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Photo by Eric Phillips

You Can Now Design Your Own Chacos

Take your artwork to the streets (or mountains) with Chaco's customizable sandals.

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“I’m not a trained artist,” says Carbondale-based painter Sarah Uhl, as she directs me and 15 others attending her watercolor workshop at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival. Uhl, 35, might not have a formal education as an artist, but her work speaks for itself. Behind Uhl’s whimsical, nature-inspired style is a central mission for environmental and wellness advocacy: She’s helped to raise close to $30,000 for conservation-related causes in the past three years.

Watercolor workshop at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival. Photo by Eric Phillips

Today’s objective? To have fun with our imaginations, which is a key piece to environmental stewardship, says Uhl. “With conservation work and advocacy, there’s no silver bullet. It’s daunting when you learn about the work we need to do to protect the places we love.” Her production pillars include joy, kindness, and inspiration—which led to her collaboration with Chaco, a footwear brand founded in Paonia, Colorado, that’s known for durable, supportive adventure and lifestyle sandals. The company, now based in Rockford, Michigan, unveiled a sandal customizer called Printshop in February, and Uhl is the perfect expressionist to help showcase its technology.

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Sarah Uhl with her custom-designed Chacos. Photo by Eric Phillips

After years of development, Chaco’s PrintShop enables anyone to create one-of-a-kind sandals printed with their own design. “With such bombproof products, it’s awesome that consumers can put something on their sandals that they can rock for years and years,” says PrintShop supervisor Bianca Vasovski, who helped spearhead the new feature and now oversees four technicians, as well as Chaco’s 3D dye diffusion machine.

Here’s how it works: A customer can submit any image, which is first printed onto a layer of film. “A lot of people send us personal art, photos of dogs, and family portraits,” Vasovski says. Then, a sandal component is placed on a tray in the machine. Overhead, infrared heat hits the film while a vacuum table below activates thermoforming: meaning, air pulls down and suctions the film around the material. Customers can also additional personal touches, including embroidery, for an additional $5.

PrintShop customizations can be made on four of the brand’s sandal iterations—Z/1, Z/2, ZX/1, and ZX/2—as well as the Flip (the Chaco version of flip flops), and a handful of accessories, including a dog collar and belt. Not feeling creative? Choose a stock design from Chaco’s curated library (free of cost), which contains 20 playful, vector-like designs, such as chili peppers and avocados.

And that’s just the beginning. Chaco partnered with Uhl to create several PrintShop sandals that feature her works of art (they’ll be available in 2020). The brand has also teamed up with adventure and underwater photographer Perrin James, woodcut print and apparel crafter Erica Lang, and landscape artist Rachel Pohl—the latter of which kicked-off a limited-edition co-collection with four vibrant shoes two months ago.

Uhl envisions a future PrintShop project that incorporates philanthropic components that are tied to an environmental issue or organization. But at the moment, fueling community-wide creative expression is equally important. “We need a sense of being in touch with ourselves, because from there, our eyes are open wider to what the world needs,” says Uhl. With PrintShop, Chaco is taking a step in the right direction.

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