Converse is an American shoe company that designs, distributes, and licenses sneakers, skating shoes, lifestyle brand footwear, apparel, and accessories. Founded in 1908, it has been a subsidiary of Nike, Inc. since 2003.
During World War II, Converse shifted its manufacturing to make footwear for the military. It was one of the few producers of athletic shoes and for over a half century the company dominated the American athletic shoe market. From the 1970s, the company lost its dominant position as competitors presented their own styles.
Today the company’s portfolio include products under the Converse, Cons, Chuck Taylor All-Star (“Chucks”), Jack Purcell, One Star, and Star Chevron trademarks. Converse frequently collaborates on special edition product releases with other brands such as John Varvatos. Converse shoes are distinguished by a number of features, including the company’s star insignia, the All Star’s rubber sole, smooth rounded toe, and wrap-around strip.
As of 2019, Converse sold products through 109 company-owned retail stores in the United States and 63 stores in international markets. Converse employees are counted among the 76,700 employees of Nike Inc. worldwide.
Forty seven-year-old Marquis Mills Converse, a manager at a footwear manufacturing firm, opened the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in February 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts. The company was a rubber shoe manufacturer, providing winterized rubber-soled footwear for men, women, and children. By 1910, Converse was producing shoes daily, but it was not until 1915 that the company began manufacturing athletic shoes.
In 1917, the Converse All-Star basketball shoe was introduced. Then in 1923, a basketball player named Charles H. “Chuck” Taylor walked into Converse complaining of sore feet. Converse gave him a job: he worked as a salesman and ambassador, promoting the shoes around the U.S., and in 1932 Taylor’s signature was added to the All-Star patch on the classic, high-topped sneakers. He continued this work until shortly before his death in 1969.
Converse also customized shoes for the New York Renaissance (the “Rens”), the first all–African American professional basketball team. In 1962, center Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors scored 100 points in an NBA game while wearing a pair of Chucks, taking a 169–147 victory over the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pennsylvania on March 2.
1941–2001: War, rise, bankruptcy, and new management
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Converse shifted production to manufacturing rubberized footwear, outerwear, and protective suits for the military. The company resumed production of athletic footwear after the war’s end. Popular during the 1950s and 1960s, Converse promoted an American image with its Converse Basketball Yearbook. Artist Charles Kerins created cover art that celebrated Converse’s role in the lives of high school and college athletes.
Red pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars
Black Converse sneakers
In the 1970s, Converse bought out one of its biggest competitors at the time, PF Flyers, from B.F. Goodrich. This led to a monopoly in the shoe market that in 1975 both brands had to split due to an anti-trust lawsuit. Despite both brands being split, Converse had kept the trademark rights of the Jack Purcell line it had purchased from the PF Flyers acquisition. Jack Purcell shoes are still produced and sold today.
Converse lost their monopoly from the 1970s onward, with new competitors, including Puma, Adidas, and Nike. A decade later, Reebok, who introduced new designs and technology to the sports market, Converse was no longer the official shoe of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The chevron and star insignia — a logo that remains on a large portion of Converse footwear other than the All Star — was created by Jim Labadini, an employee.
Canvas-rubber shoes regained popularity in the 1980s as casual footwear, but Converse eventually became too dependent on the “All Stars” brand, whose market collapsed by 1989–1990. By the year 2000, Converse was slipping repeatedly into receivership as debt piled up yearly.
Converse filed for bankruptcy on January 22, 2001. Not too long after, on March 30, its last manufacturing plants in the U.S., closed down, as production fully moved overseas. In April 2001, Footwear Acquisitions, led by Marsden Cason and Bill Simon, purchased the brand from bankruptcy and added industry partners Jack Boys, Jim Stroesser, Lisa Kempa, and David Maddocks to lead the turnaround.
Acquisition by Nike
In July 2003, Nike paid $309 million to acquire Converse. Nike approached the 1980s revival around 2010 to relaunch the footwear. Nike also expanded the Converse brand to other businesses apart from shoes, much akin to its other brands.
By November 2012, Converse had disappeared completely from the NBA, as the last dozen players wearing the brand either left the NBA or switched shoes over a period of a year and a half. Carlos Arroyo went overseas in late 2011, and Maurice Evans last played for the Washington Wizards in April 2012. Nine switched to Nike: Acie Law (who went overseas) in late 2011; JJ Barea and Kirk Hinrich during the 2011–12 season; Luke Harangody and Larry Sanders after the season; Elton Brand, Louis Williams, and Kyle Korver for the 2012–13 season; and Chris Andersen during the season. Udonis Haslem, the last NBA player wearing Converse on the court, followed Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade to switch to Li-Ning in late November 2012.
In 2019, Converse returned to the performance basketball scene with the All-Star Pro BB. Kelly Oubre Jr. was the first player to try out the new product, which combined the traditional Converse silhouette with the contemporary Nike technology. In March 2020 Draymond Green signed with Converse. In June 2020 Natasha Cloud signed with Converse, the first WNBA player to do so. In July 2020 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander signed with Converse.
Celebrities who have worn Converse include Snoop Dogg, Kristen Stewart, Rihanna, and Tyler, the Creator. The growth of Converse as a casual fashion accessory contributed to $1.7 billion in revenue in 2014 and $2 billion in 2015.
In January 2013, Converse announced plans for a new headquarters building, and moved in April 2015. It was constructed near North Station in downtown Boston, on the Lovejoy Wharf, overlooking the Charles River as part of a major site overhaul and restoration of public waterfront access. The 10-story 214,000-square-foot (19,900 m2) office building includes a permanent music recording studio for the new “Converse Rubber Tracks” project, 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) gym with a separate yoga studio designed in partnership with Nike, and a new 3,500-square-foot (330 m2) retail Flagship Store.
Chuck Taylor All Star II
An improved model of the Chuck Taylor All-Star, the Chuck Taylor II, was announced by company management in July 2015. The Chuck Taylor II’s were released on July 28, 2015. Incorporating Nike technology, it retains the most of outward appearance of the original while employing a modern lightweight lunarlon insole. The notable changes made to the new sneakers are the removal of the wrap around strip, premium canvas with higher quality stitching, and a no-slip tongue.
Under the “CONS” name, Converse launched its skateboarding program in 2009 with a team of “ambassadors”: Kenny Anderson, Anthony Pappalardo, Nick Trapasso, Sammy Baca, Ethan Fowler, Raymond Molinar, and Rune Glifberg.
In 2012, the company added Jason Jessee and Mike Anderson to its ambassadors team.
In August 2012, Converse sponsored a skate event at Huntington Beach, California, US. Trapasso, Tom Remillard,Aaron Homoki, Greyson Fletcher, Ben Raemers, Ben Hatchell, Robbie Russo, and Ben Raybourn participated in the competition that was held. Raybourn eventually won the US$20,000 grand prize and Homoki won the US$3,000 Best Trick contest.
As of July 2014, the CONS skateboard team consisted of original members Anderson, Trapasso, Baca, and Glifberg, while Jessee, Anderson, Julian Davidson, Remillard, Zered Basset, Ben Raemers, Jake Johnson, Eli Reed, Louie Lopez, Sage Elsesser, and Sean Pablo were subsequently added. Bassett filmed a new advertisement that was broadcast online during July 2014, in which he skateboarded through New York City in a newly launched skate shoe version of the Converse Weapon model, the “CONS Weapon Skate.”
Starting in July 2008, Converse sent around 180 cease-and-desist letters to over 30 other companies who they claimed were violating the alleged Chuck Taylor All Star trademark and selling so-called look-alike sneakers.
In October 2014, Converse filed a lawsuit against 30 companies for allegedly infringing on its generic sneaker style’s bumper toe, striped midsole and toe cap. The brand argued that companies were violating an alleged common-law trademark by importing sneakers with similar elements. A number of companies settled with Converse and they were dropped from the list.
In November 2015, Charles Bullock, chief administrative judge at the International Trade Commission, preliminarily ruled that several brands Converse filed against were violating Converse’s outsole design trademarks, i.e. the pattern on the bottom of the sole of the shoe. Judge Bullock further ruled that while Skechers “Twinkle Toes” brands did share similarities to Converse, “Twinkle Toes” were different enough and marketed in a way for it not to be mistaken for Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Judge Bullock also ruled that most of the shoes sold by Highline United under the Ash brand did not infringe and that Converse did not have a valid common law mark for its midsole.
On June 23, 2016, the anniversary of the death of Chuck Taylor, the International Trade Commission ruled that Converse’s alleged trade dress for the midsole design of a combined toe cap, toe bumper, and stripe was not entitled to trademark protection under the common law and found invalid Converse’s federal trademark registration. This case is currently on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. An oral hearing in that appeal was conducted on February 8, 2018. The decision in that appeal is pending.
In 1986, Converse released “The Weapon” basketball shoe. Manufactured in two color schemes to match the kit colors of basketball teams, it has been available in both high-top and low cut varieties. The unique aspect of this shoe is the leather construction throughout, including the inside heel which is also heavily padded for comfort. Converse re-released “The Weapon” classic (which Kobe Bryant wore at least three times in 2002 and Andre Miller wore in 2002 from mid August to early September) several times from 1999 to 2003 and after, “The Loaded Weapon” in 2003, “The Weapon 86” in 2008 (and the Poorman version in 2009, and the John Varvatos version in 2012), “The Weapon EVO” in 2009, and its successor “The Star Player EVO” (sometimes reduced to “The Star Plyr EVO” or “The Star Ply EVO”) in 2010.
The first endorsers of “The Weapon” were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who were prominently featured in a Converse commercial set in Bird’s hometown of French Lick, Indiana in 1985. They were also worn by Axl Rose in the Guns N’ Roses music video “Estranged”.
Several special editions of Converse shoes have been made, including DC Comics, Pink Floyd, The Ramones, AC/DC, Sailor Jerry, Metallica, The Clash, Dr. Seuss, Grateful Dead, Ozzy Osbourne, Jimi Hendrix, Miley Cyrus (who helped advertise rainbow designed converse for Pride Month in 2017  and designed the 2018 collection also for pride month in conjunction with her charity Happy Hippie Foundation ), Drew Brophy, Nirvana, Bad Meets Evil, Green Day, Gorillaz, Matt and Kim, Black Sabbath, the Control, green, brown or camouflage edition, Super Mario and Danny Potthoff. Three new designs were created for high tops, inspired by The Who.
Additionally, Converse have to date made an appearance in over 650 films, appearing in movies such as Back to the Future, I, Robot, Grease and Stand by Me.
David Tennant (playing the Tenth Doctor) wore a variety of Hi-top Converse on science-fiction show Doctor Who, including red and cream versions.
July 2018, Converse teamed up with BT21, a millennial pop character created by South Korean hip-hop group BTS, to launch the special collaboration line of Chuck Taylor All-Stars featuring the illustrations of BT21 characters; it’s currently available limited quantities in Asia starting from July 27.
A special collection called “1Hund (RED)”, whereby fifteen percent of the profits are used to support HIV/AIDS prevention, was released by the brand. One hundred artists from around the world were chosen to create designs for the collection as part of the (RED) campaign. Professional skateboarder, Anthony Pappalardo, who, at the time, was also associated with another (RED) participant, Girl skateboards—Pappalardo was sponsored by Chocolate skateboards, a brand distributed by the Crailtap, the distribution company that owns both Girl and Chocolate—released a (RED) edition of his high-selling signature skate shoe model. A short video piece was published on the internet and Pappalardo explains in it:
I got into woodworking about two years ago, through a buddy of mine who I used to skate with every day—he turned into a woodworker. So he gave me this scrap box of wood, and, basically, I just wanted to do something with it … make something with it. It just definitely started consuming me like skating did. I wanted to read about it, you know? Go on the internet and watch videos about it, and just learn anything and everything I could about woodworking. The first thing I ever made was a bench, and that’s, kinda, what I’ve been making ever since. the cool thing about working with Product (RED) is just by doing the two things that I love, I’m also able to help people.
Pappalardo’s first signature shoe with Converse was released in February 2010 and it was produced in the (RED) colorway.
In 2012, Converse is listed as a partner in the (RED) campaign, together with other brands such as Nike Inc., Girl, and Bugaboo. The campaign’s mission is to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child by 2015 (the campaign’s byline is “Fighting For An AIDS Free Generation”).
In winter of 2018, Converse teamed up with a number of influential figures and taste-makers from the Los Angeles area to create an exclusive collection paying to those who help move the culture forward in the city. Among those selected by the Boston-based footwear brand for this L.A.-themed collection is Vince Staples, Dr. Woo, Rocket, BornXRaised, and Clot
Former Converse college teams
Due to Converse withdrawing from performance basketball shoes, there are no professional players or college teams wearing Converse shoes, except on occasion Asi Taulava and Kelly Oubre, Jr.
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