Vans Custom Culture

AND THE WINNER IS…: The meaning of custom kicks was taken to new levels Wednesday evening for the Vans Custom Culture design competition finale.

The program, now in its seventh year, aims to encourage the arts among high school students by having contestants design blank Vans shoes for a chance at winning $50,000 for their school’s arts education program. The final event took place at the Mama Gallery in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District, where sneakers became the canvas for murals showing off local hangouts, musical themes or a nod to diners. The latter was done by winning school John P. Stevens High School out of New Jersey, with one of its submissions taking a pair of Vans slip-ons and morphing it into a banana split.

Wednesday’s event was the first time the finale has been in Los Angeles after the past two years, when it was held in New York.

“With it being our 50th anniversary this year, we wanted to bring Custom Culture back home and we felt like it would be a great opportunity to bring the students to where we’re from,” said Fara Howard, vice president of global marketing at Vans.

Each contestant was charged with designing four pairs of Vans, with each pair representing a theme of action sports, art, music or local flavor. The other competition finalists, each of which received $4,000 awards, included Eastern High School of Kentucky, Moanalua High School of Hawaii, Orange High School from California and Sandy High School out of Oregon.

The finalists’ work was judged by a panel that included YouTube vlogger Maddi Bragg, professional surfer Dylan Graves, members of the band Echosmith and chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.

One of the winning team’s designs have historically been made to sell in the Vans online store and some of its retail doors, and that could be the case for this year’s winner.

“Our goal has been to produce and sell the product depending on if it can be produced and sold,” Howard said. “If you look at some of the products, they are gorgeous but may not necessarily be commercial. But we definitely hold their products up on a pedestal and we talk about them a great deal either via our retail or via ongoing communications after the event.”

The competition hosted the five finalists to the finale event along with other local tourist spots, such as Disneyland, and was done in partnership with Americans for the Arts, retailer Journeys, smoking-prevention organization Truth, Laguna College of Art and Design and Blick Art Materials.

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