Arts & Culture

Common Ground

A local maker creates custom footwear for those in need.

It’s not often that an undergraduate student leaves their alma mater with both a degree and the capital investment to start phase one of a dream venture.

But the 2019 graphic design graduate and multi-disciplinary artist Mikea Hugley had an unstoppable idea in Makers For Humankind, which won her $29,000 through MICA’s Up/Start Venture Competition this winter.

“Design provides the opportunity to serve others,” says Hugley, now an art educator at Milford Mill Academy, referring to the mission behind the all-in-one footwear line she developed after encounters with the homeless and housing-insecure in Baltimore. “Giving them change wasn’t good enough.”

Her initial vision was to give the less fortunate much-needed comfort from being on their feet for long periods of time, but with COVID-19, it became clear that essential workers in healthcare and retail fields could also benefit from the innovation. Makers For Humankind’s shoe kits feature multiple pieces, including the actual shoe, a weatherproof sock, and interchangeable straps and screws for different looks.

A lifelong footwear lover, this was Hugley’s first foray into actually designing them, with hand-drawn sketches evolving into 3-D prototypes printed at the OpenWorks maker space in Greenmount West. Each product is made of plastic filament that comes in varying textures for flexibility, durability, and comfortability. After beta testing, Hugley is now developing a business plan as part of the inaugural AddVenture Pre-Accelerator Cohort with Innov8 Maryland, an entrepreneurial development nonprofit launched by several local universities.

“People over product,” says Hugley, who dreams of eventually having her shoes recognized at art museums. In the meantime, she plans to have them available for purchase online and in catalogs by spring 2021, and to give them away to the homeless through mission-aligned organizations. “I want to bring footwear to everyday people in every walk of life.”