The idea of writing about a canvas sneaker in the middle of a freezing winter might seem out of place. However, those very same temperatures send many people fleeing to warmer climates – welcome to resort season. It makes perfect sense to cover this topic in December, when you may have to search a little harder to find the ideal accoutrements for a long-awaited vacation. PF Flyers, a unique brand of sneaker, will be the subject of the following discussion & review.
History – PF Flyers
In the 1930s, American tire manufacturers had the idea of using tire rubber for shoe soles. One of these early pioneers was the company B.F. Goodrich. Beginning in 1933, BF Goodrich experimented with different insole construction looking for a way to give provide superior arch support. Consequently, in 1937, Goodrich filed a patent for the Posture Foundation insole technology. This means all sneakers with the PF technology featured a Rigid Wedge which was designed to keep the body weight on the outside of the foot. The goal of this wedge was to decrease foot and leg strain and hence increase the comfort. Using the first two initials of this technology, the brand PF Flyers was born.
Throughout the following four decades, PF Flyers steadfastly gained popularity. Interestingly, PF Flyers had groundbreaking advertising strategies. On the one hand, they created the comic hero Johnny Quest who would wear nothing but PF Flyers canvas shoes. On the other hand, PF Flyers was the first sneaker company to enter into collaboration with a professional athlete: Bob Cousy, the famous basketball player from the Boston Celtics.
In the following, PF Flyers became so widely popular that women could even purchase dresses that would match their PFs. Also, the US Army was supplied by PF Flyers sneakers.
In 1972, B.F. Goodrich sold its PF Flyers division to Eltra Corp, which was at the time the parent company of Converse. This merger meant that Eltra Corp had a monoply in the sneaker market. Consequently, the US department of Justice made anti-trust claims, which resulted in Eltra Corporation to sell both the PF Flyers division and the Converse division.
In 2001, New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. bought the PF Flyers trademark and reintroduced the brand in 2003.
The canvas sneakers / shoes
Today, PF Flyers offers a wide range of canvas shoes, all of which are produced in China. As a tribute to their successful past, the series Archival Reissue was created. While those models are not exact replicas of the vintage originals, an effort has been made to create a shoe that not only looks like the authentic shoes, but also uses the same materials, such as linen and cotton canvas, the same core colors and the same styles. Even the shoebox of the archival reissue series looks very much like one from the 1930s.
PF Flyers provided me with 3 pairs of shoes:
- The Sumfun introduced in 1947
- The Center Lo introduced in 1953
- The Windjammer introduced in 1965
The first one was from their regular men’s range while the last two are from the archival reissue series. Each insole shows the typical Rigid Wedge design and each shoe features a plain weave cotton canvas on the outside. While the Sumfun model from the regular range has a perforated woven canvas lining that seems to be made out of cotton with some polyester, the archival reissue models have a cotton twill canvas lining.
I tested all of the shoes extensively during the summer, and I always felt comfortable in them, even in some extreme heat. Although the canvas has a good
breatheability, no shoe can totally prevent perspiration. Subjectively, I would say that I was cooler in the Center Lo and Windjammer shoes than in the Sumfun.
The shoes show hardly any signs of wear after weeks of walking over dusty, uneven and repetitive conditions. The only indication of wear, the rubber sole came ever so slightly undone at the ball of the foot on the Center Lo shoes. However, I think this is normal with this kind of shoe; creasing across the ball of the foot is typical. In comparison, a pair of Keds Champion shoes was much more unstable and had to be replaced after one season. The PF Flyers however, have plenty of wear left in them. They can even be laundered in the washing machine!
So far, these are the best canvas sneakers I had and I can only recommend them to anybody who is looking for an informal beach sneaker or a shoe that looks good with shorts. I was particularly satisfied with the broad range of color offerings which is second to none in the world of men’s canvas shoes. The Sumfun comes in 13 colors and while the archival reissue models come in up to 5 different colors, other styles come in up to 25 unique colors! In general, the muted colors of standard sneakers (or trainers, even worse!) give the wearer little ability to make a statement, and it is hard to beat the combination of bright colors and classic style of this brand. I have yet to try Superga though, which are supposed to be very good. In the mean time, my PF Flyers will be my go-to sneaker.
You can find and purchase all PF Flyers shoes at www.pfflyers.com.