A 22-year-old from Miami went viral on TikTok after posting a video in which she says that she strongly believes a design pitch she submitted to Converse in 2019 as part of an intern application is now being used for the company's latest "Chuck 70 National Parks" shoe line.
Cecilia Monge told BuzzFeed News she wants the company to "recognize what they did and acknowledge it." Converse, however, maintains the design was created in-house and "before" the company received Monge's application.
About a week ago, Monge said she came across a TikTok expressing awe at the shoe company's newest line, which is a tribute to US national parks. She was immediately struck by how, in her opinion, similar the designs were to ones she submitted to the company as part of her internship application (she was later rejected as a candidate).
"My initial reaction was disbelief," said Monge. "I knew the designs looked like the ones I sent them two years ago, but I was hesitant because they were such a reputable brand."
She said after thinking it over and consulting her family, she decided to speak up about how alike she feels they are. "The color palette is exactly the same as the one I sent them, down to the order of the colors and the actual hues of the colors," she said in her TikTok that's been viewed over 13 million times. "I don't think it's a coincidence."
Monge sent BuzzFeed News the original deck she sent to Converse in 2019, including a slide describing her inspiration and color palette choices.
"I tried thinking of who I think is Converse's target customer and how I could cater to them," she said about her inspiration for a US national parks shoe line. "Essentially, a hyper-specific customer would help me visualize the person to make it easier to design. That's how I landed on national parks."
While there are people who think the two designs are pure coincidence, Monge said she heard from a number of smaller designers in the industry who claim similar incidents have happened to them with various companies. They said they were just too intimidated to go against a large corporation.
"Some people have said that a large company taking an idea from a rejected internship application is unlikely, but those folks who are currently in design roles immediately came to my side to show me support," she said. "People in the industry know how real my situation is and how often it happens to people who are too afraid to speak up ... My story isn't the first of its kind in the industry, and it won't be the last."
The director of Converse's North America Strategy team reached out to Monge after her TikTok went viral. In an email, they said they "wanted to provide some clarity on the footwear development process" for her.
"[Our process] typically runs from 12–18 months from concept to creation," they said. "In November 2018, our design team was working against a seasonal Nor’easter creative direction, and the shoe design was initiated in April of 2019. The first results of that Chuck 70 design released in October 2020."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Converse denied its Chuck 70 National Parks line was lifted. "The Chuck 70 product design, as well as the Great Outdoors and National Parks concept was conceived before we received an application from the candidate," the company stated.
When BuzzFeed News asked to be put in touch with the original creator or creative team behind the designs to confirm, the spokesperson said the company does "not share unsolicited portfolios" of personnel.
"Converse’s product and design team is made up of nearly 150 individuals across the globe who manage our creative process, season in and season out. As a matter of standard legal policy, we do not share unsolicited portfolios of job applicants across the business," they said.
However, Monge still feels she has been wronged.
"I believe Converse's response is what you would expect," she said. "The literal millions of people that have been outraged about this whole situation still feel exactly the same after their response and are still calling for justice on all of Converse's social media accounts."