Pistons and Pensole Lewis College Host MARTK’D ‘Art on Sneakers’ Invitational

By Amber Ogden, Contributing Writer

The Pistons and Pensole Lewis College recently hosted the MARTK’D “Art on Sneaker” Invitational, a Detroit-based student sneaker design competition. The event was lively, with many eager onlookers, including proud family members, passionate sneakerheads, and discerning judges. The competition featured 10 Detroit-area student contestants, each competing to have their design produced by Reebok and sold at a local sneaker boutique. Only three winners and an honorable mention emerged victorious.

Kristal Soto’s shoe design won first place in the competition, where she artfully showcased her Puerto Rican heritage. Her design was a beautiful portrayal of her culture, leaving a lasting impression on the judges.

“I feel like you go through ups and downs; it was really hard making the design for this shoe. I didn’t know it would be like this, but I’m glad I made it,” Soto said.

Mekhia Knighten’s presentation stood out during the competition. She shared a captivating story about Misty Copeland, a trailblazing Black ballerina, who inspired her to design a unique pair of shoes. She also shared that she is a ballerina and has danced with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Mekhia also delved into the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade and how it influenced her shoe design. As a result of her powerful storytelling, she secured second place in the competition.

“Oh my god, it’s mind-blowing because I did not think right after seeing all the other designs. I wasn’t sure what the judges were looking for. But I truly feel like I put my heart out there, and the judges saw them, “Knighten said.

Kiarra Washington’s shoe design, which placed third, was an impressive combination of functionality and art. It featured multiple record players spinning, creating a visually striking effect. Kiarra intended to create an aesthetically pleasing design that reflects art’s expressive nature, and she did just that.

“My inspiration was based on things I do, like some jobs. I like combining these colors and putting them on the shelf to see how it works,” Washington said.

On March 9, 40 student participants started the competition to create a shoe design to present to a panel of judges. After a thorough evaluation, the competition was narrowed down to the top 10 contestants.

Aydin Santiago, the winner of the 2023 ‘Art on Sneaker’ competition, draws some of her inspiration from musical legends like Queen Latifah and Public Enemy. She is determined to follow her passion for merchandising and art directing and has planned a trip to Paris in the upcoming summer.

“I never thought I was going to do shoes. You don’t think of shoes as the first thing in art; you always think about big paintings, but this experience also opened my eyes to what I want to do as a career and a job as an artist and to make people think of artistry as more profitable. Having business and artistry come together rather than be separate is my goal,” Santiago said.

With a theme of ‘Music, Motion, and Design,’ a virtual boot camp was organized for the final contestants. They received guidance from Pensole Lewis College, the Pistons, and Stackwell to prepare for their final design submission. Each contestant was handed a pair of blank Reebok shoes to work on for the following week. The culmination of their work was presented in person on Saturday.

Dion Walcott, president and founder of MARTK’D, stressed that all the young participants were winners regardless of the final results by congratulating them all and leaving them inspired to keep striving and continue to take risks.

“I want to thank the young people for teaching us adults and reminding us it’s important for us to continue to take risks and learn as we finish. As we get older, we often get set in our ways, so for these young people to come out today with no training and take risks by using sneakers as an expression is really something. We have to be reminded as we continue to do more things, at whatever age we are, to continue to try and take risks,” Walcott said.

Nehemiah Hurst, a 12th grader attending Bowling Green State University on a full scholarship in the fall, received an honorable mention for his shoe design. He shared his profound experience after his second shoe design and said he took a leap of faith.

“Today’s shoe design represents me growing up in Detroit and how it plays into the theme of music, motion, and design. So, with that shoe over there (1st shoe he designed), I wanted to capture who I am. I want to accept change and go with life as it goes. So, I wanted to capture that feeling of motion but moving forward and the freedom of being,” Hurst said.

The competition winners’ designs will be showcased and sold in Two18, owned by Pontiac native and Detroit-based rapper Roland “Ro Spit” Coit. Two18 is located in the Eastern Market of Detroit, and the winners’ designs will be available for purchase in March 2025.

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