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Blog/Brand Bible/History of Keds
The 1910s were a big decade for shoes. Numerous major shoe brands were established. Converse released the style that became known as the Chuck Taylor All Star. Perhaps most importantly, the development of Charles Goodyear’s method of vulcanising rubber to make it more durable and pliable, had reached the stage where creating purpose-made rubber soles for shoes was becoming truly commercially viable.
The U.S. Rubber company had been created in 1892 by a merger of nine different rubber manufacturers based in Connecticut, with the aim of harnessing this revolutionary vulcanising process to produce a range of goods. As well as tyres and gloves, the company also began producing shoes under several different brand names.
In 1916, U.S. Rubber decided that their interests would be better served by producing shoes under one name. They plumped for “Peds” (the Latin for “foot”), but, finding it was already taken, they opted for “Keds”, from a Native American word for moccasins.
Recognising a gap in the market for a casual, rubber-soled shoe (which would become widely known as “sneakers”, a term that Keds embody like no other brand), Keds’ first production was the rubber-soled, canvas plimsoll today known as the Champion Original. The shoe was first marketed for the athletic properties given it by the rubber sole, but quickly became known for its casual appeal, a trend which accelerated markedly in the 1950s.
Minimalist and appropriate wear for a huge range of outfits and social occasions thanks to their Oxford style lace closure (traditionally reserved for austere brogues), the Champion Original - at the time available, like most canvas contemporaries, in white or black - was an instant hit, garnering a steadily growing fanbase.
During the cultural revolution of the 1960s, canvas sneakers became far more common and accepted as a part of everyday dress, leading to Keds becoming a ubiquitous brand across the US. This trend continued into the ‘80s and ‘90s, as Keds were seen in numerous films (including Dirty Dancing) and TV programmes.
Success wasn’t limited to just America. In countries including Russia, Keds’ range of simple athletic shoes - known as Pro-Keds - became so widespread that “Keds” became an accepted generic term for sneakers.
Since the year 2000, Keds have been discovered by the millennials generation thanks to a series of high profile celebrity ambassadors, including actress Mischa Barton and, most recently, singer Taylor Swift. The addition of some simple, core colours has furthered the brand’s appeal and versatility.
In 2010, Keds collaborated with the Whitney Museum of American Art for their limited-edition KedsWhitney Collection, which featured a series by artist Jenny Holzer. This series featured the classic Keds silhouette emblazoned with Holzer's famous "Protect me from what I want" slogan from her 1980s series Survival.
With their famous original style nearing its centenary year, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.