A student examines a Nike sneaker during the week-long summer sneaker design course at Lesley's College of Art and Design.
For high school students obsessed with high-style footwear, spending a hot week in July at Lesley University studying sneaker design was better than a beach vacation.
The course, Graphic Design Techniques for Sneaker Innovation, is the result of a collaboration between design faculty Kristina Lamour Sansone, Katherine Shozawa in the Office of Community Engagement, and a team of Lesley instructors: alumnus Anthony Blackett ’22, design faculty Tuyen Bui-Lally, and student and entrepreneur Miguel Sheppard ’23. Together they worked to develop and teach the class to 13 high school and gap-year students, who will earn a college credit for completing the course.
Lesley College of Art and Design faculty Shalini Prasad and Lamour Sansone first introduced shoe design in a Visual Communications 3 course in 2021, where students learned to design a personal brand and translate their visual narrative from print into product. The pre-college course is another step forward for those who hope that Lesley will start offering more courses in footwear and apparel design.
“The sneaker and apparel industry is a huge arena for young graphic designers,” says Lamour Sansone, noting that Lesley already has a huge alumni footprint in these industries. She believes that it could be an important career avenue for current and future students, especially in the Boston area, home to notable footwear giants including Converse, New Balance, Saucony, Reebok and Puma.
A self-described “sneakerhead,” Blackett has been drawing and designing sneakers since he was in middle school. As an undergraduate, he conducted a straw poll showing that 40 percent of Lesley Design students were interested in graphic design for the sneaker industry.
“There are a lot of kids at Lesley who like sneakers and fashion,” he says. “They were excited when I told them about this class—I hope it could be a gateway to a college-level course.”
Sheppard, who will graduate from Lesley’s College of Art and Design in 2024, co-owns a vintage designer and streetwear boutique called Aigo.
“We're just really into fashion,” he says. “The entire store is run by kids. We just love clothes; we love how they're constructed and the history of designers. It really is an art form. And it really does push culture forward.”
He and Blackett enjoyed their first experience as instructors.
“I could genuinely tell that all the kids had fun,” Sheppard says. “It was great seeing how they learn to process information and then they put the work forward in such a short time.”
Raised in France, Bui-Lally is no stranger to high fashion, but she was thrilled by the in-depth knowledge of sneaker design and streetwear culture that Blackett and Sheppard brought to the course.
“Having Anthony and Miguel—both Boston locals—brought such a young, sharp, vibrant touch to the mix,” she says. “I learned more talking to them than from all the sneaker design books.”
During the first several days, students focused on concepting and designing their sneaker, and creating posters that told the “story” behind their design.
“I wanted them to write because design isn’t only about drawing—it’s about how you sell the story,” says Bui-Lally. “You can be the most talented artist, but you also need to know how to sell what you’re designing.”
A mid-week highlight was a field trip to Boston’s Newbury Street where students visited three local stores, Concepts International, Bodega, and Sheppard’s own Aigo. Students got a chance to meet with Concepts brand manager Annie Morgan and Creative Director Deon Point, whose rise from amateur sneakerhead to international design innovator is the stuff of legend.
“The students were psyched to meet Deon,” says Bui-Lally. “They wanted selfies, and they were so thrilled when he said he might come to the final exhibition.”
Despite the excitement, she kept the students focused on their learning.
“I didn't let them just look around! They had to write an essay on the retail atmosphere and client-facing elements of each store, the products, merchandising, lighting—everything,” she says.
Towards the end of the week, students worked with paper and cardboard to create 3-D models of their sneaker designs. The class culminated in a “Project Runway” style final exhibit, with students working down to the deadline to complete their presentations.
“They did incredible work in such short amount of time,” says Bui-Lally. “They worked so hard.”
Point kept his word, bringing his own high schooler to the student exhibit and making sure that every student in the class left with a pair of new sneakers.
Shozawa says that the Pre-College Program is looking into ways to expand the course and experience next summer.
“It was fresh, new and super relevant,” she says.
With the talent and passion of students and alumni like Blackett and Sheppard, Lamour Sansone and Bui-Lally see a bright future for Lesley’s potential as an innovation hub for footwear design.
“This little ‘hobby,’ this sub-culture,” Bui-Lally observes, “has become a $70 billion industry.”