If Levi’s is considered the brand name for classic basic jeans, Keds could be considered the quintessential brand in the realm of classic basic sneakers. In over a century, Keds have managed to hold their own in the rapidly-changing world of fashion footwear, staying afloat amid competition from more street brands such as Converse and Adidas and more sports brands such as Nike and New Balance. The history of Keds is one of staying true to roots while adding options as styles and performance expectations evolved.
The history of Keds sneakers begins in 1916. The U.S. Rubber company released their design to the public under the name of Peds, inspired by the Latin word meaning foot. The style sold, but mostly to a mature audience, so U.S. Rubber swapped the “P” for a “K” and a brand was born.
Although U.S. Rubber invented Keds, it was Michelin and, eventually Stride Rite Corp. that brought Keds to the mainstream market. As Keds grew in popularity over the decades, they inspired a new term for shoes with rubber soles: sneakers. The term alluded to the fact that Keds allowed the wearer to walk noiselessly.
The 1960s and 1970s brought new demands for sneakers. Rather than just look good for lounging or strolling about town, they were supposed to be used for athletics. The Keds line expanded to include Pro-Keds, geared for basketball and other sports.
The popularity of Keds has partially been propelled by the number of pop culture references to them. One such case is the 1986 movie, “Stand By Me,” when one boy commented that another boy was going to be “knocked out of his Keds.” Celebrities spotted in Keds include Tiffani Thiessen, whose character on “Saved By the Bell” wore Keds religiously, as did the “Full House” television series character Stephanie Tanner. Even fashionista rock star Gwen Stefani, who has designed her own clothing line, has been known to step out in Keds.
Today’s new school Keds do not resemble old-fashioned Keds. There is the basic white lace-up and the navy blue slip-on, but the latest styles to hit the streets are customs. Wannabe designers hit the Keds studio (see Resources below) to choose colors, prints, trim, laces and hip graphics to adorn their Keds. Of course, today’s custom Keds do not carry the budget price tag of their predecessors. They start at $60.