The American brand remains dependent on the extraordinary longevity of its All Star trainers, which were created more than a century ago and are still among the best-selling trainers worldwide. But it is trying to diversify, while carefully touching its star model.
You don’t mess with old ladies with impunity. Converse learned this the hard way in 2015, when it wanted to give its star model, the All Star Chuck Taylor, a facelift. The idea was to introduce new materials and soles to bring it up to modern comfort standards. Born in 1917, the oldest sneaker still in production suffered from the comparison with its current counterparts… Except that lovers cried lèse-majesté at the sight of this All Star 2, which ended up being a commercial flop – and cost the CEO his job at the time.
The lesson was learned when it came time to launch a new collection of All Stars made from recycled materials. “We had to make sure that people could identify them as ‘Chucks’ at first glance and feel exactly the same way when they wear them,” says Brandon Avery, the vice president of innovation. “We had to focus not only on the functional aspect, but also think about the very strong emotional aspect that connects fans to this shoe.”
Converse can’t afford to make any mistakes with this shoe created for basketball players and named after a former basketball player who became the brand’s best ambassador from the 1920s to the ’60s. It was during this period that it became a popular global icon. Even today, the All Star accounts for the majority of the company’s revenue.
The All Star has been produced in countless versions – even the archive manager admits he doesn’t know how many models there are – but it still tops the best-selling sneaker charts. The company is secretive about its best weapon, saying only that it “sells tens of millions of shoes every year”. According to some experts, it has even passed the one billion mark since its inception.
Reconnecting with its sporting DNA
But the timeless success of the Chucks is not an absolute protection for the company. The company almost went bankrupt in 2003, which it avoided by joining Nike. So, in order to attract new consumers, the brand, whose turnover fell by 8% in 2017-2018, to 1.88 billion dollars, is trying to diversify beyond its flagship model.
It has just returned to its sporting DNA by relaunching itself in basketball, which it had abandoned in 2011 because it could not keep up with the technological and marketing race driven by the sector’s leaders. It is also present in skateboarding, another historical heritage, and, more unexpectedly, in mountain gear, thanks to a partnership with Gore-Tex.