entrepreneur, he’s an innovator. In 1966, when the first House of Vans store opened, there were no stand-alone retail stores just for sneakers. Paul’s bold experiments in product design, distribution, and marketing (Why not sell custom shoes? Single shoes?), aided by legions of fans — skateboarders, surfers, even Sean Penn wearing Vans’ famous checkerboard slip-on shoe in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High — made Vans a household name. But there was also back-breaking work, a shocking bankruptcy, family turmoil, and a profound shift in how customers think about athletic shoes. The book details Van Doren’s personal life, but also hard-won business lessons learned over six turbulent decades in the shoe trade: the importance of deep-rooted values, of improvisation, of vision (and revision), and above all, of valuing people over profits. 
Authentic is Paul Van Doren’s written legacy and his lessons for the innovators of tomorrow. 
Bracingly forthright and totally entertaining,  Authentic  is a business memoir by an American original.

336 pages, Hardcover

Published April 27, 2021

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About the author

Paul Van Doren

1 book4 followers
Paul Van Doren was one of the founders of Vans, a shoe company in the United States.

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5 stars
228 (44%)
4 stars
200 (38%)
3 stars
81 (15%)
2 stars
8 (1%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
1,947 reviews299 followers
May 4, 2021
I remember when I got my first Vans shoes. I think I slept with them on my bed refusing to remove them after days of begging my mom to get them for me. Getting my Vans meant I was a cool kid! LOL! Nah, who am I kidding I am still a book nerd. Well thank goodness Vans is making me cool again because I am the book nerd reading this fun memoir, and now my kids are wearing Vans! ⁣⁣
This memoir is both an entertaining and engrossing read. Fresh and candid, I am so glad to have learned more about Paul Van Doren whose charismatic leadership of Vans, turned this company into a beloved brand with fans all over the world. Vans has been synonymous to the laid-back vibe of SoCal, and became well known for its people-oriented company culture. ⁣⁣
In 𝐀𝐮𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐜, Van Doren shares his amazing journey from a high-school dropout to a sneaker-industry leader. As an entrepreneur and an innovator, when the first House of Vans store opened in 1966 as a stand alone just selling shoes was unheard of, Van Doren has a story we can all learn from.⁣

Also, who will ever forget Sean Penn wearing Vans’ famous checkerboard slip-on shoe in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High? That was awesome! ⁣

Authentic details Van Doren’s personal life, and all his lessons learned in life and business where people will always win over profits.

Make sure to check this book out. It’s fantastic!
Profile Image for Ryan.
296 reviews36 followers
February 7, 2022
The story of Vans is fascinating. Paul Van Doren grew up in a working class family on the east coast. He worked for Randy's for many years, a company that made shoes with vulcanized rubber soles.

The only reason Vans happened, really, is because Van Doren was let go from the job he'd had at Randy's for so long.

The common threads through Van Doren's story: He was a super hard worker, relied on insights from customers and boots on the ground intel (rather than guessing), and had a little bit of luck.

I really enjoyed all the stories and anecdotes, especially how Van Doren solved shipping and inventory problems... how he was willing to pull all-nighters to get work done... and how he amplified his luck when luck happened.

If you liked Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, then you'll probably also enjoy this memoir. It's got a similar rags-to-riches vibe.
Profile Image for Jessica White.
458 reviews34 followers
May 2, 2021
I always wanted to be a little skater kid.

So, my freshman year of high school I finally bought my first pair of Vans. Some real cute purple and grey Authentic Era Vans, then set off to find my first skateboard. I ended up with a Sector9 long board and my obsession grew from there.

Naturally, when I was that the Founder of Vans, Paul Van Doren, was writing a book, I knew I wanted to hear his story. Did I really care about shoe production? Not really. But I was intrigued by the history of how and why Vans was created. Skaters embraced the Vans brand and Vans was willing to listen to what they wanted. Tony Alva, one of the original Z-Boys came into a Vans storefront and begged to just buy one shoe. Other skaters came in asking for better ankle protection, thus the SK8-Hi and jazz stripe was born. Vans realized they were really the only shoe company tackling the needs of extreme sports.

But more than that, Vans was the biggest family company around. Paul Van Doren rounded up all his kids and siblings and in-laws and created a company that would not exist without the help of the entire family. Which is why Vans relies on families. They rely on their workers, the whole team has always felt like a family.

I'm honestly obsessed with this book.
I loved reading about the skater kids coming in.
I loved reading about Vans Warped Tour.
I love how Paul Van Doren dropped shoes to raise horses later in life.
Everything about this book felt.....Authentic.

This review and more can be found at A Reader's Diary!
Profile Image for Elena.
146 reviews
February 18, 2022
Authentic is a most read for a vans lover. Paul is brilliant and I loved reading about how vans was such a family affair. Vans is huge for my family. My daughter calls my brother her vans dealer. We’ve rushed to the vans store to all buy the shark week vans. I loved reading about the come up of my favorite shoes.
Profile Image for Tobias Grunick.
20 reviews
May 13, 2022
Interesting to read where Vans was coming from. A lot more on the technical business side than actually talking about culture of the brand and it’s deep connection to other cultures (like skateboarding, music, surf and so on). Still an interesting read that made me appreciate Vans shoes even more
Profile Image for Jason Weber.
283 reviews3 followers
May 10, 2021
I’ve been wearing Vans for a long time, so it was cool to read the Vans story from the man who created them!
34 reviews379 followers
July 15, 2022
Damn this was great. Hard work, great product, great price and focus on a specific customer (skateboarders). Basics work. Admired this guy. Great bio where there were great stories, lessons and inspiration.
2 reviews
December 17, 2021
Book project 2
Max Bartojay
Mr Koenigbauer
14 December 21

My favorite quote from the memoir Authentic by Paul Van Doren could be many quotes but the one that stood out to me the most was when on page 272 Paul said “no one gets anywhere alone. And in the final analysis, what you make will never be as important as how, and with whom, you make it.” This quote means that what you do or “make” will not matter as much as who you make it with and how you made it. This quote is meaningful to me because it tells me that no matter what, it is never as good when you achieve it alone. This claim could go both ways though because some people might say that it is a lot more rewarding alone because it could be harder. But if you have someone by your side you will always succeed even if it is in the most unlikely ways.
If I were to rate this book out of 5, I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 for many reasons.
This book was one of the best books I've ever read. I really connected to it in many ways. One is that I love Vans shoes and that's all I wear. Another reason I rated this book so highly is because there are so many good and inspiring pieces and quotes. One great quote is on page 167 “ life is only partly about how you hold and handle your cards. Don't ever be so god damn sure of anything, because nothing in life is a given.” The book is full of great quotes like this and this one happens to be told by Paul's dad.
I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 because the book was so enjoyable and fun to read. One of the best parts and most entertaining was the 15 or so pages in the middle that had pictures and descriptions from his life and company. There were pictures from the first shoe box that Vans ever made and the fist Vans shop to his childhood home in Braintree, MA. I also loved this book because I would someday like to have my own business like Paul. Overall this book was amazing and I would easily recommend it to anyone that is interested in true meaningful stories about the american dream.
The plot of this book has many ups and downs and I will explain them all. The book begins with Paul dropping out of his local high school. When Paul was 16 he was working in a rubber factory to make some money. The one day he decided to go to a school to become a salesman and then he got a job at “Randy's West” and Paul's job there was to find new and more materials for the shoes. One day in February 1965 he quit because he was going to be forced to make an unfair decision on who to fire. But it turned out that this was a blessing in disguise. On page 87 Paul said “ That was the end of my career at Randy's, and the start of the biggest adventure of my life.” Shortly after he quit he got an invitation to Japan and that is when he decided to make the decision to start his own business. After he made the decision he asked some people to invest, and came up with a name ( Van Doren Rubber company) and a logo. After they were getting some success the unexpected happened. In 1984 Vans went bankrupt. But luckily by 1988 vans made a full recovery from the bankruptcy. The book ends by Paul thanking all his employees and everyone who supported him throughout his life but sadly Paul died in May of 2021.

The theme of Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans by Paul Van Doren could be many things but I think it is never give up and pursue your dreams. Paul had every chance to give up but he did not. He could have gone into a normal job after he quit at Randy's or when he was having trouble setting up the company but he never gave up. Paul was just a very good and hard worker and he never gave up. At one point Vans went bankrupt and their future was looking pretty dull but they never gave up and moved some things around and now they have a multi billion dollar company.

Book recommendations

Sneaker Freaker. the Ultimate Sneaker Book by Simon Wood
This book talks about the history of sneakers and everything about them.
1 review
January 2, 2022
Pro's: Interesting story of a sort-of American Dream. Van Doren is clearly bright, and tells tales of himself building an identity while holding the values he grew up with to heart. I could also see getting some business knowledge out of the book. Van Doren talks about getting people to believe in a common mission, the importance of being people-focused, and wearing your brand with pride.

Con's: I think Van Doren often comes across a bit grating or hypocritical, at least in my read of it. Many stories seem to be him at conflict with other people, where the resolution comes when Paul was right and proves his adversaries wrong (even when they were his own family in his company!). At the same time, he touts that his success was in being able to listen to anyone who was smart and have a good idea. Reading this book you'd be told that the author has never made a single mistake with Vans, outside of trusting other people when he retires. Maybe that's true, but it's hard to read this book and feel like Van Doren isn't writing it to either cement some legacy or with a superiority complex on hand. Ostensibly he did a lot right in building a great company, but I would have loved to hear more of the challenges and how he dealt with them.
Profile Image for Troy Kelley.
8 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2021
Paul Van Doran's take on his life and the history of his iconic brand came out in last month just before he passed away at 90. The story starts slow, but the final third is a great comeback story. As a SoCal transplant and Vans fanboy, here were my big highlights:

Logistics wins:
Few stories of iconic brands go so deep into production efficiencies. Van Doren wasn't into style or marketing. He knew one thing - how to make vulcanized rubber shoes efficiently. This allowed him to keep the company financially stable until the big break came.

Influencer marketing? Follow your fans:
Did you ever see Skateboarding doc "Dogtown & Z-Boys"? The Zephyr Skate Club wore Vans, but they were total thugs. Vans took a chance and got behind them. Malibu up-and-comer Sean Penn wants a custom pair of checkered Vans. Give him what he wants, and send a few to the set of his new movie. The Z-Boys and Jeff Spicoli created the Vans Brand.

Focus your brand promotion:
Have you seen many Vans ads over the last 20 years? Instead, they invested their ad spend into the sponsorship of the Vans Warped Tour. Instead of pushing ads, they were pressing palms with the next generation of customers.
15 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2021
A fun read about a bright guy who was good at making shoes in a time that shifted from local manufacture to a global market. Van Doren is good at seeing into manufacturing processes, identifying markets and knowing when to roll up his sleeves and get into the dirty hard work. He talks a lot about making and supporting crews that are good at what they do. There is in this book a healthy bit of old white guy pulling themself up by their boot straps with hard work and good luck that is short sided on the privileges he has as a white male.

There is an odd omission in this book. He talks about a Japanese manufacturer that was a mentor and supporter for him. He references a trip to Japan post war but suspiciously there is no chapter recalling that trip. I suspect that the chapter was edited out entirely.

This was a fun read that inspired me to buy my first pair of vans in decades and fondly remember the pairs I had as a skate rat back in the 90s.
July 29, 2021
Recién terminé de leer: "Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans" de Paul Van Doren, fundador de una de las marcas de calzado más innovadoras y "cool" del mundo. Van Doren, un niño mitad holandés, mitad italiano, de clase media, sin educación superior y sin experiencia en producción o ventas, realata su comienzo a los 16 años como mensajero en una fábrica de zapatos, en la que trabajó hasta 1965. A los 35 renunció para fundar: "The Van Doren Rubber Company" y producir los tenis vulcanizados de lona que han servido y dado identidad a skaters, surfers, ciclistas BMX y artistas urbanos.

Estupenda lectura con lecciones valiosas sobre la importancia del equipo humano, el trabajo arduo y disciplinado, la integridad y el servicio al cliente. ¡Súper recomendado!

Van Doren, P. (2021). Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans. Charleston, SC, USA: Vertel Publishin
Profile Image for Will Plunkett.
336 reviews1 follower
February 5, 2023
My choice of footwear notwithstanding (I've been adorned in Converse for decades), this honest-but-blunt-at-times account of the Van's shoe history shows that hard work and tunnel-vision can pay off... off the wall? I am impressed with the time and effort spent to build the brand and keep the company afloat (and relevant) over the years. Sad to read of the importance of family (yes, that IS a good thing) so quickly transitioned in chapter 10 of his account of divorcing his wife and re-marrying right after. This book could be a cautionary tale of workaholic tendencies.

P.S. If you want to succeed in this company, it helps to be named "Steve" (quite a few of them are featured in this book, including Paul's son)
Profile Image for Tina.
199 reviews
May 8, 2021
As I finished this book this morning I saw the news Paul Van Doren had passed away. RIP and my condolences to his family. Vans are my favorite shoes and I was very excited to see that Paul Van Doren had written a memoir. I'm so glad he did, this was a great read about the ups and downs, mistakes, troubles, and triumphs that he and his company went through over the decades. He had a natural acumen for business and knowing what would work and what wouldn't and insisted that Vans stay true to his founding principles. Thank you Paul, and I hope that the company continues to keep up his legacy and commitment to great quality.
31 reviews
July 14, 2021
It was interesting. I listened to the audio version on a road trip with my husband. The narrator wasn't bad, Tony Alva a member of the famed Z-Boys. It was nice that an old friend read the story.

Spoilers: Maybe?

I felt like Mr. Van Doren spent a lot of time at the beginning of the book pointing out why he was 'right' every time he thought of an innovation. When he becomes his own boss, he doesn't seem to extend that courtesy to others. His changes needed to be done ASAP as far as he was concerned, whereas changes suggested at his company were sometimes met with resistance from him. Other than that odd dichotomy, it was interesting and fun.
Profile Image for Rhonda Fonicello.
176 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2021
I purchased this book the day it released and started reading it the day Paul Van Doren died. I'm grateful that he took the time to put pen to paper and tell his story. I highly recommend this book to any would-be or current entrepreneurs and anyone interested in the history of the Van Doren Rubber Company.

A great combination of personal reflection and how the VANS brand came to fruition, all mixed in with exceptional leadership insights makes this a great read! May you Rest in Eternal Peace, Paul! What you created was off the wall! ♥️
Profile Image for Marsha Barker.
11 reviews
May 26, 2021
This was one of the most amazing books I've every read in my life. This man taught me so much. I do personally wear Vans for every occasion (dressy, casual, EVERYTHING). But that has nothing to do with it. You learn so much about business, parenting, how to handle people and how to just be a good person from this book. I would have loved to have had the chance to meet Mr. Van Doren. Maybe someday I can meet Stevie. Mr. Van Doren will be someone I will model myself after from now on. I will buy this book and re-read this and hilight and refer to parts,
January 30, 2022
From life lessons to the journey of Vans, this is again another one of the best memoirs I’ve read. This was a quick and easy read, taking just a week to read, but it was hard to put this one down every night.

To put it short, nothing in life came easy to Van Doren, and he told that clear. But his desire to chase his dream, finish what he started, and give his all makes the story of Vans that much better. Whether you’re a Vans wearer or looking for a business-style leadership book, this is a must read.
1 review
May 14, 2021
Ive been wearing Vans since I was a kid and found this book an extremely interesting read. I highly recommend that anyone who manages people read this book. Paul had a very interesting life and shares many great stories and lessons about succeeding in both life and business. In a world full of ego driven CEOs it’s refreshing to learn some wisdom from a roll up your sleeves and get shit some type of person. RIP Paul
Profile Image for Aaron N. Hall.
Author 5 books12 followers
June 11, 2021
Better than Shoe Dog. Yes. I said it.

From a business perspective, Paul gives advice that's real and practical. His story proves that success has less to do with luck and more to do with grit, tenacity, patience, integrity, and listening. The Vans culture is a case study on how to build diehard brand loyalty when you prioritize the wellbeing of your customers and employees.

I'll recommend this to anyone looking for a valuable read on entrepreneurship. Well done and rest in peace, Paul.
Profile Image for Kyle McClelland.
32 reviews
June 16, 2021
All I can say is wow! I love reading biographies, especially of modern people and businesses and this book did not disappoint. To learn the story of Vans and how it came to be was amazing and knowing that a great guy like Paul Van Doren was a contributor makes it that much better. I have never owned a pair of Vans, but am going to buy my first pair after reading this book. Inspiring, educational and fun.
Profile Image for Anna.
11 reviews
February 4, 2023
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit skeptical about it going into it. But I love Vans and I wear them everyday and wanted to know the origin story of them. And it was really interesting. And the fact that Vans is a family company and loves peoples’ uniqueness and individualism is so great. And I’ve always loved that their shoes are unisex especially since I have pretty big feet. But it really made me appreciate them more knowing the backstory of how they’ve come to be.
July 13, 2021
I wasn’t sure how much I’d be into this book when I first picked it up. But as soon as I started reading more, I couldn’t put it down. I loved learning about the Van Doren family, how Vans started, and everything the company accomplished. I will definitely wear my Vans with pride, now that I know the amazing story behind them!
2,327 reviews89 followers
October 14, 2021
This was such a good book. His shoes have been well known for years. He had the vision to see there should be a stand-alone store for sneakers. He saw that the youth culture was turning away from team sports and they were now skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and extreme sports. I had not heard he had passed away. His family now runs his business.
Profile Image for Lewis Ngugi.
57 reviews6 followers
December 31, 2021
Very interesting book:
I own a couple of Vans pairs and listening to the story of how they are made and the journey of the founder connects you to the brand deeply.
Otherwise, I’d recommend this book to first time entrepreneurs, the book has a couple of nuggets that would work in this day and age.
March 12, 2022
If you are a fan of Vans I highly recommend this book. Not only did I learn a lot about the company, but I really enjoyed the inspiration I received while reading this book. Paul Van Doren was very dedicated and put his people first and the product second. I think companies lack the leadership that Paul displays and his work ethic.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
62 reviews
March 26, 2022
As someone with multiple pairs of Vans and many memories of Van's Warped Tour, I couldn't not read this book. I really enjoyed the deep dive into the company's history by the man who made it what it is. Yes, it was a bit of a slow start and a lot of detail in the shoe making process, but it's what he knows so that didn't surprise me. Definitely recommend this book.
3 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2023
There is something almost poetic about Vans. When I was in jr high, they were popular. When I was in college, they were popular. Today, they are just as popular as ever. And the shoes have not changed. This is not an accident. In this book Paul Van Doren, founder of Vans, tells the story of Vans humble beginnings and the steps they took to become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Profile Image for Erika Downing.
47 reviews2 followers
May 2, 2021
I loved this book. I felt like he was really talking to me. My dad grew up in Orange County so it felt like looking into his past. It’s amazing to see a high school dropout have better business acumen that the people who spend years at school studying it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews

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