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Keds Shoes: Then & Now

Updated on February 3, 2013

The History of Keds Shoes

This lens tells a brief history of Keds shoes from 1917 to the present day. The original advertising company coined the word "sneakers" since the rubber sole allowed people wearing them to quietly "sneak" around.

How many of you remember your very first sneakers? I do. The very first tennis shoes I owned were Keds. Here they are again, with a stylish and energetic twist. These are not just comfortable sneakers, they are trendy and fun!

PD Image from vintage cartoon advertisement for Keds Shoes

"Sneakers!" Why are they called that?!

So you can sneak around quietly without getting caught!

The year was 1917. People were used to hard soled shoes and the noise that accompanied them when worn. Then Keds came along! They were the first mass marketed rubber sole shoe. Keds' rubber sole made them a quiet shoe which could be worn on any surface. The advertising company at the time coined the word "sneakers" with the theme that the quietness of Keds made them a perfect choice for people wanting to sneak around without getting caught! The word "sneakers" caught on like wildfire.

The Keds brand of tennis shoe was made by U.S. Rubber (now know as Uniroyal) in 1917, then Uniroyal Goodrich, and have been around for almost 100 years. They were originally going to be called "Peds," meaning "foot" in Latin but that name was taken so the company settled on the name "Keds," which is the Indian word for moccasins.

In the 60's and 70's, Keds added a line of athletic shoes called Pro-Keds which were a huge hit in sports. As a matter of fact, it seemed like everyone at that time was wearing some kind of Keds, particularly the youth, teens, and active adults.

Camps required the campers have them, cheerleaders lived in them, basketball players and athletes swore by them, musicians favored them when they weren't wearing boots, and they were worn by a series of television stars. Yes, Keds were the casual shoe of choice.

They lost popularity in the mid to late 1990s when other athletic shoes came into vogue. Brands like New Balance, Nike, Puma, Air Jordan, Lacoste, Converse and Reebok launched huge promotions, showing champion athletes in the Olympics, in Wimbledon and in the U.S. Open, all wearing "brand" tennis shoes. Big money was paid to top athletes to wear various brands of tennis shoes. The top shoe manufacturers were totally absorbed in competing with one another and in wiping out rival companies.

After the turn of 21st century, the ball was once again in Keds' court, thanks to a number of celebrities who endorsed Keds and also due to vintage styles being back in vogue. In 2005, Mischa Barton, star of the Fox TV series "The O.C.," had signed on to become the first celebrity spokesperson in the history of Keds. Suddenly Keds had the attention of the 19 to 25 year olds.

Although sales had slipped in the Keds traditional marketplace over the years, the net income in 2005 and 2006 showed a considerable increase. By 2007, although Keds was making headway, profits were not as dramatic as in the two years before. And by 2008, it was apparent that although Keds was doing well in the marketplace for kids and for teens, if it wanted to continue its growth in the highly competitive footwear industry, it would have to do better and take some of the sales from the other players. The company became committed to coming out with trendy, more colorful shoes for aging baby boomers, in addition to shoes for children, teens and young adults.

While All This Was Going On......

The San Francisco company Confego had pioneered a new software that allowed the customization process to take 48 hours, meaning a person could place an order and have it in hand in just one week. Similar vendors needed three to five weeks to achieve the same thing. More and more manufacturers began to offer customization and Confego's revenue doubled, tripled and quadrupled when customers such as Reebok, Timberland, Nike, and others began to partner with Confego to offer personalized versions of their products.

In 2007, Zazzle, the award winning company for on-demand quality custom products, acquired Confego, which allowed them to tap into its expertise in customizing products, including construction, color, fabric choice and custom embroidery. Confego's co-founders, Dave Gross and Brennan Mulligan, joined Zazzle.

At about the same time or shortly before, Keds' management team was searching for for a way they could get into the growing mass customization market and make a profit. Keds' e-commerce director Gregg Poulin contacted Confego. It was a good fit. All he needed now was a community to plug into. Dave Gross and Brennan Mulligan directed him to Zazzle.

In Gregg Poulin's words: "I had the brand, they (Confego) had the process/systems. Now I needed the community, which is where fit in." *

In the summer of 2008, Keds began a partnership with Zazzle and started offering its own custom footwear, which went far beyond their predescesors in the customization options offered.

Through Keds' partnership with Zazzle and also with the launch of their "Keds Studio" line at roughly the same time, customers can design their own Keds by adding graphics, photos and even text.

In addition, consumers can select their own stitching, binding, lining, gore, and laces(when ordering Champion lace up sneakers). Also, if the consumer chooses to do so, they can sell their custom creations through the Zazzle marketplace and even make a profit. Alternatively, a consumer can choose from a huge assortment of artist designed Keds and customize these further or buy them as they are.

Zazzle has invited artists from around the world to add to its collection. When I last looked at the Zazzle website, there were about 93,000 designs to choose from. Currently Zazzle sells Keds in an assortment of styles for men, women and kids.

*Mass Customization & Open Innovation News

Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma - and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport

Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport
Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport
In Sneaker Wars, journalist Barbara Smit reveals the dramatic, character-driven story of these two power-houses. Started in their mother's laundry room in Germany, Adi and Rudi Dassler's shoe business was an instant success, their spikes worn by Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics. But a vicious feud soon pulled them apart: by the end of World War II, the brothers split the company, dividing their family and hometown.~Amazon Editorial Book Review


Sneakers: The Complete Collectors' Guide
Sneakers: The Complete Collectors' Guide
This book features comprehensive reference sections for collectors, including histories of the fourteen leading brands from Adidas to Vans; practical tips on building and caring for a collection; a fully illustrated glossary and chronology; and a directory of shops, resources, and Web sites. Over 500 color illustrations.~Amazon Editorial Book Review

THE SNEAKER BOOK: THE ANATOMY OF AN INDUSTRY AND AN ICON - Wonderful Book on the Athletic Footwear Industry

The Sneaker Book: Anatomy of an Industry and an Icon (Bazaar Book)
The Sneaker Book: Anatomy of an Industry and an Icon (Bazaar Book)
Starting with a brief history of both the footwear and the $11 billion industry that now feeds off of it, Vanderbilt looks at the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and advertising that have taken the sneaker business to astronomical heights. His evaluation is augmented with a variety of charts, corporate profiles, previously published articles, and even cartoons that lend depth and shading to the topic. This informative and compact book reads like a special magazine issue devoted to a single subject, and it is indeed the first in a new series of similar books that will each focus on a popular consumer product. --Review by Howard Rothman


The Sneaker Book: 50 Years Of Sports Shoe Design
The Sneaker Book: 50 Years Of Sports Shoe Design
This is a fun book with an in depth history of sneakers by all the big players. Beginning with the 1940's and ending with the late 1980's, this book chronicles the sports shoe designs by Keds, Converse, Adidas, Nike, Puma, Reebok, New Balance and others. There are over 450 color and black-and-white images compiled from magazine advertisements that date back to 1940 and explore 50 years of sports footwear.

Keds 1939

Keds 1939
Keds 1939

The Life of a Sneaker by D.F. Shapinsky (pingnews)

The Life of a Sneaker by D.F. Shapinsky (pingnews)
The Life of a Sneaker by D.F. Shapinsky (pingnews)

DVD Spotlight: Just for Kicks (2006) - History of Ho Hop's fashion Sneakers

Just for Kicks
Just for Kicks
Since B-Boys first propelled them out of the New York City playgrounds in the 70's, sneakers have morphed from a tool of athletic performance to a symbol of cool and an object of obsession for collectors. Analyzing this global phenomenon, Just For Kicks is the first film of its kind to present the underlying drivers and players that fueled the global sneakers revolution and its $26 Billion global market. Just For Kicks offers a fun and colorful insider's history of Hip-Hop's most treasured fashion item.~Amazon Editorial Review

More Great Books on Sneakers, Athletic Shoes and Tennis Shoe Companies

Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History
Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History
The biography ends with the history of the Converse shoe company, and the "Chucks" logo and shoes are pictured throughout.
Agents of Change: The Story of DC Shoes and Its Athletes
Agents of Change: The Story of DC Shoes and Its Athletes
In less than a decade, DC shoes has become an action sports icon. In 1994, Ken Block, Damon Way, and Clay Blehm, the cofounders of DC shoes, revolutionized skateboarding shoes and clothing by incorporating innovative technology and style into their designs.
Where'd You Get Those?: New York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987
Where'd You Get Those?: New York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987
Finally in paperback! This critically acclaimed, best-selling insider's account of New York's sneaker culture chronicles the rise of the mighty gym shoe, with the bulk of the book examining nearly 400 models released during the golden years of 1970-1987.
Sneaker Freaker
Sneaker Freaker
Since its inception in 2002, Sneaker Freaker Magazine has established itself as the first and only international sneaker magazine, with a growing reputation as a global icon of street style.The magazine's underground status has made every issue an instant cult item. The impossible-to-find back issues are coveted like a rare pare Air Jordans-the early ones sell on eBay for crazy prices! In light of this, the new Sneaker Freaker Book is 320 pages of jam-packed sneaker gold.
Art & Sole: Contemporary Sneaker Art & Design
Art & Sole: Contemporary Sneaker Art & Design
Art & Soul is the first book to focus exclusively on contemporary cutting-edge sneaker design. It sets out to explore and to celebrate the creative side of sneaker culture showing the best and most original rarities/collaborations and previewing the latest art and design.The book also highlights how creative advances on-the-scene have been furthered by a growing number of artists who base their work on sneakers-from sculptures made from dissected shoes to oil paintings on canvas and even the customization of the shoes themselves. There is now a huge crossover between sneaker culture and the worlds of art and design.

that is, if you like it.... :)


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