Workspace: Life at Vans, Where Surfboards and Skateboards, Art and Music Rule


That iconic checkerboard look

Last June, we moved our headquarters about 10 minutes down the road to a new building off the I-405 freeway. Several hundred thousand people drive this road every day. We hear from some, especially commuters, who say, “Hey, I saw your building with the checkerboard pattern on top.”

When we designed this building, we wanted to enable creative expression among employees in line with what we’re all about: art, music, action sports and street culture. We incorporated those elements throughout the building, and I decorated my office with them in mind.

Get up and move

My desk, which I brought from my last office, is recycled wood. I like that it’s uneven, raw and imperfect. I bring my keyboard in when I need it, but we de-emphasize people being chained to a specific work space. We try to have employees work outside their offices in common areas so they aren’t at their desk with their head down all the time.

Youth in flight

The classic photo by Ed Colver captures not just a skateboarder at a punk rock show, but also a moment in time from my own youth. I was into punk rock at one time, just like many of our customers are. I was in high school in Los Angeles when this was taken, and I recognize a high school friend in the crowd. The photo represents the freedom of youth we try to keep with us regardless of what our chronological age tells us. Off the Wall, our defining ethos, is about a state of mind, not how old you are.

I also have a poster from the first Vans event I attended as an employee — your basic trade show party. The show lasted about two songs into the first band before security sent us packing, but the lineup still makes me proud of our punk rock heritage.

A surfboard shaped by a hero

I grew up in Southern California and became enamored of surfing at a young age. One of my favorite possessions is a surfboard shaped and crafted by Mark Richards, one of my surfing heroes. Mark surfed this exact shape to multiple world titles. A friend gave me a replica of the first board he ever produced and gave it to me in Hawaii. She surprised me by having him present it to me. Mark wrote “For Doug” on the stringer, a stiffener down the center of the board, which still gives me chills. He made me promise to surf it before hanging it on my wall, and I fulfilled my obligation carefully, on one wave, because it’s one of a kind.

An early skateboard

The original Fifteen Toes deck, or wooden top, on one of the early Nash sidewalk surfboards, was a gift from Stanton Hartsfield and Jason Cohn, authors of Surf to Skate: Evolution to Revolution. It has the steel wheels of the first skateboards. I was so inspired by the collection of vintage skateboards featured in the book that I asked them to curate an installation of decks in our headquarters, and now several dozen skateboards from their archives grace our walls.

Guitar homage

I can’t play but a few chords of guitar; my best musical skill is listening. But I’m a huge music fan and support music as part of our brand’s identity. When we built the new headquarters, we created a music room with studio equipment where musicians can perform, including our employees. Singer songwriter Anthony Green from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, played an amazing set recently.

Setting the course

A couple of summers ago I bought a compass in a marine shop in Italy. I keep it on my desk to remind me that my responsibility is to give our brand direction and share it clearly with our teams around the world.

I usually try to be in the office around 6:30 a.m. I value that quiet time when the sun’s coming up and I can get my game on for the coming day. I have a standard set of websites and email blasts I check every morning. There’s The Business of Fashion, and the go-to site for our brand is Hypebeast, which has the latest news in the sneakerhead and streetwear world. I gather some information and news and then start work. Several times a day, I walk around the building and talk to people. We have three floors and about 550 people, and if I don’t get out I can get locked in a conference room all day in meetings.

Sneakers, reimagined

People either love or hate the sneaker mask. Nepenthes, a shop in New York City, is one of our accounts. At a Vans product release event we held there, an artist made this mask from pieces of a Vans sneaker. I saw photos from the party, tracked it down and bought it. I love the concept that Vans shoes are a platform for people to express their creativity. The irony that our shoes are canvas does not escape me.

Lion and prey

I have long marveled at the work of Dennis McNett because of its intensity and attention to detail, like in the wall hanging of the lion. His wood carvings and printing skills are masterful, and we’ve collaborated with him on shoe design.

Business and sports

I watch CNBC during the day because we’re publicly traded and I keep abreast of what’s happening in our sector. Also, we webcast a lot of our events like Vans Triple Crown of Surfing from Hawaii, and Vans Park Series skateboarding events that we do all over the world, and I like to watch them when I can.

Never worn

The Sk8-Hi and Classic Slip-On vintage sneakers in my office are collectibles that have never touched the ground. They were made in the United States. All our sneakers were made in this country until the mid-1990s. The Surf to Skate book, in the shape of a surfboard, is in front of them.

Original Article


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