“We had no idea about shoes, the construction of shoes, how to design a shoe,” says James Connors. “None of us had ever designed a shoe before.”
That didn’t keep Connors and two other industrial design students at Virginia Tech, Reid Schlegel and Oscar Salguero, from developing a shoe, complete with a business plan, for Haitian school children.
Public education in Haiti is free but many children are unable to attend school because they can't afford the shoes required. “This was an issue that we found was more meaningful than having clean clothes or other things,” says Schlegel.
Using a book on old medieval shoes for inspiration, the trio set out to create shoes that were simple yet desirable. “It's the idea of bringing pride to these people, bringing independence to them, beauty to their lives, and the opportunity for education,” explains the Peruvian-born Salguero.
The result: shoes made of colorful cotton fabric and used bicycle tires, both easily accessible in Haiti.
“We wanted to take the Haitian apparel industry and the rural people and combine them into this process,” says Connors.
Adds Schlegel: “We wanted to give them a shoe that they'd want to wear...that they'd feel proud to wear.”
The students won the 2011 Eastman Innovation Lab scholarship for their work on the project. Established in 2008, the scholarship honors the memory of 32 people killed in the April 16, 2007 shooting incident on the Virginia Tech campus.
“Every time I see a student doing something important, I get inspired,” says Ed Dorsa, Associate Professor of Industrial Design, School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech. “We have enough iPods. We don't have enough Haiti shoes. We don't have enough stuff for people who really need it.”