A penchant for creating Northwest native art on shoes has turned into a business opportunity for a Nooksack tribal member.
Louie Gong recently launched a website for Mockups, which resemble white Vans-style shoes that customers use to paint intricate designs.
The product is a do-it-yourself piece that isn't meant to be worn but can be used to create artwork as well as something to practice designs on before trying it out on actual Vans shoes.
In the do-it-yourself art toy business, Gong believes this product hits a sweet spot because of the importance of shoes in society. It also has educational value, making it a potentially popular product for school projects.
"Shoes are the perfect platform for talking about a wide range of topics in a way that can really engage with kids," Gong said. If one thinks about the role shoes have played in our culture, he said, such as Dorothy's shoes in "The Wizard of Oz" or Air Jordans, art on shoes can have broad appeal and become iconic cross-cultural symbols.
Besides being an art project, Mockups can serve as a way to tell stories that appeal to youth.
For example, the mockups can be used in history lesson plans, where students use art to tell stories or show the style of shoes used in specific time periods. The classic Vans style is one of the best to customize, he said, because of the flat surface on top. Mockups look like Vans, only they're made from vinyl.
Along with the online presence, Mockups are being sold at a few gift shops, including at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. Gong, who lives in the Seattle area, will be at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Saturday, Dec. 8, to host workshops with his product and his artwork.
The business launch is another step forward for Gong, known for his artistic work as well as being a figure in the world of multiracial culture and advocacy.
Gong's mixed-race heritage includes Chinese, French, Scottish, Nooksack and Squamish. He grew up in Nooksack Indian Tribal housing near Deming, graduating from Nooksack Valley High School in 1992 and later from Western Washington University.
The work he's done to this point has garnered attention. He recently landed on a list of Top 10 Most Inspirational Natives by Native Max magazine. He's also popular in social media - his Facebook page Custom Coast Salish/Northwest style shoes by Louie Gong has nearly 55,000 "Likes."
Gong got the idea for Mockups about three years ago, when he bought a plain pair of Vans and decorated them with a Coast Salish design. He received plenty of compliments about the design, and it got him thinking it could be a popular business idea. During the past three years he invested money into starting the business but had to take frequent pauses as money ran short.
"It was a stressful time for me, because I was worried that someone else would think this was a good idea and get it started before I could," he said.
Gong hopes to grow the business of Mockups as well as continue his art (he's designed about 200 pairs of hand-drawn custom shoes as well as a variety of prints and paintings). The do-it-yourself art toys appear to have caught on as a hobby, particularly in craft stores.
"I'm focused on trying to take (Mockups) to the next level," Gong said.
For design tips, examples of work done from the kits, more about the company or to order a kit, go to getmockups.com.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269.