CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Allison Duran shows a shoe she made on a whim for "Hannah Montana's" Mitchel Musso. He signed it, kept one side and let her keep the other.
Allison Duran turns plain shoes into colorful conversation pieces
The Internet has been a boon to creative types, who can tap into an international audience as easily as Nike or Gap can. That audience may be relatively small, but sometimes, a little encouragement is all it takes to keep going.
While many local DIYers have signed onto Etsy.com to market their artwork and handmade creations, Allison Duran has tapped into the MySpace crowd to market shoes she hand-colors with permanent markers.
The 18-year-old started making shoes for herself as an eighth-grader and discovered people were drawn to her happy rainbow-colored images of candy, ice cream, hearts, smiling strawberries and cartoon animal characters.
"My first shoe was all about pink, yellow and strawberries," she said. "I did it because I couldn't find what I wanted in the stores.
"I would walk around and people would come up to me and give me compliments. I'd go into shoe stores and everyone would come to look at it."
At 16, she started selling her creations to friends and strangers who requested drawings on their shoes. These days, she starts with a basic white Walmart shoe and sells the finished shoes online nationwide under the name Aloha!Alice for $35 a pair, plus $5 shipping. She's also branched out into rubber slippers for $15, baby shoes for $25 and canvas tote bags for $25.
She said she's received many requests for shoes from the United Kingdom but is hesitant to leap into international sales because of sizing issues.
Otherwise, custom designs are worked out on a sheet of paper and approved by the purchaser before being committed to a shoe's surface. There's no room for error because she pays for the shoes upfront and can't afford to absorb the cost of mistakes.
If there's something she can't draw, she'll direct individuals to sketches suited to her innocent, childlike style. Her work would appeal most to those seeking an alternative to slick, mass-marketed products, or simply something colorful to suit their personality.
"I like making people happy," she said. "That's why I like making the shoes, because everyone wants to have their own pair of shoes that matches them."
Through work with tour companies and at Jamba Juice, the sunny teen has learned there are a lot of whiners in the world, and working on the shoes is an antidote to negativism, by demonstrating that you can get what you want if you're willing to look for it or work for it.
"I don't like it when people complain," she said. "Like, at Jamba Juice, they'll say, 'I don't like the way you make your smoothies.' I think, 'Then why don't you try to make something better?'"
As for her long-term goals, she's torn between designing shoes and helping people via the hospitality industry. Her immediate aim is to find work at Disneyland. Whether she ends up working in the theme park, as a designer or animator, it just makes sense that she would be at home in the place that bills itself as "the happiest place on Earth."