In December 2022 I got the pleasure of being invited to a special experimentation experience at The Converse Concept Creation Center— more commonly known as “C4”. C4 is a hub for Converse and their creative community, located in Charlestown, MA – just down the street from their Boston Headquarters.
We got a tour of C4 and the Converse headquarters, where there was an amazing archive called the Rubber Tracks Museum. Converse Archivist Sam Smallidge talked us through the plethora of amazing archive material in the museum, such as the first ever pair of converse shoes made, and excerpts from vintage Converse TV advertisements.
Converse has been going for many years. It is most notoriously known for the All Star Chuck Taylor shoes, first released in 1917 (they were called Non-Skids back then) and named after basketball player and Converse salesman Chuck Taylor. Converse is a brand rich with heritage, originally sitting in the fringes and dubbed as the go-to for rebellion. But over the course of the last century they have transcended into pop culture and now are even at the forefront of fashion experimentation.
Even though it is over a hundred years old, Converse is far from outdated. They have managed to remain relevant and connected to communities, particularly young creative communities, all over the world. As a brand fuelled by creativity, they have been investing in strengthening their creative youth development efforts and cultivating experiences that would help improve access to and awareness of creative careers.
I had the pleasure of exploring some of Converse’s creative initiatives during my visit, learning more about how they intend to nurture the next generation of creatives. “These are the Chucks of the future,” says Brandon Avery, Converse’s head of global innovation, as we looked over the prototypes in the lab. “We expect to see many of these designs come to life soon.”
One in particular is the All Star Design Apprentice Team, a six-month course where participants get hands-on experience in global design and product creation, supported by more than twenty Converse designers, managers and peers. There is opportunity to be hired after the apprenticeship, and I had the pleasure of meeting Keith Taylor, apprentice turned employee during my visit. Keith actually helped me to design my own custom pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars, using an old but loved piece of clothing as part of their pre-loved programme. Watch the reel of how I transformed this old cardigan into a pair of shoes here.
The pre-loved programme came out of an experiment to implement upcycling at Converse. This isn’t the only way Converse are moving with the times – they also have two other upcycling projects, Max Grind and Scrap Punch, both of which make use of old fabrics and textiles rather than wasting them.
Converse also does a lot of work to foster and encourage creativity in high school students – they partnered with The Possible Zone to create a four-week programme for students to gain transferable skills that they can apply to their creative endeavours. The programme also introduces students to Boston’s creative industry, giving them an idea of possible career paths.
I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, one of Converse’s creative community partners, where four of these high school students had the chance to work with the Curatorial team to curate an exhibition.
One thing is for sure – it is clear that Converse, although having its roots as a sports and utility brand, is true to it’s more recent mission to support the young and talented.