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Back when I was in junior high, customizing your Vans meant grabbing a Bic pen or Sharpie from your Trapper Keeper and doodling on the white, rubber soles during pre-algebra lectures. My pair proudly proclaimed, "MW & JTT 4EVA" (Michelle Woo and Justin Taylor Thomas forever—don't judge).
Fortunately, sneaker art has come a long way since then. Today, the Cypress-based footwear brand encourages kids to trick out their classic canvas shoes for the annual Vans Custom Culture contest. High schools that sign up will be sent four pairs of spankin'-new, white Vans for students to deface with paint, glitter, feathers, shark teeth—whatever. The winning school gets $50,000 for its arts program—a noble kick at the budget cuts that plague arts education (and a fun way to tag your shoes without getting a scolding from Mom).
To help ignite the creativity, Vans asked a group of "ambassadors"—fashion designers, artists, bloggers and celebrities—to design its own pairs. The result: a truly awesome collection of kicks. Designer Peter Som adorned his canvas slip-ons in fancy floral fabric. Musician Cisco Adler took a more patriotic approach and drew a peace sign in an American flag. Conan O'Brien channeled his inner artist by drawing a self-portrait and scribbling the words "Left" and "Right" on its respective shoe.
But the most awe-inspiring sneaker revamp is by Erica Chan Coffman, editor in chief of popular style blog Honestly WTF (www.honestlywtf.com). She hand-embroidered colorful geometric shapes on the canvas, creating a wildly cool, kaleidoscope-like design. It looks like it took aboooout . . . 38 years. Of course, Coffman's fans would expect nothing less from the DIY queen. Last year, giddy over Miu Miu's sparkly gold sneakers, she posted a tutorial on how to bling out your own pair with glitter, rhinestones and Mod Podge.
The competition makes me want to dig out my old Vans and see what I can do with them. Obviously, my artistic inspiration has progressed since junior high, right? Now, my shoes would say, "I [heart] Jake Gyllenhaal."
This column appeared in print as "Pimp Your Vans."