Chris “Chrisco” Hill got his foot in the door of the shoe industry by selling custom-painted sneakers out of his dorm room at Iowa Central Community College.
The big reason his work caught on at the school’s Fort Dodge campus was because he served as a walking billboard for his work. Hill, a sports fanatic, customized his shoes—typically a white Nike Air Force One—to match his jersey collection, a look others wanted to replicate.
“I had orders every single week for custom stuff because we had a lot of people there that weren’t from Iowa,” Hill said, noting the diversity on campus. “A lot of people from the East Coast that came in to play football or if their grades weren’t good enough at Iowa or Iowa State, they went down to Iowa Central.”
It would take more than a decade of trial-and-error, dead-end jobs, and several moves around the country before Hill got his first shot as an industrial designer in 2012. He worked at ID Workshop in Portland, Oregon, followed by successful stints at Adidas and Reebok.
“At that time in my life, I never would have thought that I’d be designing shoes, let alone for celebrities and let alone traveling the world,” said Hill, who has worked with rappers Cam’ron and Kendrick Lamar, NBA players Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, and other notable figures.
Hill’s work has made him a cult figure in the sneaker community, no small feat for the son of a minister and who comes from small-town Western Iowa, which is not exactly known for its throngs of devoted sneakerheads.
His family moved to Iowa when he was about three and spent time in Lake City and Lohrville, both towns of under 2,000 people in Calhoun County. His love of sneakers stems from his hip-hop fandom and love of watching the kicks of his favorite professional athletes.
“I was like, ‘Man, I want to be able to create this stuff,’” Hill said. “I never thought I would. I thought that was such a huge pipe dream, being a kid and living in the Midwest and, especially, Iowa of all places, there’s no way this is ever going to happen.”
Sometimes dreams do come true.
Hill spent nearly a decade working for Reebok where he led memorable collaborations between the brand and some of hip-hops biggest stars, as well as with tentpole franchises such as “Ghostbusters,” “Jurrassic Park,” “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” and more.
With his designs, Hill tries to walk a fine line between making his creations appeal to collectors but also the more general consumer who doesn’t obsess over sneakers and release dates.
“I want to make something that the sneakerhead actually wants to wear—and I’m one of those people as well,” Hill said referencing his “Minions” and “Tom & Jerry” designs. “I try to bring a little bit of a streetwear flair into any of that stuff so that’s not too kid-ish.
Hill recently ended his run at Reebok and launched Chrisco Designs in September.
The name Chrisco Designs originates from his time at what was then Southern Cal High School in Lake City. Before he made custom shoes, Hill screen printed T-shirts with his designs and had to come up with a name for his business.
“I came up with Chrisco, which meant ‘Chris’ Company’ and that was it,” Hill said. “I thought it was the dumbest thing ever and I was like, ‘I’m just going to change it when I get big or something.’”
Unfortunately for the high school version of Hill, the name Chrisco has stuck around.
With Chrisco Designs, Hill wants to take on clients of any size to help them share their identity through every part of the design process from the story, concept development, refinement, renderings, tech packs, color, and materials.
Depending on the scope of the project—a single shoe versus an entire collection for instance—Hill spends 50-300 hours creating his designs.
“I’ve probably spent a lot more time than most people do I would think because the way my brain works is if something is not perfect, I’m not happy with it,” Hill said.
That perfectionism and acute attention to detail is part of why Hill’s work stands out so much in sneaker circles. With his work on the “Power Rangers” collection, for example, there’s a sneaker dedicated to the five original rangers and one for the Megazord, a giant mech formed by combining each rangers’ Dinozord. If a collector acquires all six of those sneakers and their boxes, they can make a 3-foot-5-inch Megazord complete with Power Sword.
Hill isn’t sure where he directly draws his inspiration to create, but his work is often an amalgamation of personal interests.
“There was just something in me that wanted to create stuff,” he said. “I was into comics or toys or sports—shoes, more specifically with the sports—that I think that stuff was just so cool, it made me want to create cool stuff as well.”
Thanks to his work he has been able to meet a who’s who of celebrities and athletes; however, the thing he has enjoyed most about it is the places his career has taken him. He’s been to London, Milan, Rome, Seoul, and more with his jobs footing the bill.
“I got to see the Sistine Chapel because of my job. You know? I got to see the Colosseum because of that, which is insane,” he said. “Yeah, that stuff is incredible. Like I said, it’s literally like a dream job.”
by Ty Rushing