VP, Global Creative | Vans
by Mara Serdans
What's your side hustle?
No time for a side hustle! my side hustle is napping.
Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
I like both, but I really like hunting. literally. I like to be outside with my dog walking, oftentimes with nobody else around. Being outdoors has been an escape since I was a little kid. I grew up next to a canyon catching lizards, frogs, and snakes and I continue to treasure the time I get to spend away from the rest of the world, often in the company of a dog.
What's the last song you listened to?
"Jan Jan" by Grant Green (Live at Club Mozambique)
What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
How nice it is to be alone for a little while but would be better with a dog.
What inspires you?
The new crop of kids that springs up each year with a different take on the world, the way they re-shape it and make it their own, over and over again, year after year, generation after generation.
You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?
Set it free. Elephants aren't trying to drive around with me while I'm alone in my car, that's a dog's job.
What's your favorite board game?
What is your mantra? I don't think I have a mantra. I've got some nice sayings, but I don't say them over and over to myself.
In-N-Out or Shake Shack?
Off the Wall with Jamie Reilly: Creativity Through Movement and Art
Jamie Reilly got his first pair of Vans at the age of 12 and he’s been a fan ever since.
These days, as Vice President of Global Creative, Jamie oversees all the consumer facing creative work for the brand, including the website, retail, advertising, and social media. Before going brand-side, Jamie was recognized for his work at top agencies including MAL, 72&Sunny, and TBWA\Chiat\Day. His client list includes heavy-hitters like Apple, Adidas, Target, Samsung, Pixar, Pepsi, Red Bull and Google.
Since its humble beginning as The Van Doren Rubber Company over 50 years ago, Vans has become a global icon. More than just a shoe brand, Vans considers itself a state of mind – “committed to enabling and inspiring creative self-expression and the “Off The Wall” youth culture the world over.”
“Our job as a youth brand is to reflect and have a two-way conversation with kids. It’s about letting their passion guide us and influence our work.”
Even the idea for the iconic checkerboard pattern originated from kids doodling on their midsoles with black pens. By 1982, the slip-on became a sensation after Sean Penn’s character Spiccoli donned a pair in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
And Vans knows a thing or two about supporting action sports. It linked up with skateboarding in the ‘70s and has since evolved to entice surfers, BMX’ers, and snowboarders alike. They’ve also created synchronicity between its brand and art, music, and street culture enthusiasts.
Its long-standing video series titled, “Love Letters to Skateboarding,” is hosted by skateboarding legend Jeff Grosso and speaks to the company’s mission of inclusiveness and creative expression. Sadly, Jeff died this past April but his spirit and passion will forever be imprinted in the series. Now on its 11th season, you can check it out on the Vans YouTube channel. Grosso’s influence on the production runs deep; it’s steeped in the oral history of skateboarding and roots as a backyard activity in the ‘burbs. Although skateboarding has always been pretty accessible, it’s an outsider culture and one that is protective of itself.
“It’s been a great series and a labor of love for the brand and host. We recently released a long-form Loveletters dedicated to the LGBTQ+ skate community. Skateboarding has not always been an easy place to be a woman or be queer and it was a nice acknowledgement of how far things have come, while recognizing there is still a long way to go.”
Vans also recently launched a notable surf documentary titled, “Breaking Boundaries: A Surfboard Drive for Trinidad and Tobago.” The film highlights pro-surfer Chris Dennis and his mission to bring the transformative power of surfing to the underserved youth in his native country. What began as a small mentorship program, turned into a partnership with Vans that has helped steer kids away from crime, abuse, and the plight of living in poverty.
On the home front, Vans has made extraordinary efforts to engage their wholesalers and customers during the pandemic. When retail shops were forced to shutter their doors during lockdown, Vans responded with its “Foot the Bill” campaign.
“A lot of our wholesale partners have small skate and surf shops; being closed for a month or more is a pretty big deal. We partnered with those folks to make custom slip-ons and shoes for their shops, making them available on Vans.com/footthebill. They could advertise them and all the net proceeds from the sales went directly to the shop. It enabled shops to have a source of income, to keep employees paid and keep things going. We know how important small businesses are, we started as one.”
During this time, Vans also launched its “Bouncing off the Walls” campaign.
“We have all these fans who are now stuck at home, so what can we do to stoke creativity? How do we help out and provide something to our consumers?”
Bouncing Off the Walls is a collection of featured artists, musicians, instructional videos, contests, and ways to keep people engaged and fuel their creative spirit. Projects range from the Shoebox Challenge, making bead art with Kindah Khalidy, a Q&A with Cautious Clay to making a zine with artist Jay Howell, and more.
“It was great to work on both projects (Foot The Bill and Bouncing Off The Walls) and have them working in a complementary way. And to see there was an appetite for it was awesome, what people made out of shoeboxes was pretty incredible.”
Even the headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA is decked out with murals and original artwork – a testament that Vans lives and breathes its brand ethos of creative expression.
We’re excited to see how Jamie and his team craft new ways to give back and keep the stoke alive for folks in creative, impactful, and innovative ways. I know I’ll be tuning in to the next episode of Weird Waves so I can master the art of river surfing in Münich, Germany.