Anyone who has teenagers knows they like to doodle, putting their artistic mark on anything and everything.

Two Flagstaff High School students in Kayley Quick’s graphic design class took the habit to the next level by placing their own custom designs onto two pairs of white Vans shoes.

Mad and Rad

Members of the Flagstaff High Altitude Roller Derby (H.A.R.D.) team practice in the background as Flagstaff High School graphic design student Nicole Dougherty, 16, poses with the custom Vans shoes that she designed for the 2019 Vans Custom Culture competition.

Vans, a Santa Ana, California based manufacturer of skateboarding shoes and apparel, started the design contest a decade ago. According to the company website, it has invested almost $1 million in high school art education through prize money from the competition, all the while creating a low-cost viral marketing campaign as students, their families and community members nationwide visit Vans' website to vote for their favorite shoes.

Each year, 500 schools are picked to participate in the project, with each school being sent a plain white canvas pair of Vans to decorate. One pair of shoes is designed to represent a theme of “Local Flavor” and the second an “Off The Wall” theme that reflects the culture of the company.

This year both Coconino High School and Flagstaff High School were selected. Then the shoes were decorated with the first round of student designs. Flagstaff High School was the only school in Arizona to make it through to the next round -- a smaller pool of 50 schools.

Quick ran her own competition within FHS to see who would get to design the entries for the Vans competition. Sophomores Alyssa Williams and Nicole Dougherty came up with the winning designs.

Winners So Far

Sophomores Nicole Dougherty, left, and Alyssa Williams hold the shoes that they designed for the 2019 Vans Custom Culture competition among high school students across the country. The pair, who are both students in Kayley Quick’s graphic design class at Flagstaff High School, competed against fellow students at FHS to win the chance to design a pair of shoes. Their designs officially won Tuesday morning. 

“I wanted succulence, the sunsets, plants and cultures of the state,” Williams said.

Her shoes -- submitted to the "Local Flavor" design category -- feature copper colored silhouettes of the Navajo Nation's Monument Valley on the sole, Aspen trees inside the shoe and Native American pottery designs on the outside.

“We have many cultures, both Native and Mexican. The biggest Native population is Navajo and I am Navajo," Williams said. "I am of the Kiiyaa'aanii and born for the Naashst'ezhi Tabaahi clan. I have been learning the Navajo language since I was in first grade so I see myself as very traditional."

Williams said she wanted to show the state in its entirety.

“I just wanted to include everything that Arizona has to offer. I am proud of who I am and wanted to bring that side out of me to show that my culture is important and shouldn’t be forgotten,” Williams said.

Mad and Rad

Mad and Rad are the name of the design and the characters on a pair of custom Vans shoes designed by Flagstaff High student Nicole Dougherty for the 2019 Vans Custom Culture competition.

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Williams hopes to use the $75,000 in prize money to help FHS; she would like to see it go toward campus beautification and more murals, she said.

In addition to a first prize sum of $75,000, the winning school will also receive a party thrown by Vans, complete with a BBQ lunch and a concert by a mystery band.

The second pair of shoes was designed by Nicole Dougherty to meet the Vans "Off The Wall" brief.

“I put on high power music and just put what was in my mind on the paper. That led to me getting chosen to do the shoe. It really came from nowhere and everywhere,” Dougherty said of her design.

All About Arizona

A pair of custom designed shoes with a Native American theme made by Flagstaff High School student Alyssa Williams for the 2019 Vans Custom Culture competition. 

“The characters Mad and Rad are wearing outfits I’ve been drawing for a long time. There is a theme of space and an out-of-this-world theme  throughout the shoes with paint splatters forming stars. The design all flows from the back of the shoes with a pair of snakes that is looking at the moon and everything jumps from there. I love how everything rushes towards the front of the shoe and I have details on one shoe which reference the other shoe,” she said. 

“One of the things that I notice in the contrast between Alyssa’s design and mine is that hers are more pastel and soft and mine are more grungy,” Dougherty said.

“I like this experience for both of us. It’s a nice platform for us and, being the age that we are, we don’t get the platform that older people get and this gives us the chance to show what we can do,” Williams said.

That thought was mirrored by Quick.

“For me, it gives them real world opportunity and a gateway to interact with something physical," Quick said. "A lot of what we do is digital on a computer and to turn that into a physical object gives them a sense of confidence and real world connection to their creations.” 

Quick said all the students who entered their designs in the local FHS contest have ended up supporting Williams and Dougherty. So has the Flagstaff community as a whole.  

"This in my opinion it will not only be a victory for my students, classroom and Flag High, but would also bring recognition to the amazing art that we have here in Flagstaff,” Quick said. 

"I want to showcase how incredible my students are because I see it every day in their work ethic, their dedication and most importantly their extreme talent. I want them to be recognized for this,” Quick said.

Voting is still open for the 2019 Vans Custom Culture competition. Voting ends Friday, May 3, at 6 p.m. Votes can be cast once a day at customculture.vans.com/.

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To vote to support the designs by Williams and Dougherty go to www.customculture.vans.com.


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