Vans Custom Culture

Cynthia Rowley promised “I will not skate in the house” on her pair of Vans slip-ons. Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon customized their Vans with the phrase “Les Yeux Sans Visage.” Gavin Rossdale scrawled lyrics from his band Bush and Institute all over his.

Vans’ annual Custom Culture art competition has officially wrapped with the winning high schools announced Thursday following a public vote of designs generated by schools from around the country on the skate shoe brand’s classic slip-ons. Custom Culture also includes a separate ambassador program, soliciting custom designs from designers, celebrities, athletes, musicians and others.

“This program was made in twofold. One was because Vans wants to enable and inspire creative expression in everything that we do and it was also because we saw the lack of funding available in art programs in high schools,” said Megan Klempa, who heads up the Custom Culture program as its manager.

The competition, now in its ninth year, solicits designs from high schools with the winners receiving monetary prizes to go toward their art programs. This year’s grand prize winner was Hixson High School in Tennessee, which is the recipient of $75,000. The school was also treated to a Vans-hosted party on campus that included a BBQ by Steve Van Doren, the son of Vans cofounder Paul Van Doren. The runner-ups — Fontainebleau High School in Louisiana, Moanalua High School in Hawaii, Middle Township High School in New Jersey and Larned High School in Kansas — each received $10,000.

This year’s competition structure was revamped. In the past, the program was open to 3,000 schools on a first-come, first-served basis, while this year had no cap. Any school could apply with 500 selected to then go on to design two pairs of Vans in addition to writing an impact statement on how the funding would be used. That group was then whittled down to 50 semifinalists with voting opened to the public.

The program keeps the brand close to one of its target consumer groups, while also expanding beyond the typical market reach had via channels such as its physical stores.

“Vans retail stores are located a lot on our coasts and scattered throughout the Midwest, but high schools are nationwide so Custom Culture serves as a touchpoint for communities and schools to get to know Vans,” Klempa said. “This allows us to have touchpoints where maybe Vans isn’t.”

In the past, a large contingent of schools from California typically applied — not surprising, given the company’s roots in Anaheim and current headquarters in Costa Mesa. This year, due to the revamping of the program, applicants were evenly spread out throughout the country, according to Klempa.

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