VANS is collaborating with four Black artists who are using their art to impact the community. The shoe brand is launching sneakers designed by each artist in honor of Black History Month, including two of Detroit’s very own.
Antonio “Tony Whlgn” Robinson is a creative entrepreneur, community leader, and activist who grew up on Detroit’s west side. A former Junior Designer for Marc Ecko, the visual artist, also contributed artist direction and design for rappers Joey Badass and Big K.R.I.T and held a creative design position at Kith in New York City. Whlgn, pronounced “hooligan,” has worked in the industry to influence the city and use life as a reflection of art.
“I see this whole journey of life as my art form; the way I do things, the people I build relationships with and those who build relationships with me,” Whlgn says. “Essentially, just combining all of that along with a lot of the skills that have been developed over time through painting, design, and creative consulting.”
From an already established relationship with VANS, Whlgn has been able to work with the shoe brand on several projects and initiatives since meeting in 2019. Working with children from the community together, the duo has been able to complete a coloring book as community outreach and a mural piece and helped to name the Detroit artist as the North American Ambassador for the Custom Culture program. With a sound foundation, collaborating to honor Black History Month seemed to be the natural next step.
“After that, the relationship for the Black History Month collection just made sense. From them knowing what type of work I do and what type of artist I am, it just made sense to connect that dot,” Whlgn says.
Taking just a couple of weeks to construct the design, the shoe’s concept represents love, roots in the community, and self. With the idea of a men’s loafer in mind, the visual artist wanted to create a simplistic but powerful design that would resonate with sneaker lovers everywhere.
“I wanted to mimic, not only Black excellence, and a sense of royalty when creating this for Black History Month. So, with doing that I wanted to mimic the way a loafer has toe boxing,” Whlgn says.
The opportunity to collaborate with VANS on a larger scale gives each artist apart of the Black History Month drop the chance to have their work viewed by new audiences across the country. It is also providing the artists the opportunity to expose themselves to additional creative avenues and projects.
“As anything, I think this opportunity is able to give me the exposure as well as the platform of being known as someone who is interested in sneaker designs as well as being someone who’s interested professionally in art,” says Whlgn. “I think that each time I work with someone it opens me up to a different type of audience as well as my audience being open to them.”
In addition to the sneaker capsule collection, VANS is also committed to donating $40,000 to the Black Art Futures Fund. The fund is dedicated to providing support to small, Black-led arts and culture nonprofits or fiscally funded projects. VANS is also donating an additional $25,000 to the fund thanks to the efforts of shoppers who donated their rewards points to the campaign, hitting a goal of 5 million donated points.
Detroit’s Sydney G. James is also featured in the Black History Month collaboration with VANS. Using her Black female-based signature style, James created a shoe that depicts a Black woman peeking out from a cloth silhouetted by Africa.
All shoes are available now to buy, but every artist will be spotlighted at a different week in Feb (Syndey on the 17th + Tony on the 24th). Visit https://www.vans.com/blackhistorymonth