How the Anaheim Ducks and Vans teamed up to design a shoe collection

ByRyan S. Clark ESPN logo
Thursday, March 7, 2024

Meet Frank Vatrano. All-Star forward. Three-time 20-goal scorer. Budding shoe designer.

Well, sort of.

Vatrano, along with Lukas Dostal and the now-departed Adam Henrique, who was traded to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, were among the Anaheim Ducks players who have an affinity for shoes. That detail happened to slip when someone from the Ducks' marketing department met with someone from the famed Vans skateboard shoe company.

That person was Steve van Doren. He's the vice president of events and promotions of Vans, a company that was founded by his dad and uncle.

It led to van Doren extending an invitation to the Ducks to have players such as Vatrano, Dostal and Henrique take a tour of their corporate headquarters. One of the incentives Vans provided was that they could each design their own shoes.

"When you get these guys and put them in a room with leather and all these ideas, they didn't know which way to go," Van Doren said of the Ducks' visit last summer. "The longest I had ever seen anyone look at shoelaces was these hockey players."

Knowing the players were so invested in making custom shoes led to the Ducks and Vans doing something together. That is what opened the door for the Ducks to collaborate with Vans in creating a 30th anniversary limited edition shoe line that was officially unveiled Thursday.

The collaboration, known as Vans X Ducks, is believed to be the first for any NHL team. Van Doren said it's also the first time Vans has done a collaboration with any professional team.

Ultimately, the end product became a three-shoe collection. The first shoe, titled "Legacy," was designed from the Vans' Sk8-Hi Premium Leather shoe line. It's a design that incorporates the jade, plum and silver scheme the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim wore from 1993 to 2006, when they went through a brand and name redesign. On the back of the legacy shoe, known as the foxing, is the old Mighty Ducks logo.

The second shoe, which is titled "Players Edition," is also part of the Sk8-Hi Premium Line that's a high-top look that has a black base featuring a yellow hockey stick with white tape as part of its quarter design on the side. The Players Edition has the Ducks' 30th anniversary crest on its foxing.

A third shoe, "Wild Wing," is a nod to the Ducks' mascot. It's the classic Vans slip-on shoe with the checkerboard vamp. The shoe is orange with a white checkerboard that has the Ducks' original logo in each space. It has two images of the Ducks' original logo on the foxing. The club's 30th anniversary logo is on the sole.

Vans made 3,000 pairs of the shoes, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis when the doors open at 3 p.m. Sunday at Honda Center. The shoes will be on sale at the Ducks' team store prior to that day's game against the New York Islanders. A ticket for that game will be required in order to purchase the shoes.

There will be a second drop of the shoes that will be announced at a later date.

"It's so cool. Everyone knows who the Mighty Ducks are," Vatrano said. "They've seen the movies and they know the plum with the jade. It's so iconic, and so is that Mighty Ducks' [logo] head. It's something that brings you back to your childhood."

For the record, Vatrano said Adam Banks was his favorite character from the movies because "he was the best player on the team, and that's why I liked him."

Collaborating with Vans is a continuation of what the Ducks have done to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Their first step came during the NHL draft last summer when they unveiled their 30th anniversary sweater by having Leo Carlsson, who they drafted second, speak to fans via hologram at a watch party back in Orange County.

Ducks vice president of marketing Merit Tully said the players' experience at Vans headquarters became the selling point for the Ducks' creative team to wonder if there was a chance to collaborate with Vans, whose corporate offices are about 20 miles away in Costa Mesa.

Tully and Van Doren said the timeline to create the shoes took about eight months.

"We were both born in the same place," Tully said. "We have this unique history with our marks that it does not necessitate being a fan of our organization. We hope people can be if they are not already. It creates a unique opportunity to people who are sneakerheads and what different shoes can represent."

Van Doren said Vans did make athletic shoes back in the 1980s, but it didn't have the desired results. The company decided to concentrate on designing skateboarding shoes before it ultimately expanded into BMX, motocross, snowboarding and surfing.

Last year saw Vans gain even more notoriety beyond the sports it had traditionally served.

Anaheim native Michael Lorenzen threw his first no-hitter last season while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. He did it while wearing a pair of modified Vans that were turned into baseball cleats.

In the NBA, where shoe culture is king, coaches had previously worn dress shoes before a more relaxed dress code was introduced. That saw more coaches wear less dressy shoes. Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown wore Vans. It led to Vans creating a special pair of shoes for Brown, who was named the NBA Coach of the Year.

This collaboration with the Ducks could see Vans potentially make inroads into hockey, whether it be through players or fans who want a pair of the 30th anniversary edition.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Vatrano said he had a limited knowledge and exposure to Vans because they're more of a West Coast shoe brand. Signing a three-year contract with the Ducks in 2022 allowed Vatrano to become more familiar with Vans because he said he kept seeing them everywhere.

Being invited to the corporate headquarters allowed him to learn more about the company and how one of its co-founders was also from Massachusetts. Having the chance to design shoes at a company co-founded by someone from his home state was an experience for Vatrano, who is a sneakerhead. Vatrano said the first pair of expensive shoes he ever purchased was a pair of off-white Air Force 1s.

Vatrano said he kept it simple when it actually came time to design his own shoe. He opted to go with the traditional look of a black, white and gray design with white laces. He did add a custom touch that most hockey fans could appreciate.

Vatrano had the District 5 logo from the first Mighty Ducks movie added to the tongue of the shoe. He said it was something that Henrique and Dostal, who was born eight years after the first movie was released, added to their shoes as well.

"To go there and to see how shoes are made and how much detail goes into one show was cool," Vatrano said. "They said every shoe you see in a story takes about a year to get approved."