Wheaton Academy students make semifinals in shoe design contest

WEST CHICAGO – The saying goes that you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

But what if you created their shoes?

Wheaton Academy’s Graphic Design 2 class recently designed four pairs of footwear for the Vans Custom Culture Contest, in which they qualified for the semifinals.

“I don’t think we realized how much would actually go into it,” said senior Stephanie Linnam. “We cared a lot about this project.”

Vans Custom Culture, a branch of the popular skate shoe brand that produces custom footwear, initiated the contest as a way to support high school art programs.

Each competing class receives four sets of crisp, white Vans to decorate however they please, with the addendum that each pair must address one of four themes: art, music, local flavor and sport.

1,500 schools entered the contest. The Wheaton students made it to the top 50.

The five national finalists selected by online voters will receive a trip to New York City and $5,000. The winning class will be given $50,000. All prize money goes directly to funding art programs at the winning and finalist schools.

“I wanted them to see the purpose of graphic design,” said Wheaton Academy art teacher Catherine Tilly.

The students spent seven weeks conceptualizing and executing their shoes, sometimes working late into the night.

Wheaton Academy’s marketing class provided client feedback to give the students an understanding of what the creative process is like for a professional designer. Tilly said her class’s shoes are special, because they’re more than an art project – they’re a sellable product made with a consumer in mind.

“This is a very ‘real world’ design project,” said senior Alexa Gum.

Originally, the Wheaton students had planned to paint the shoes, but the class later decided to design them using computer programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. They then screen printed the designs onto cotton fabric and glazed them onto the shoes. They were the only semifinalists to use this method.

The Wheaton Academy shoes incorporate quintessential Chicago imagery, such as a Chicago hot dog, the city skyline and urban graffiti, as well as a few visuals specific to West Chicago, including train tracks, small town buildings and even a Midwestern twister.

“I wanted all four pairs to work together,” said Tilly.