The footwear brand tapped Colombian-American non-binary artist Marisa Fulper Estrada, visual artist and musician Camilo Medina, Chicago-based artist Elloo and Los Angeles-based painter Daniel Gibson to interpret what Latinx culture means to them. The artists explored themes like traditions, food and symbols in their respective artworks that will be displayed and available in limited quantities at Vans stores in New York, Los Angeles and Costa Mesa, Calif., Chicago and Miami.
Elloo, whose real name is Tatee Garcia, created a work inspired by desserts titled “Piñata of my Dreams.” “I’ve chosen desserts that I most connect with that have brought plenty of joy and wonderful childhood memories,” Garcia said of the work. “Paletas de chile or cajeta, cajitas, and vanilla ice cream with bread have contributed to my huge sweet tooth.”
The artist sees collaborating with Vans as a great opportunity and the project itself as a point of pride for her Mexican heritage. “To me, being of Latinx heritage is a term to describe someone that wants a gender-neutral term,” she said. “It’s a personal choice that I respect and I think it’s more important to allow people to continue exploring different concepts. There’s so much expansion occurring on self-identification that we’re all just trying to figure it out.”
American-born artist Estrada also connects with Latinx heritage and self-identification and explained how they had a better understanding of self through their heritage.
“Embracing my origins and identity has brought me a better understanding of myself and my intersectional identity as a queer non-binary person,” Estrada said. “It allows me to be a thoughtful artist and human, as well as a vocal ally in North American spaces to those in Colombia. I do not have the same lived experience as my mom and other Colombians who grew up and lived in the country. I have a different kind of connection, a different garden from my mother, but one I will continue to care for gladly and share with pride.”
The artist’s work for Vans, titled “Tree of Life,” features three fruits and three root vegetables that are difficult to find in the U.S.
“My inability to find them in the United States has made the rare reunion with them a cause for celebration; for me, food is a reunion with family,” Estrada said. “As a person born and raised in the United States, the celebration of my Colombian heritage is an active choice. It is the garden of my mother, my abuelita, and those ancestors who came before me. If I do not tend and take care of it, it will wither away.
This collaboration was founded on fighting surface-level ideas of what it means to be Latinx. But for me, it also meant about who can be Latinx. The community comprises an incredible diversity of people from various countries and races, each with a unique culture and history. Oftentimes, Afro-Latinx and Indigenous peoples are not represented or included in these conversations. This project is one of many more needed to break antiquated stereotypes and embody real inclusion and empowerment.”
Vans also launched Thursday its Channel 66 community radio station special programming featuring Latinx artists with Totem Magazine, Salt Cathedral and Buscabulla.
The “So Much More” initiative is one of many from Vans, including its commitments to sustainability, mental health and Black Lives Matter. In 2020, the footwear brand collaborated with brand Kids of Immigrants on sneakers to support the young label’s philanthropy in California. Vans also teamed with Madhappy which is known for its stance on mental health, and in 2021 partnered with the NAACP to offer 50 scholarships to support Black students in the U.S.