Way back when we were beginning a wish list of brands for P&P, we knew that a traditional canvas sports shoe had to feature in the range. We also knew that there was a certain brand already so well catered for almost everywhere in the world, that it just wouldn't be feasible and wouldn't fit with our curation. The answer was PF Flyers and, during our first year of operation, we were very pleased to hear an announcement that PF's would be making a small collection of USA made footwear once again.
Much searching then ensued as we attempted to find a contact at the brand and establish a route of distribution from factory to shelf. Last week finally saw PF's land at our door and we are pleased to have this important piece of history amongst our stable. The following is a little piece on the history of PF's and their position in the market over the last 75 years or so....
PF Flyers - Under construction at the PF Factory, Boston MA
PF Flyers is one of the most storied names in American sports footwear and yet, the company was nearly forgotten until 12 years ago. Back then, its customer base solely consisted of sneaker aficionados and collectors who were paying upwards of $250 on ebay for a vintage pair. But, the story of how they got to this point is certainly an interesting one.
Looking to develop new applications of their vulcanized rubber technology, tire company B.F. Goodrich began experimenting with rubber’s 'pediatric applications' in the 1920s. The “P.F.” in PF Flyers stands for “Posture Foundation,” a patented insole technology developed by Goodrich associate, Hyman L. Whitman, who patented the design in 1933.
The new insole was designed to shift weight to the outside of the foot, allowing proper alignment of the foot’s three main supporting bones. Originally applied to oxford shoes, the insoles proved immensely successful and were expanded to include dress-, sport-, and vacation-wear lines. The original incarnation were the Goodrich Sport shoes and Hood Canvas Shoes, which are remarkably recognisable as the standard canvas high-top silhouette. However, it wasn’t until 1944 that the now iconic Center-Hi canvas sneakers known as “PF Flyers” were introduced to the American market.
Vintage Goodrich Sports Shoes
Marketed towards the young sportsman using the slogan “Run faster, jump higher,” the release of the sneaker coincided perfectly with the birth of the baby boomer generation, which became the brand’s core market. The shoes became so popular that they were endorsed by some of America's most famous sports personalities and by 1958 were selling 14 million pairs annually.
The successive years were the brand’s heyday and sales continued to sore. The company ran successful marketing campaigns and clubs for children then expanded its market to include women in the 1960's with the Oxford Outfit–matching shoe-and-skirt pairs. In 1970 Goodrich Honoured the company’s 100th anniversary with the Jack Purcell LTT, a new sport shoe designed by the badminton star (yes, that's right, it wasn't originally done by Converse). By the mid 1970s, PF Flyers were so ubiquitous that they had found their way into standard issue infantry uniform in the US army and upwards of 20% of all canvas shoes worn in the USA were PF's.
PF Flyers Jack Purcell - 1970
You probably saw this coming with the mention of Converse, but the good times didn’t last. As they steadily lost marketshare, Converse jumped on the opportunity to buy the company after Goodrich retired in 1972. However, federal courts ruled the merger a monopoly and the deal was subsequently broken up through anti-trust litigation. Converse only retained the trademark rights to the Jack Purcell shoe, which we're all familiar with I'm sure...
Following the sale by Converse, and despite their huge popularity, the brand began to decline. Due in part to mismanagement and near-constant changes in ownership during the so-called “dark years” between 1975 and 2000, the shoes descended into obscurity.
Benny 'The Jet' Rodriguez putting on his PF's in The Sandlot - 1993
PF Flyers were immortalised for a different generation (mine) in the 1993 film The Sandlot by director David Evans, who grew up in the 60s when the sneakers obtained their iconic status. The film values the shoes for their ability to make the wearer “run faster, jump higher” following the brand’s advertisement slogans of the time.
Things finally took a turn for the better when fellow American sports shoe company New Balance bought the brand in 2001. Since then they have slowly revitalised the PF name and solidified its historical importance within the growing market for American heritage brands.
BF Goodrich labelled vintage PF Flyers
When our delivery of PF Flyers arrived and we first had the chance to wear these iconic canvas shoes, the smiles were hard to hide. They are definitely the most comfortable pair of vulcanised rubber and canvas high tops we've worn. Knowing the story of the brand and having seen images of their production in Boston, MA it's hard not to think of all the feet they've run faster and jumped higher with over the years; all the hands involved in their production... and how Converse managed to get the better of them in the first place?