Charlene Holy Bear & Her Beaded Vans


Charlene Holy Bear didn’t set out to become the creator of highly sought after custom Vans skate shoes; she just sort of fell into it.

The artistry or design weren’t anything new, though. Having been born into a family of traditional artisans in the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Tribe, Holy Bear had been beading since she was a child. At age 7 she gained her first bit of recognition by earning 2nd place in a youth competition for traditional beaded Plains dolls, and promptly used her prize money to purchase her own horse. As an adult, she studied fine arts and art history at the University of New Mexico. Once graduated she entered the Native American arts fair circuit, selling her wares all over the American Southwest. But it wasn’t until the advent of social media and a particularly boring 3-day road trip that she found a larger audience.

Five years ago, Holy Bear was heading to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and passed time on the long drive by beading a pair of her 4 year old son’s shoes. “Everyone gets all dressed up in their traditional regalia,” Holy Bear told Vanity Fair. “I hadn’t had any time to prepare outfits for us but I wanted my 4-year-old son Justus to look really cool. He had a new pair of slip-on Vans and I suddenly had an idea, looking at the checkerboard design.” At the show, her son’s fresh shoes were an absolute hit, and her photos on Instagram quickly blew up. Vans eventually caught wind, and in support sent her an entire pallet of their iconic shoes for her to work on.

Fast forward to today, and Holy Bear’s beaded custom kicks now come with a hefty fee and a particularly long waitlist, as each pair is still beaded by hand and takes the artist around two weeks to complete. But neither the fee nor the wait deter street-style obsessed shoe collectors, who are lining up for a pair.

“To me these Vans really represent a modern spin on native fashion,” says Holy Bear. “I went home to the reservation recently wearing a pair and my sister called me a ‘city Indian,’ so I guess that’s what they say to other people, too.”