2013 SMA | Matthew Choto | University of Cincinnati
Contrary to the cliché, home is something you can go back to. But what is home? Must it be a place? Could it be that which one is most passionate about? For Matthew Choto, the answer has been: Both.
Before moving to Cincinnati at 13, Matthew grew up in Zimbabwe. There, like kids everywhere, he was exposed to the Nike brand. “Even in Africa, we were living the American marketing dream,” he recalled. “I knew every Nike shoe and every Jordan commercial.”
Matthew began sketching at a very early age. At seven, he dreamed up his own design concept for a Nike shoe. “I sent it to Nike, and they sent me back an actual letter with a very nice thank you and an explanation that they don’t accept outside submissions,” he reported.
Later, after graduating high school near Cincinnati, he enrolled in the University of Chicago to study political science intending to eventually go to law school. “Junior year, I found Core77 and started posting on the forums,” he noted. “Every week, it seemed like 1-2 people were changing course professionally. That took me down a different path.”
Matthew had always been a shoe guy, and he found himself evolving to become a product guy. “I love 3D things. I love atoms, the things we keep as artifacts,” he said. Consequently, his political science studies left him a bit unfulfilled.
“U Chicago is a great school, but it was a bad fit for me,” he offered. “There was a lot of talking, a lot of theory, a lot of writing papers. I felt myself asking: ‘What job interview could I go to and say this is what I bring to the table?’ It just wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted to lead.”
As he worked his way through his rediscovered passion for design, Matthew continued his studies and earned the BA he had chosen to pursue. He also chose to return home in two complimentary ways: he signed up for classes at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP).
Apart from spending his adolescence in Southwest Ohio, Matthew had good ties to what became his second alma mater. “I went to high school 30 minutes north of UC,” he said. “And my sister and aunt both went to DAAP for architecture so I was very familiar with the caliber of the program.”
Returning home—in both senses—may have been the right choice for Matthew, but it was slightly awkward, too. “I had to swallow a little bit of pride returning to my home town to start over when I should have been starting my career,” he said. Fortunately for him, DAAP’s unique co-op program—which requires each ID degree candidate to complete six three-month internships—created a number of career pathways outside of the classroom.
Matthew completed his internship gamut by working at Livewell Collaborative, Fisher Price (twice), TEAMS, HUGE and New Balance. “I came in being a footwear guy so I saved the shoe company for last,” he noted. “I wanted to build a broad portfolio first.”
Back at UC’s design studio, he took on a different UC tradition. “It’s a right of passage for all DAAP students to make a chair,” he asserted. “It was my last project before my thesis, and it was really rewarding. I was at a point where I could sew things myself or weld things myself. It was awesome to think I could do all of those things. If I can CAD it up, I can build it.”
His thesis built logically on his comprehensive competency at building an object. “It was about how young designers could start businesses straight out of college,” he offered. He points to Shapeways and Etsy, among others, as emerging platforms that are enabling the creation of new business models. “Before, I had this notion that I needed to have this $1 million idea in order to do anything entrepreneurial,” he suggested. “Now, if I have a good CAD program and the Internet, I’m off to the races.”
So he designed several business models to explore the theme of failing fast and failing cheap, everything from 3D printed jewelry to limited run furniture. . “When I presented the final concepts at my final critique, it was received somewhat poorly,” he said. “I think the main reason was I failed to convey the passion I have for it, but, nonetheless, I got some great feedback that helped me re-frame how I want to push the project forward.” Nearly as soon as he exited the crit, however, Shapeways alerted Matthew that he had received his first order. “That was a cool vote of confidence,” he said.
Matthew is on his way to Philadelphia where his fiancé is finishing up dental school. As for what home will mean to him next? He wonders about the millions of educated, motivated people in Zimbabwe, “Although I’m not sure at what point I’ll be able to help out and do something meaningful.”
Perhaps the business model that leverages passive income and other newer business tools will help get him to wherever—or whatever—home may soon become. He pondered, “This could be the first step of something—something I can do for the rest of my career.”
For more information on Matthew Choto’s work, please visit: www.coroflot.com/choto