“I’m not really into shoes,” Cristian Lopez says with a chuckle. It’s funny because his name is on a collection of sneakers—mod silhouettes in paper-like Tyvek splashed with his original design. Sleek trainer to boxy hi-top, the Lopez line caters to sophisticated sneakerheads, but its namesake was a high school senior when he drew the Fibonacci spiral that makes it so fresh and meaningful.
His teachers at North Las Vegas’ Canyon Springs High knew Lopez had a gift for art, and two in particular urged him to enter a design contest that partnered their organization, Teach for America, with tech-driven shoe company Unbelievable Testing Laboratory. Science and math are cornerstones of UT.LAB, so the contest’s only guideline was that designs had to reflect those disciplines. It was open to the entire K-12 age range, and a dozen finalists chosen from hundreds of national and international submissions were put to a vote on social media in May.
“My love for design and art would be a mixture of tattoo art and street art. ... I like old, traditional tattoos, Sailor Jerry, Ed Hardy, stuff like that,” says Lopez, who spent a week weaving such aesthetics into a seashell spiral referencing Fibonacci’s number sequence. He figured it was too simple to win. But a week before graduation, it did. “I checked my email late at night, and then I couldn’t sleep ’cause I was so happy.”
Lopez was part of the creative process of the line’s bold colors and looks made of materials that are “impossibly light.” The only way to buy them is through a $15,000 Indiegogo campaign running until January 13, with backers scoring the trainer ($45+), lo-top ($50+) or hi-top ($55+) in limited runs of 200 per style. After production and shipping, all proceeds will benefit Teach for America, as UT.LAB believes in the power of teachers to “make science cool” and spark the potential of students like Lopez.
“[H]ow awesome would it be to say, ‘Not only do we believe in you, but everyone that’s backing us on Indiegogo believes in you ... and all this money that we raised is going back to Teach for America so there can be more success stories like you,’” says UT.LAB Brand Director Jay Legaspi, who has been mentoring Lopez. He takes the role to heart, partly because his company is rooted in the supportive incubator that is the Las Vegas startup community. “We first started our business talking with people like Work in Progress and working with the Downtown Project, talking with people from the VegasTechFund,” says Legaspi, who hopes UT.LAB can provide Lopez a similar sounding board and professional springboard. “My personal goal is to really let Criss see that he has every right to dream big.”
The 18-year-old just finished his first semester at College of Southern Nevada, where he’s studying art and graphic design. And he’s working on a mural concept for Zappos, an opportunity that grew from his work with UT.LAB. He doesn’t see himself pursuing fashion, but he might rock a pair of his eponymous black hi-tops.
“I’m not a sneakerhead or anything. I don’t have my pair of Jordans,” he says with that same chuckle. “But yeah, I think it’s pretty cool that I have my own shoe. … I think people are excited to see something different.”
Connect to the crowdfunding campaign at indiegogo.com.