The Dunlop Footwear team has been looking to the past, to understand the history of the Volley, in order to revamp the iconic Australian brand. In particular, they honed in on the key eras for Volley: the 30s and 70s.

Armed with a closer understanding of what made Volleys such a success in the past, they undertook further research to define who was wearing Volleys now. 

“We went right back to basics,” says designer Daniel Stewart, who worked closely with fellow designer Jazz Bonifacio. “We had to rediscover what the brand actually was and, essentially, what the product is – then and now.”

An unusual approach in footwear design, the team’s study of the history of the Volley revealed what was essential to the brand and its future.

In 1924, the Dunlop rubber factories in Melbourne, Australia were making sandshoes. This was to compliment their rubber boots (otherwise known as Wellingtons or gumboots) first manufactured in 1915.

In 1939, Adrian Quist, a famous Australian tennis player and employee of Dunlop, won the Davis Cup tournament in the United States in a pair of borrowed boat shoes.

Upon his return, he convinced his managers at Dunlop to make shoes for tennis with the same herringbone sole pattern, for extra grip on court, and introduced the nautical rope detail on the outer edge trim (known as foxing to those in the footwear industry).

The shoes were designed to be orthopaedically correct (OC). They were direct vulcanised, with a rubber sole moulded directly to a cotton canvas upper. It was lightweight and gripped the surface of a tennis court. Called the Volley OC tennis shoe, it was first produced in 1939 and continued in production until the early 70s.

The Volley OC became the favourite of all the top tennis players for the next forty years and was worn by many tennis greats – Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Margaret Court, Neil Fraser and many others.

In 1950 Dunlop produced an expanded range, as well as the SS or Super Sole canvas with rubber toe tennis shoe.

In the 60s, Dunlop Volleys were becoming dated, with new competitors in the marketplace, so in the 70s Dunlop revitalised the upper design and outsole construction to create the Volley International. Mark Edmondson, an underdog in the Australian Open in 1976, wore the new style Volley despite offers from rival footwear companies.

Edmondson’s surprise win catapulted Volleys into the limelight again.

“From 1975 onwards the shoe design has virtually remained unchanged. In 1998 production was moved offshore to China and the materials changed to a modified thermoplastic rubber sole and toe,” says Stewart.

“After extensive research, we arrived at a list of five fundamental and important features that all Volleys needed to have to be a Volley. These are: a toe cap, a herringbone sole pattern, rope-look foxing, woven two-colour tape around the ankle and a canvas upper.

“We set about developing the new Volleys in two design teams. I focused on the International, and Jazz focused on the Premium OC and SS, based on these unique features, with a strong consumer focus. So now, rebuilt, restored and of much better quality, we have the new Volley International launched this month, and the soon-to-be-launched OC and the SS.”

The new Volley shoes are styled for wider use and are more streamlined with cohesive branding elements.

“The new Volley International is very true to the 1975 Volley International with smaller taping, heel tab, similar quarter panel and a less bulky outsole,” says Stewart. “It will continue to be sold in discount department stores.”

As for the new premium range, which will soon be available at premium independent retailers,

“The SS has a full grain leather upper and lining, and the OC is a true canvas replica of the original 1939 shoe. The OC is a symbol of timeless quality, classic design and vintage heritage, and the International is the son of the OC – it represents the modern sports-styled, lower-cost, mass-produced shoe,” he says.

“It has been an amazing experience and an exciting challenge to be involved with the Dunlop team in restoring these Australian icons to their former glory,” says Stewart. “We hope to see the new Volleys on everyone’s feet!”

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