UMSL design students kick it with local sneaker startup

by | Oct 28, 2019

Local shoe company Psudo challenged the students to create custom designs, and it is turning Leah Gornet’s winning entry into a limited edition sneaker.
Psudo Sneakers

Leah Gornet’s limited-edition sneakers are showcased at a launch party for Psudo, a sustainable shoe start up, at Brennan’s Work & Leisure. The design was based on a programming font. (Photos by Burk Krohe)

The problem with designing a shoe is that the surface isn’t flat like a poster. It bends, moves and stretches – all things a designer has to consider.

“I used my imagination,” senior Jack Cradic said of his first foray into sneaker design. “I imagined where the shapes would be and tried not to put them on awkward angles.”

Cradic was one of a number of the University of Missouri–St. Louis graphic design students who gamely took on the challenge in a special collaboration with Psudo, a local shoe brand aiming to make the “most sustainable sneaker in the world.”

Students from Assistant Teaching Professor Scott Gericke’s class were tasked with submitting designs to Psudo for the special project. Out of all the designs, Psudo selected one to be produced as a limited-edition sneaker.

Leah Gornet, a senior studio art major, was the winner. Her sneakers and the other students’ designs were featured at a launch event for the brand at Brennan’s Work & Leisure in Midtown St. Louis on Thursday. Standard Psudo sneakers, which come in athletic and men’s wingtip styles, were also displayed.

Leah Gornet poses with her sneakers.

Local shoe company Psudo will produce studio art major Leah Gornet’s design as a limited edition sneaker.

Gornet wasn’t 100 percent confident her design would work since she only had experience designing print materials such as flyers and pamphlets. She also found designing a two-dimensional stencil for a three-dimensional object challenging.

“It was hard to come up with a concept and to wrap my head around how it would look,” she said.

Despite her doubts, her design made an impression on Michael Rich, the founder of Psudo.

“The winning design had a great use of color and geometric shapes,” Rich said. “Nothing like we have designed thus far.”

Rich is a 25-year veteran in the shoe industry, mostly making shoes for brands and retailers in Asia. Psudo is the culmination of 10 years’ worth of work. Rich said there were many dead ends and roadblocks, but he finally developed a slip-on model that reduced the amount of materials used – and thus waste produced – and shortened the production cycle. That was all part of his plan to produce shoes locally.

Psudo Model

A standard model Psudo sneaker is displayed at the event.

The materials are also sustainable. The upper portion of the shoes are made from recycled plastic bottles and the soles are made in Sullivan, Missouri.

“If you are going to make something new today, I felt it has to be as sustainable as possible,” he said.

The collaboration came about after Rich saw one of Gericke’s pieces at an art show. It prompted him to contact Gericke about doing a collaboration.

“Because our shoe is a blank canvas, I felt it would be great to partner with artists to show what’s possible,” Rich said. “I reached out to Scott to see if he would be interested in asking UMSL students to collaborate, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Gericke said it was a great way to involve students in something entrepreneurial.

“I do have opportunities where I will bring clients, and they’ll pose a problem that can be solved creatively,” he said “Bringing them some real-life experience, I think, is important.”

The students embraced the opportunity.

“It’s amazing being able to work with a real-world client, especially being a student still, because a lot of my real-world experience right now is through freelancing and doing side projects while I’m going to school,” Cradic said. “The fact that the school is sponsoring this, it gave me more pride in my project because I’m combining all aspects of my life.”

Gericke kept the parameters to a minimum to give students some freedom and to encourage creative thinking. Gornet appreciated that aspect of the project.

“It wasn’t a teacher telling me, ‘Hey, don’t do this, do this,” she said.

When it came to the design of the sneakers, students looked for inspiration in a variety of places. Gornet dug into her portfolio for ideas. A typeset project and a digital font ended up leading to her design featuring reds, blues and pinks in digital pixel patterns.

“It’s a programming font,” she said. “It’s specifically made for programming, and the little glitches and the little squares that you see, they’re part of the font, part of the glyphs of the font. They’re not made in Illustrator by me. They’re actually part of the typeface.”

Cradic relied on a study abroad trip where he spent most of his time walking around a new city.

Jack Cradic Design

Jack Cradic’s design is displayed at the event. Cradic took inspiration from Amsterdam’s architecture for his design.

“I went with the art and inspiration that I found when I was in Amsterdam,” he said.  “A lot of vibrant colors, the architecture there I wanted to include. Basically, I was just combining my own experiences in the city.”

Nike, one of the most iconic sneaker brands in the world, was also in the forefront of Cradic’s mind.

“I was thinking a lot about Nike and how Nike brands their shoes – the big pops of color that they have with them, and they can be sleek, as well,” he said.

Gornet isn’t sure if there’s a job in fashion awaiting her after she graduates, but it’s piqued her curiosity even if it doesn’t turn into a career.

“It does make you think,” she said. “It wasn’t up until recently that I got the idea that graphic designers could create patterns for clothing. I have a person in my class, her name’s Danielle, she’s a fantastic with patterns. To see what she does, I’m like, ‘I want to do that.’ I want to turn that into a dress, into a belt, into shoes. I think that’s something I could do in the future.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe