BJ Betts has spent much of his life roving the world, both as a tattoo artist and while serving in the military. Throughout most of his journey, tens of thousands of miles traversed all around the globe, Betts has relied on a trusty pair of Vans to get him where he’s going.
To be clear, this isn’t hyperbole thrown in to make this article pop. Betts really has been wearing the same pair for 32 years. “I have a deep love for Vans and I’ve been wearing them my whole life,” Betts says. “I bought my first pair of Authentics back in 1988, and I actually still have them. They’re not even that ripped up, they’re just old, man. They’re still wearable. They look like what they are—a 32-year-old pair of Vans.”
If that pair of Authentics had a passport it would be the size of a Russian novel by now. While Betts reveres that pair, it was not his first love affair with Vans. “Every Sunday, that was BMX day, and everybody had Vans,” Betts recalls. “The classic black and white Checkerboard. Every chance I had I would get a pair, I was always asking for them.”
Given his affinity for the brand, Betts was a perfect candidate for Vans’ “Made For the Makers” program. Not only does he have an impeccable eye for graphic design, but as a tattooer, he’s both an artist and a tradesman. His footwear needs to meet a delicate balance—the shoes have to be aesthetically pleasing but they must also be able to stand the rigors of a tattoo shop.
“Tattooers are pretty messy,” Betts says. “Because of the hazards of our job, I wanted to have something that was stain-resistant and water-resistant. Cause you know, if you spill something on your shoes and then go out to dinner you’ll look like a mess. You want to look a little bit more presentable. So I wanted a shoe that was more versatile, a little more rugged and could hold up to the elements, the spills and stains of everyday tattoo life.”
That is exactly what these shoes deliver. Available in three distinct styles—the Old Skool UC, the Authentic UC and Slip-On UC—these shoes can withstand everything life will throw at them. The liquid and dirt repellant Vansguard fabric keep them looking pristine while the slip-resistant, vulcanized outsole and UltraCush sockliner provide stability and comfort.
“These are for the chefs, the workers, the working-class guys,” Betts says. “The people working behind the scenes at concerts, putting in the time and effort that sometimes you don’t see what they’re doing, you just see the end result.”
Betts could have simply through some filigree and lettering onto a Slip-On and called it a day, but those who know him know that he’d never approach a project with anything less than his complete dedication. Instead of doing something predictable, Betts tells a story throughout the design of the three shoes. “I wanted to give a nod to one of the heroes in my life, my grandfather,” Betts says. “He was an Army man, he was in World War II and Korea. He had a huge impact on my life when I was younger. I wanted the final outcome of the design process to pay homage to my grandfather’s military service, as well as my almost 10 years in the Navy.”
Each of the three separate camos used was designed by Betts, not pulled out of the warehouse. For the Authentic, Betts was inspired by his grandfather’s dress khaki uniform. For the Slip-On, the camo is drawn from the blue uniforms of the Navy. Finally, for the Old School, Betts drew on the common green camo that both he and his grandfather wore throughout their service. The military inspiration can also be seen in the pull tab, which bears the shoe’s serial number as well as Betts’ birth year, ‘71.
Throughout each camo design, there are flourishes of filigree, merging Betts’ military background with the art that he’s been tattooing for the past two decades. It’s a perfect blend of where Betts came from, where he is and the journey that still lays ahead.
“I wanted to do something different,” Betts says. “Something that shows a little more versatility. And everybody loves a good story.”
All three designs are available now on Vans.com.
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