It happens to me everywhere I go, but this time I was caught
off guard. I was standing on the banks of Port Madison Bay where
the annual Intertribal Canoe Journey landings were being hosted
by the Suquamish Tribe. As I watched the amazing sight of more than
90 canoes come in, a woman dressed in full Coast Salish regalia,
a beautiful floor-length cedar dress, woven cedar hat and vest made
of dark blue glass beads and bone stopped to talk to me. Where
did you get those shoes? They are incredible! Make sure that you
wear those with pride.
shoes are a pair of red wolf custom Coast Salish style Vans by Louie
Gong. His work has attracted the attention of thousands through
word of mouth, newspaper articles, blogs, Myspace, twitter, and
a rapidly growing Facebook fan page with well over 2,100 fans.
the attention and enthusiasm has inspired Gong to keep designing
new shoes, it has also been a bit overwhelming. Requests to order
the shoes have numbered in the hundreds in the past few months alone.
When I start taking orders, I usually reach capacity for the
month in just a couple hours. I wish I could make a shoe for everyone
who connects with them, but its just not possible. At
present, Louie has visions of collaborating with larger shoe manufacturers
such as Vans to produce one of his designs so his customers might
one day be able to purchase them off the shelf and at a lower cost.
is the man behind the shoes? Gong is a mixed heritage person (Nooksack,
Chinese, French, Scottish) who works as an activist on behalf
of people who walk in multiple worlds. In addition to his
day job as the educational resource coordinator at Muckleshoot Tribal
College, he is board president of MAVIN, one of the nations
leading mixed race organizations. His racial identity work has been
featured on MSNBC.com, and he recently provided a keynote presentation
for the National Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
conference. According to Gong, designing custom shoes is an extension
of his activism.
his shoe fans are immediately impressed by the quality of the art,
those who continue to engage with Gong begin to understand that
the conversations that the shoes spark is the true artistry.
The message behind his art is that you can have a strong cultural
identity while still exploring popular culture and style
these things are not mutually exclusive. We can merge our expressions
of identity rather than compartmentalizing them. Its okay
to be both.
company, Eighth Generation, was established in March 2009. Its
important to him for people to understand that Eighth Generation
started organically, not as a business idea. He made his first
pair for himself, as a way of fulfilling a dream deferred since
childhood to be able to afford a pair, and to have the confidence
and style to wear them. Once in the store, he felt that he couldnt
connect with the patterns on the shelf. None of them represented
my experiences or culture, which prompted him to take a Sharpie
marker to a pair of plain grey Vans.
that first shoe, Gong has refined his designs, artistic skills and
tools, and recently shared his hard-earned knowledge in a how-to
video titled, Make Sick Shoes: Custom Vans and Chucks by Louie
Gong, available on YouTube. The video, which was recently
featured on thevansblog.blogspot.com and the Vans 300,000 member
Facebook page, explains the basics of making custom shoes so people
across the world can create shoes that represent their own identity
and raise social consciousness about what it means to self-identify
on your own terms.
Gongs way of giving back to his fans. Its also a way
he seeks to inspire youth to understand that success is built upon
process and that failure is part of success, persistence is
originally began by customizing Vans, but in recent months he has
started experimenting with designs on Converse Chuck Taylors and
Nike N7s. The Eighth Generation Web site features a gallery of the
shoes and the Facebook page often offers glimpses into Gongs
creative process by showing his experimental in-progress designs.
Gong is also the focus of a short film by Longhouse Media that will
premiere at the Native American Film Festival in Bellevue, Wash.
Nov. 6. An art show held at the same time will showcase the full
range of his art.
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