The House of Vans is located in a remodeled half-warehouse, half-skatepark on Franklin Street, just beside the East River that separates Brooklyn, where the building stands, from the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.
The “house” is notorious for throwing concerts and parties that fit the brand’s famous chill and alternative lifestyle image, but it’s also the place where most Vans events are celebrated, too, like the Shoe Design Competition on April 23.
The purpose of the event — one of many organized around the country — was to celebrate Vans’ 50th anniversary by inviting New York-based design and art students to participate in a competition to design a sneaker with a new twist on the classic slip-on.
Out of more than 100 students who applied, only 30 were selected based on their portfolios. Vans supplied them slip-ons, and they had around three weeks to complete their designs.
From classical techniques, like Sharpie drawings and acrylic painting, to the more avant-garde, like shoes sprouting grass from planting chia seeds in them and slip-ons completely covered in rainbow-colored chewing gum, the competition was fierce, and nothing was off-limits. Each final product was exciting to see, but even more so to touch, as most of the designs emphasized texture.
Out of the 30 finalists, three winners were selected. There was also an Artist’s Choice Award chosen by the finalists. First place went to Haley Potter, an illustration major at Pratt Institute, for her design, which combined music and skate culture. Second place went to Liz Mydlowski, an industrial design major at Pratt, for her “all bodies are beach bodies” design. Jordan Levinson, a graphic design major at Pratt, won third place for her recycled pineapple shoes. The Artist’s Choice Award went to Carly Hopkins, an art direction and advertising major at Pratt, for “A Gum Sole with Lofty Ambitions”: gum-covered shoes intended to represent the “rebellious spirit” and the contextualization of the unconventional material.
Vans hired Neato Agency, which specializes in “providing comprehensive college marketing solutions” to ideate and create these types of events in which student involvement and collaboration are key components.
“This is the third event of the type that Vans has done in the country, and the first of its kind in New York City. It’s very exciting,” Abby Mumma, marketing coordinator of Neato, said.
Neato has created a “Vans ambassador” position at each major design college. One student becomes a representative for the brand at his or her school, and promotion for events like the Shoe Design Competition can be done directly on campus grounds.
Tiffany Gilmore, a fashion design major at FIT, was appointed student marketing manager for Vans on April 1. Her interest in marketing and fashion made her the perfect fit for the position. Gilmore said she likes the job “way more” than she had originally anticipated and that she gets paid for her services.
“Vans is more than that company that became even more famous since the release of the ‘Damn Daniel’ video — it’s a lifestyle,” Soni Solano, another FIT student and Vans employee, said. She has worked on and off for the company for two and a half years and has been promoted from sales associate to floor supervisor during her time working there. “I love the environment of the store because it encourages creative expression, style and individualism.”