“If you want shoes with lots of pep, get Keds.
For bounce and zoom in every step, get Keds.”
Personality, playfulness and speed: what more kid could ask? Before Keds became synonymous with the white canvas Champion (casual sneaker with the blue rubber stamp on the heel) worn by mothers and teenage girls, Keds were a popular athletic shoe for boys. In fact, Keds were the only active footwear for the whole family.
In 1892, the US Rubber Company began producing rubber for the soles of shoes, and by 1916 those rubber-soled canvas shoes became known as Keds, thanks to Charles Goodyear, the man behind the rubber tire industry. Goodyear patented ‘vulcanization,’ a method of bonding rubber to cloth, and the sneaker industry as we know it was born.
Before 1892, kids played in their good leather shoes and boots, with most cautious parents warning them not to ruin their ‘good’ shoes by getting dirty. And what fun is it if you can’t get dirty? Well, enough of that! Goodyear’s simple invention allowed the running, jumping, playing days of kids to be kind to their feet in a new casual shoe called a sneaker (so called because the rubber sole made little noise when walking about, and made it easy to sneak up on someone without creaking or squeaking).
In 1916, Goodyear and US Rubber merged to create the ultimate footwear franchise, Keds. US Rubber had over 30 individual brand names using their special process, which they consolidated under one label, Keds. The original name was Peds, the Latin word for foot, but the name was already registered, and alternatives were Veds or Keds. The ‘k’ was stronger sounding, and the company felt it represented kids best. So now, thankfully, we walk around in Keds instead of the wimpy-sounding Veds.
Keds marketed all forms of footwear for kids and adults, all with the constant selling point of “canvas, rubber-soled footwear” for the active person. Before rubber soles and canvas, leather was the common material for shoe construction, which was costly and not as sturdy as the indestructible rubber. Canvas was playful, casual, and more comfortable, and thanks to its affordability, it was also replaceable. Inexpensive shoes allowed individuals a range of footwear for all activities—no more playing tennis in oxfords.
Keds were perfect for kids, and through the decades, Keds were the only thing on kids’ feet. During the early years of sneakers, styles were limited to a low-top and a high-top, in either black or white. During the 50’s, Keds release a line of high-top sneakers called “Pro-Keds,” remarkably similar to the Converse All-Star, which was the first attempt at pro-sport emulation. At the time, All-Stars were still considered basketball shoes only, but with a pair of Pro-Keds you could look like the big leagues no matter where you played. Keds cornered the market until the late 50’s, when competitors like PF Flyers, Red Ball Jets, and Jeepers battled it out for the sneaker king title.
When running shoes entered the market in the 70’s, Keds lost its winning stride. The company was bought by Stride Rite Corporation, and Keds changed their image. No longer shoes for speed, they were now shoes for comfort, and the classic 'Champion' became a must in every girls’ closet.
In the 80's, Keds regained their footing with both the canvas and leather Champion sneaker, and classic white joined an entire range of colors. During the pastel-happy days of the 80's, a rainbow of Keds was the only way to insure a perfect match to every outfit.
Their role as athletic shoes has long since passed to high-performance footwear like adidas, Nike and Puma, but Keds aren’t going anywhere. While Keds might not be in the race for speed, they have maintained a firm footing on the casual sidelines, and have made feet happy for over 100 years.
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