From fired store clerk to sneaker designer: Anderson .Paak’s journey with Vans
How the Grammy Award-winning artist came to design his first signature shoe, the Vanderson
Brandon Anderson barely lasted two months. That’s how fast the job came and went.
In 2007, long before he became the Grammy Award-winning musician now known as Anderson .Paak, the then-21-year-old left his hometown in Oxnard, California, and moved an hour east to enroll in drumming classes at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
Between the cost of tuition and the scrappy lifestyle of an aspiring artist, Anderson needed a steady source of income. So, he interviewed for a sales associate position with Vans, the skateboarding shoe and apparel company founded in the mid-1960s that’s long been a staple of Southern California culture.
“I had just moved to LA, and I was struggling,” Anderson .Paak, now 36, told Andscape. “When I got that job, I was like, ‘Sick! This is so dope. I’m really at Vans.’ ”
These days, Anderson .Paak is the first global music ambassador for Vans and just rolled out his third collection with the brand. But before he became famous, Anderson .Paak worked at one of the original Vans retail stores in the Canoga Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. From the street, the small building looked like a circus tent. Anderson .Paak can still describe the feel of the store, which was closed around 2011 and has since been demolished.
“I remember working and it’d be so hot in there,” he said. “I was learning all the different names of the shoes: Authentics, Classics, Sk8-His. And climbing steps in the back of the stockroom, trying to find the size 8.5 in women’s.”
But Anderson .Paak had one glaring shortcoming as an employee: He was always late.
“I couldn’t show up on time to save my life,” he said. “The people there were really cool but they kinda just got sick of me.” In a 2016 essay for Medium, Anderson .Paak wrote that he quit the job at Vans. But that’s not quite how it went down.
“That was probably the fastest job I ever got fired from,” Anderson .Paak said over the phone from Washington, hours before his headlining performance at the “Something in the Water” music festival.
Exactly 15 years after that short-lived stint at the Vans store, Anderson .Paak now has his own signature shoe and apparel line with the company. Onstage at “Something in the Water,” he debuted the EPaak Sport on June 17 ahead of the sneaker’s June 24 release.
“It’s really surreal when you think about it: Playing for thousands of people in my own Vans shoe for the first time. This is coming from a guy who Vans fired because he never showed up on time,” said Anderson .Paak, who was the first musician to sign with the brand in 2020. “It just shows you: It’s all about timing. It might not come when you want, but it’s always on time.”
On “The Season/Carry Me” from his 2016 album Malibu, Anderson .Paak pays homage to a pair of his childhood kicks: “Six years old, I tried my first pair of Jordans on,” he croons on the chorus. But don’t get it twisted: Air Jordans weren’t the shoes Anderson .Paak laced up most during his childhood.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been wearing Vans,” he said. “I’m from Ventura County, where Vans are the shoe. From the skaters to the homies, everyone was rocking Vans.”
“I got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers,” he recited from the 2006 hit “Vans” by the Bay Area rap group The Pack. “That song was kind of the switchover when hip-hop dudes thought it was cool for them to wear Vans. But we were always wearing them where I was at. It’s the quintessential SoCal shoe.”
Five years after moving to LA, he dropped his debut mixtape, O.B.E. Vol. 1, under his original stage name, Breezy LoveJoy. By the release of his debut studio album, Venice, in 2014, he had become Anderson .Paak. He soon caught the attention of Dr. Dre and notched six features on Dr. Dre’s 2015 comeback album, Compton. In 2016, his sophomore project Malibu earned both critical acclaim and his first Grammy nomination for best urban contemporary album.
“When you’re coming up in the game, brands start giving you free shoes,” recalled Anderson .Paak, who had something more in mind. “The biggest dream is to have your own shoe. I remember trying to keep up with all these different brands of sneakers and I told my management, ‘I wonder if I could get with Vans? Those would be shoes I’d wear all the time.’ ”
In 2018, Anderson .Paak was introduced to Tierney Stout, who had just started as Vans’ director of global music marketing.
“The first meeting we ever had together at headquarters, it was apparent how much he truly knew about and cared for the brand inside and out,” Stout said. “From there, AP was everything we wanted to be — collaborative, innovative, creative and ‘Off The Wall.’ ” That’s been Vans’ slogan since the mid-1970s when it first appeared as part of the company’s skateboard logo that’s still featured on the lid of every box of shoes.
“Vans was the first brand to ever offer me a deal for my own situation,” Anderson .Paak said. “Not just like, ‘Hey, we’ll give you free stuff.’ But, ‘We wanna build with you.’ ” The next pair of proclamations the folks from Vans made resonated even more with Anderson .Paak: “They were like, ‘We want you to be our first music ambassador and one of the first musicians to have their own Vans shoe.’ ”
Anderson .Paak would join the exclusive company of the late David Bowie, who inspired a six-shoe and apparel collection that was released in 2019, three years after he died.
“I couldn’t say yes fast enough,” Anderson .Paak said. “Because Vans hasn’t historically given this type of deal to anybody who doesn’t skate or isn’t in sports.”
Less than a minute into the Busta Rhymes track “YUUUU,” Anderson .Paak dropped a line teasing his partnership.
“Steppin’ out of the Beamer, dirty Vans on,” Anderson .Paak rapped on the song, which dropped in September 2020. Three weeks later, Vans announced Anderson .Paak as the first global music ambassador in the brand’s 50-plus-year history.
“When I signed the deal with Vans,” Anderson .Paak said, “it was the embodiment of, ‘Dog, this is SoCal. This is LA. This is Ventura County. We did it.’ ”
For the design of the debut Vans x Anderson .Paak collection, the musician ceded most of the creative control to stylist Jasmine Benjamin.
“I pretty much let my stylist run that first collection and she kilt it,” Anderson .Paak said. “I just told her, ‘Colorful and patterns.’ But there was so much more that went into the process. Taking all the meetings, sitting down and looking at all the textures, talking to all the people. There was a lot of stuff that I didn’t do myself the first round.”
Overseen by Benjamin, the collection dropped in November 2020, featuring two pairs of sneakers: the Old Skool DX in a psychedelic 3D print, and a Sid DX with a black-and-white chenille-patterned upper. As part of the rollout, the shoes appeared in the animated video for Anderson .Paak’s track “Jewelz,” co-produced by Timbaland.
Vans and Anderson .Paak delivered his second collection in December 2020, highlighted by two pairs of the Old Skool silhouette, inspired by each of his sons, Soul Rasheed and Shine. By early 2021, Anderson .Paak had teamed up with singer-songwriter Bruno Mars to form the ’70s-inspired band, Silk Sonic. Together, they announced an album, secured a Las Vegas residency and dropped their single, “Leave The Door Open.” The song debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 1, earning Anderson .Paak his first No. 1 record and the highest opening of Mars’ career.
As Anderson .Paak geared up for his latest Vans collection, he was inspired by Mars, who had partnered with Lacoste on a 25-piece line featuring tracksuits, velour shorts and disco shirts. Mars didn’t want his first name on the apparel, so he created a funky moniker for his persona as a designer. The Lacoste x Ricky Regal collection was launched in early March 2021, with Anderson .Paak appearing with his musical partner in the ad campaign.
“I saw how hands-on Bruno was during a lot of his process with the Ricky Regal collection,” Anderson .Paak said. “I wanted to do the same thing with Vans. Something that, at the end, I could say, ‘This is from my head. I put everything into this.’ ”
Anderson .Paak’s complete involvement is what separates this latest line, dubbed the Vanderson collection, from his previous ones.
“I was really a part of every single detail,” Anderson .Paak said. “I could’ve put off a lot of things on the phone. But I wanted to see everything. And Vans was so patient.”
Anderson .Paak estimates that he took part in more than 100 meetings to develop the collection. Throughout the summer of 2021, he met with the brand every Wednesday in Malibu. The sessions began with two guiding requests from Anderson .Paak: He wanted to be able to wear, not just promote, all the shoes in the collection. And every pair needed a paisley pattern.
“AP spent hours with the design team reworking the paisley and hours with our illustrator getting the Vanderson T-shirt just right,” Stout said. “He felt all the materials, had input on the shoelaces, the packaging, the hangtag. It became a real collaboration.”
While in the studio with Mars, recording their album An Evening with Silk Sonic, Anderson .Paak would break out fabric swatches and color charts to get input from his musical and fashion counterpart.
“Bruno’s the type who’s always gonna help you,” Anderson .Paak said. “He’s always gonna let you know what you’re missing, what you need or if you got it. So, I was showing him samples, like, ‘What do you think of this?’ ”
Anderson .Paak put together a vision board as he sought continuity between each sneaker and piece of apparel. Slowly but surely, Anderson .Paak and the Vans design team added and removed designs.
“Once everything came together and I saw the whole collection on that vision board,” Anderson .Paak recalled, “it was like, ‘Awww, man, this is it.’ ”
The nine-piece Vanderson capsule collection, designed in full-family sizing, is led by its trio of footwear: a sand colorway of the Authentic silhouette, an earthy green Old Skool 36 DX and, of course, the musician’s signature EPaak Sport, layered with a black paisley print overtop of black suede. Etched into the soles of each pair is the phrase, “Sick Vibes.”
The collection’s apparel consists of a bleached-sand Vanderson T-shirt, a green jacket-and-flared pants set, a reversible bucket hat, a pair of socks and a paisley robe. Product images from the ad campaign that Anderson .Paak directed depict his son, sister, nieces and nephews rocking the clothing and kicks he spent more than a year designing.
For the former Vans retail employee, the journey has come full circle. Three days after his Vanderson collection dropped, Anderson .Paak spent the afternoon at the House of Vans in London, once again behind a sales counter, only this time ringing up and bagging boxes with his name on them.