Local Hero Of The Week: Shoe Designer Helps Youth Take One Stylish Step Forward
Taking one step forward in the right direction can be a catalyst for success.
Roosevelt Rose Brown, a footwear designer and associate professor from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, is teaching that sentiment through shoe design.
Brown was motivated to teach after growing up struggling with how to get his foot in the door of the college and the creative industry.
“And [I] pretty much had to knock down those doors and figure that out for myself.," Brown says. "So being a 20-year veteran of the industry, I want to go back and make that pathway a lot easier for young creatives, especially in Black and Brown communities.”
His program, ”Designing Dream Initiative,” uses his creative industry savvy with his glowing passion for helping underserved youth unleash their full potential.
The passion project, which is powered through the ArtCenter, visits various schools in the Los Angeles area. There, Brown guides kids through the industry and the various pathways into creative career sectors.
Then through a hands-on workshop called “Sneaker Science,” he blends components of footwear design with STEM and engineering to demonstrate the fabrication of sneakers.
“So we're combining sort of this new pop culture and how popular footwear is in current youth culture and leveraging that into a teaching modality.”
The foundation of the workshops is exposing the kids to something they probably never thought of pursuing and making them aware of possibilities they never knew existed.
When he's not teaching, Brown is creating products for various brands like Nike, Puma, and Everlast. Before footwear, he was a toy designer for Disney Pixar for 10 years, developing and designing the original Buzz Lightyear toy.
Though he revels in his success, it wasn’t always easy for Brown as a Black creative.
He initially grew up in the Pasadena area as what he called“a tough neighborhood.” Despite his surroundings, he immersed himself in the arts, working in a model shop and later making graffiti arts and T-shirts as a teenager.
He later learned about ArtCenter through one of his professors. After being enthralled during a visit to the campus, he put together a portfolio and was accepted.
However, he felt isolated despite the achievement.
“Being that person, especially when I was at Art Center, one of the few Black students at the university, it can be quite isolating that you're this creative and nothing around you looks like you or sounds like you or goes through the struggles that you're going through, you know, economically.”
However, through the Design Dream Initiative, Brown hopes to be that example for Black and Brown youth who may not see themselves in creative industries.
“To be able to come alongside someone and support them with their goal and their vision or even plant a seed of a goal," Brown says. "And a vision of empowerment is is a tremendous opportunity and privilege.”
Anyone who wants to get involved with the initiative can reach out to the ArtCenter's Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
All they need is one creatively designed foot forward onto that pathway.
“I am that. I am that story literally. I never knew that I enjoyed designing shoes —30 years later, I'm like, I still love designing shoes. And I didn't know it until I tried it.”