Shoe Design Contest Winner Tours Vans Headquarters


It’s not every day that a high school student gets to see his or her own shoe design come to life on an actual sneaker. At Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy, students are not only telling their stories in written form, but through design, art, and fashion. Through a collaboration between Green Dot, JetSpace, and Vans, Locke students became Vans shoe designers.


One particular student was chosen by his peers and Vans for his outstanding design, and thus won the opportunity to shadow a Vans designer for a day. This summer, Locke alumni Juan Gomez spent the day at Vans Headquarters in Costa Mesa, shadowing Safir Bellali, a product designer who now heads up the Innovation efforts at Vans.

He toured the facility, met several designers and creatives, as well as artist Jay Howell, the celebrated artist behind the popular television show, Bob’s Burgers.

Gomez participated in the designing and production of his custom shoe, and learned about the many career opportunities available at Vans.

“It was great. A lot of people my age don’t get to do stuff like this,” said Gomez. “After I get my degree in cinematography, I want to come back to Vans and work here.”

Bellali shared in Gomez’s excitement, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to help students better understand the creative process.

“We hope Juan understands that there is a way to turn his passion into an occupation and to putting his creativity and talent to good use through commitment and hard work,” said Bellali.

“Hopefully this experience allows him to act as a catalyst to inspire his friends and classmates to recognize and grow their talent so they can one day join creative teams like the ones he saw at Vans.”

Juan Gomez's shoe design
Juan Gomez’s shoe design

Walk in Their Shoes: Student-Designed Vans

To bring their stories to life, students worked with senior Vans designers and studied core principles of design from line, shape, color, and value, to form, texture, and space. Students learned how each design decision works to convey an artist’s intent. “Throughout the creative process I tried to think outside of the box and how I could make people viewing my shoe think about the messages I was trying to convey,” said Fatima Suarez, senior at Locke.

Students took personal responsibility for the completion of this project–they created their own workflows, determined how much time they were going to invest in each step, and decided how they wanted to unveil their final product.

As designers, students quickly learned the importance of planning and having processes. “Visually organizing my ideas helped me express my feelings about Locke, staff, teachers, and my peers.” said Jaulayzia Ridley, Locke senior. “It helped me to share the way I view my school and what I feel my place within it is.”

For over a month after school, designers supported students through the creative process by offering insight and feedback. The only parameters students were given was to freely express themselves in the way they approached telling their personal stories about Locke, and to take risks in applying the creative process.

Vans JetSpace

Junior Adrian Vidal used this project to reflect on his struggles, triumphs, and his perseverance. Vidal’s shoe depicts him wearing a graduation cap, jumping through the air carrying an anvil.

“The four ton weight represents my struggles during high school, and how even though it was extremely heavy and difficult to carry, I still managed to jump high, persist, and succeed.”

This collaboration with Vans provides students with a sort of creative lab–in the way science labs help provide a tangible experience of the subject, so too does this design project help students understand the technical steps of a creative career.

The collaboration was brought to Locke via the JetSpace, an innovation space and library that provides an opportunity for students to engage with mentors from a variety of backgrounds, exercise creativity, and direct their own learning.

“We were excited about this collaboration because it allowed us to help students better understand the creative process and ultimately use the platform we’re currently developing to design their own custom shoe,” recalled Bellali. “And in the process better understand where their needs and interests lie.”

In addition, the collaboration provides exposure to 21st Century skills, such as creativity, innovation, and self-reliance. Exposing students to professional environments and diverse career opportunities is just one of the many things we do to remove barriers to social mobility.

Finding Their Way

In the final component of the shoe design project, students presented their shoes to Vans designers and their peers, explaining their stories and creative decisions. In their reflections, many students expressed appreciation for not being treated as high school students, but as designers, expected to employ learned principles to create a product. “I learned that you have to take time in your drawing and be committed to making the final product a reality,” said Gomez.

To celebrate their efforts, students who participated in the project received their very own custom pair of Vans— a testament to their hard work, and a reminder that they can and will graduate prepared to take on 21st Century learning and careers.

Put Your Child on the Path to 21st Century Readiness