Named to Adelphi’s 10 Under 10 last fall, she has designed more than 450 shoes for her company, Sink or Swim Custom Kicks.

Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.

Jill Forie ’11

Doodling on your shoes hardly seems like a promising way to launch a career. For Jill Forie ’11, though, just such a pastime—borne out of boredom and frustration with not finding a pair of shoes she loved— launched her as an entrepreneur.

In 2009, at age 20, Ms. Forie created Sink or Swim Custom Kicks, the company through which she creates custom-painted shoes. To date, the company has created more than 450 pairs of shoes and last fall Ms. Forie hired her first employee.

Ms. Forie started out painting shoes for friends, many of whom were in bands. “They would go out on tour, and, basically, it’s all been word of mouth,” she says. “I’ve spent very little money in the last four or five years on advertising. It’s all networking constantly.”

Most of the shoes and requests are inspired by music—no surprise—as well as films (from The Wizard of Oz to The Shining to The Little Mermaid), sports teams, books (Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends) and even cartoon series (Scooby Doo).

Ms. Forie still paints after school. Except she’s no longer a student, but teaches elementary and high school art in Carle Place, New York—another aspect of her career that she loves and which keeps her busy. “Between the first graders and the high school kids, I can have 10 projects going on at once, which calls for a lot of organization,” she says.

She landed her teaching job within months of graduation and says she feels at home in the classroom where she’s both teacher and mentor. “I’m part art teacher half the day and part therapist the rest of the day,” she says.

In the spring of 2012, she participated in a Soles4Souls outreach trip to Haiti, and fell in love with the country. A friend she met on the trip invited her to help start an orphanage, Project House of Hope. Ms. Forie is still involved with the team of people that helps Project House of Hope raise funds for sustainability and for projects such as enrolling the children in school, starting a garden, obtaining school and art supplies, building a bathroom and creating a rainwater filtration system.

“I used to be the most shy person in the world; you couldn’t get a peep out of me, and now…I’m calling people, networking, emailing, and Adelphi does have a large part [in] that,” Ms. Forie says. She attended three different colleges before enrolling at Adelphi. “I expected to come and get it over with, but I made friends right away. I had amazing professors and once again it goes back to that support system. You’re being encouraged…I had a name. I had a presence.”

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Spring 2014 edition.

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