Ocoee High senior wins nationwide Vans shoe-design contest

Maia Slowinski is the winner of the Customade by Vans Family art contest, and her designs are now available to customize the skate shoes.

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  • | 11:40 a.m. March 17, 2021
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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What started out as a piece for an Ocoee High student’s Advanced Placement art class portfolio has made its way onto thousands of Vans skate shoes.

Maia Slowinski, 17, recently won first place in the shoe company’s “Customade by Vans Family” art contest. Now, anyone who has access to Vans Family’s custom shoe-designing website can put her designs on their kicks.

Vans Family is the Vans experiential loyalty program, and members receive insider information and exclusive designs. It was through the Vans Family app that Maia first heard about the contest and decided to enter.

“I just felt like, ‘Why not enter?’” she said. “I figured, ‘What do I have to lose on it?’ I decided to enter in some of my AP art submissions I had for my last year’s portfolio. … I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I spent so much time thinking about what I wanted to do for it, but I just figured, ‘Why not just turn in something I’ve already done?’ … I just thought that it would be really fun.” 



That was almost a year ago, Maia said. She frequently enters contests on the Vans Family app but never expected anything to come of them. Then, toward the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, she got a call from Vans.

“They were like, ‘Hey, so we just wanted to talk to you about your submission; you actually won,’” Maia said. “I went completely speechless. I got so embarrassed, because I didn’t know what to say to them. I didn’t believe it for a second. It didn’t process. The fact that I had won didn’t click in until I’d already hung up, and then I went ballistic.”

Maia’s abstract, black-and-white floral designs are inspired by nature — and although they were part of her AP art portfolio, they looked great on the shoes.

“When I told my AP art teacher, she was ecstatic because she knew exactly what pieces they were because she had to grade them,” Maia said with a laugh.

After finding out she had won, Maia was asked to create five different shoes featuring her designs on the Vans custom-design website. As someone who already owns multiple pairs of Vans and had previously designed another pair of custom kicks, it was a breeze.

“I think I actually went through them pretty quickly,” she said. “I knew what I wanted, I knew the color scheme I was going for, I knew the palette I wanted to work with — more cool tones, with the blues and purples. … A lot of people don’t know they can customize shoes so easily on their website. It was super easy. I think I had them done within a day or two.”

Maia said Vans representatives then set up a photo shoot in Winter Garden featuring her and her shoes. They asked her about some locations she would consider shooting in beforehand or places where she spent a lot of time, such as Winter Garden Fencing Academy, where she has trained in fencing for years.

“Every single place that I gave them was all within walking distance, because it was all in downtown Winter Garden — I think some of the most popular places,” she said. “The photos they took from were mostly from Pammie’s Sammies. Outside of (Winter Garden Fencing Academy), there’s a big pink wall, and (the photographer) actually had me (lie) down on my back and put my shoes up on the wall for a cool shot. (We also went) on top of the parking garage where you can see the Winter Garden water tower.”

The shoot also included her bedroom, where the high-school senior gets her homework done — and where her collection of Vans is housed.

“I didn’t realize how obsessed I was until during the shoot: They had me hold all of my shoes in my lap, and it was a mound almost as tall as I was,” she said with a laugh. “That moment was when I realized my obsession.”



Maia knew she would be featured on the Vans website, in the Vans Family app and on the company’s social media. However, seeing her face, her design and her story on the site when it went live earlier this month still was a huge shock.

“They told me the date that it was supposed to come out — I didn’t know what time, though, so I was checking every 15 or 20 minutes,” she said. “I finally saw that I got tagged on a post on Instagram from somebody else who had seen it before me … and I found out during school that it was already posted. Everybody in my class was pulling it up on their computers and on their phones. It was really awesome.” 

“The fact that they chose mine out of thousands of people, it really gave me more confidence about my work, and now I’m not as scared to put out what I make.” — Maia Slowinski

Maia’s family and friends were thrilled for her and very excited to share the news. For days, she was getting messages of congratulations and tagged on social media. Even friends from a long time ago would pop up with a congratulatory message. Her parents, though, are her biggest fans.

“My parents are obsessed with it,” Maia said. “I think most oft the people who have gotten the Vans so far have all been because my parents are putting it out there, bragging about it.”

Along with being featured by Vans and having her designs available for people to customize their own shoes with, she also received a $1,000 prize. She even got surprised last week when she and her mom walked into the Vans store at Mall at Millenia to try on some shoes.

“They had a big poster of my story with my designs on it — a big one — and a small one inside of the actual store,” Maia said. “It made me unexplainably happy. I can’t even express how crazy it was. All the store employees thought it was awesome, and they were all taking photos. It was really amazing.”

It isn’t about the prize money or the exposure, though — although both of those things are nice. Maia said she is just ecstatic that people see value in her creations.

“The most fulfilling part about this is the fact that it’s reassuring that I have some sort of talent,” Maia said. “The fact that they chose mine out of thousands of people, it really gave me more confidence about my work, and now I’m not as scared to put out what I make.”


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