Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.“Adelphi has helped make me who I am…And I know where I am now is where I need to be.”—Jill Forie ’11
It may be hard to believe, but entrepreneur, humanitarian, and teacher extraordinaire Jill Forie was, at one point in her life, just like every other teenager: she had doubts about her future.
“It was a long journey for me before I got to Adelphi,” said Ms. Forie, who attended three other colleges and had as many different majors before deciding to pursue art education at Adelphi. By the time she enrolled she was a junior and had the attitude that she would come, get what she needed done on the Garden City campus, and just graduate. But her experience at Adelphi turned out to be much more than that.
“I fell in love with Adelphi,” she said. “The atmosphere was so welcoming. By the end of my first day of classes, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be.” Ms. Forie credited Professors Maguire and Maloney and courses in painting, drawing, and color theory with shaping her as a teacher and an artist. “Being at Adelphi gave me confidence I didn’t know I had,” she said.
While managing the coursework of a full-time student, Ms. Forie also established her own business, Sink or Swim Custom Kicks, through which she creates and sells custom hand painted shoes. She said the business developed organically. “I always painted, and when you’re bored, you doodle on whatever is close to you…my sneaker was always right there.” What started as her individual experimentation, painting her own shoes, was of interest to others. People saw her shoes and started asking her about them, and that trend continued.
That’s when she decided to start her own business. Her designs have been inspired by movies including The Little Mermaid, Pulp Fiction, and Pirates of the Caribbean; shows like Glee, Scooby Doo, and Dexter; sports teams such as the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Phillies; superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, and the Avengers, and artists such as Michael Jackson and The Beatles.
Ms. Forie is talented, her work speaks for itself. Even celebrities have taken notice. After the lead vocalist of the rock band Paramore, Hayley Williams, ordered her own pair of Sink or Swim Custom Kicks, business for Ms. Forie “shot through the roof.” She went on to work with several bands including Paramore, New Found Glory, The Swellers, and Bayside.
Since she established Sink or Swim in 2009, she has sold more than 400 shoes to customers living across the country and on almost every continent. Remarkably, no two shoes she has created are the same. “Nothing has ever been repeated. I want to be true to my brand’s name, ‘custom’ kicks…I don’t want to be a manufactured brand,” said Ms. Forie, who has received offers from stores who want to work with her and have her design their shoes. “As much as that would be a great opportunity, I want to remain true to what I’m doing. On top of that, I love teaching. I wouldn’t want that to have that force me to stop teaching.”
In addition to running her own business, she has been teaching art in the Carle Place School District since graduating from Adelphi in 2011. Her goal as a teacher is, in large part, to instill her passion for art into her students. “I want them to learn the fundamentals of art, but have fun doing it; I want to see them grow; and I want them to be proud of what they make.”
She practices what she teaches; having pride in the work you do. Her experiences in the classroom and with Sink or Swim have inspired her to extend her reach. “I wanted to have more of an impact,” said Ms. Forie, who discovered Soles4Souls, a charitable organization through which she would have the opportunity to travel and distribute shoes in developing countries. During her 2012 spring break of teaching, she traveled to Haiti. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
While there she had the opportunity to visit with members of the community and children at schools and orphanages. When she saw the community center Soles4Souls was in the process of rebuilding after the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, Ms. Forie began to play around with the idea of providing art classes to kids.
Amy Fletcher, another individual who traveled to Haiti and with whom she became friends, was as profoundly impacted by the experience as Ms. Forie. Since they were together in Haiti, this friend traveled back several times, working to get one of the orphanages, now known as Project House of Hope, government funding and non-profit status. Amy reached out to Ms. Forie, knowing she had an idea to start arts in this community, to ask her if she would be the founder and coordinator of an arts enrichment program for children in the local villages, starting with House of Hope.
Since returning home after her 2012 trip, Ms. Forie has been working to collect the supplies to get this initiative off the ground. As a first-year graduate student pursuing her master’s from New York University, she had to complete an independent study project. She decided to host a gallery show. Rather than having admission costs, she did an art supply drive. “We had 10 full moving boxes of supplies from just that night,” she said. “I think sometimes we assume people don’t want to help unless money is involved. That’s not true. If you have a cause and you’re passionate about it, people want to help, and that spirit is contagious.”
In June 2013, Ms. Forie returned to Haiti with 80 pounds worth of art supplies and t-shirts for the children at House of Hope orphanage. Ms. Forie said that as soon as she met the kids, she felt at home. “There are 12 amazing kids at House of Hope, from the ages 3 to 14. Over the course of the week we laughed, played, helped build a bathroom for the kids, started digging a garden, and dove into the art supplies that I brought,” she said. “I painted a mural on the front of the house where the kids eat. A few of them helped me and it was their first time painting. Their natural ability to work the brush was really amazing to witness.”
“Haiti is truly a remarkable country…I cherish every moment I’m there,” said Ms. Forie, who will return to Haiti in February 2014, and plans to make authentic Haitian crafts with the children that they can eventually sell in the Unites States. One hundred percent of the profits will go directly to the children at House of Hope.
Ms. Forie has achieved much by the age of 24, but what is she most proud of? “That I proved myself wrong. I was always so scared of failing. I never thought I would be doing anything like this,” she said. She is thankful to Adelphi for helping to shape the woman she has become. “Before I came to Adelphi, I was in a rut, I had almost given up. But then, when I didn’t expect to, I fell in love with the University. I found professors and made friends who I needed, without looking for any of it. Adelphi was very much a family right away.”
“Adelphi has helped make me who I am,” she said. “And I know where I am now is where I need to be.”