Sneaker Culture: Customization
For sneakerheads, sneakers are more than just shoes. They’re a way to represent your style, personality, and identity.
The ability to express yourself through custom sneakers is a driving force for collectors. Having one-of-a-kind kicks in a multibillion-dollar industry is appealing to many.
Here’s information about the ins and outs of sneaker culture and how you can get your hands on, or create your own, custom kicks.
What is Sneaker Customization?
Sneaker customization is taking a mass-produced sneaker and customizing it with an original design. Customization has been around for years — who doesn’t remember doodling on their shoes in middle school?
Sneaker customization goes much further than just school-age doodles. In the 1980s, people who loved sneakers began customizing them. It started to pick up steam in 2000 when Nike launched its online feature Nike by You which allowed users to create their own personalized sneakers.
In 2005, Adidas relaunched its adicolor trainers, which came with acrylic pens and colored laces that enable customers to customize their own shoes. Around 2014, the customization market became more popular with artists, designers, and everyday people taking the leap to create original shoes.
Brands Offering High Levels of Customization
Adidas was the first company to take advantage of the revenue opportunities provided by sneaker customization. Today, a wider variety of companies including Nike and Vans allow you to hand pick the design elements you want for your shoes. The companies manufacture the physical pair of sneakers and ship them directly to you.
Artist and Designer Customizations
Many artists and designers are taking customizations to the next level. They’re adding colors, designs, new fabrics, patterns, and other elements to create one-of-a-kind pieces. And they can sell for thousands of dollars online. They’re turning sneakers into a modern-day canvas. Take a look at Katty Customs, Jigga and Stomping Ground Customs, or Shoe Surgeon to get an idea of what types of customizations are out there. You may also want to research Warren Lotas and Fugazi, who may claim it's their own shoe rather than a custom.
If you’re feeling artistic and want to create your own, you can choose from plenty of options. You can break free from the basic sneaker and add your own individuality — and exclusivity — to the kicks in your collection. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider getting a DIY shoe customization kit. Or go to town with a sharpie like Joshua Vides.
Where to Buy Custom Sneakers
If you’re looking to get your hands on custom kicks but don’t want to do it yourself, consider looking at the following websites:
How to Make Custom Sneakers
If you prefer to create your own custom sneaker, you’ll need more than shoes to get started. You can get a DIY customization kit or à la carte tools depending upon your preferred medium. After all, if Sharpies are what your heart (and shoes) desire, then all you need is a Sharpie. But if you prefer to get even more customized, consider the following:
Many artists use acrylic paint as their preferred choice for shoe customization. Make sure your shoe’s material is suitable for the paint so it will be long-lasting and vibrant for years to come.
If you’re going to paint, you’ll need fine brushes of all sizes to keep your lines clean. Having the correct brushes is paramount to achieving a precise result.
An embroidery pen is a great way to speed up the process to get the right stitching. If you don’t want your hand cramping from spending hours getting the perfect stitch, get one of these for your customization arsenal.
An airbrush and airbrush paint can provide numerous designs, from freehanded fades to stencils. It’s an easy way to increase the color and overall aesthetic of your sneakers.
Looking to distress or completely remove parts of your shoe and replace it with something else? If so, you’ll need tools like a sharp knife, sandpaper, scissors, and sewing tools to deconstruct and reconstruct your shoe.
The Perfect Shoe
You’ll need an all-white shoe to serve as your canvas. Some of the most popular silhouettes used for customization include Nike Dunks, Nike Air Jordan 1s, and Nike Air Force Ones. These sneakers are staples in the sneaker community and are deeply rooted in the customization movement.
How Custom Sneakers Inspire Brands
Custom sneakers are a vital category in the industry. After all, custom kicks can go from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. The most expensive custom shoe to date was Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans which sold for a whopping $2 million. They weigh more than 50 pounds each and are made from solid 24-karat gold thanks to a collaboration between rappers Drake and Kanye West.
Custom sneakers allow brands to watch the unique designs and innovations of the custom market. They are able to see what’s working, what isn’t, and where their target market’s interests lie. Then, they’re able to pull inspiration from what’s on trend and create new sneakers they’re sure will fly off store shelves.
Building an Income From Shoe Customization
Customizing shoes has become a creative outlet and preferred medium for many artists. It allows them to sell custom kicks for profit — sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Take The Shoe Surgeon Dominic Ciambrone as an example. The most expensive shoes he created sold for $250,000. He recently launched workshops and classes in Los Angeles that allow creatives to learn the art of sneaker customization after he found the tools of success.
Around 2006, Ciambrone challenged himself to channel his creative energy into shoe customization with hopes of inspiring those wanting to follow in his footsteps.
But you don’t have to go to a workshop or academy to start creating. All you need is an idea in mind and the artistic ability to create your design.
Shoe Customization Isn’t Going Anywhere
Shoe customization became popular in the 1980s and continues to grow. In recent years, artists have realized how lucrative it is to create custom kicks and sell them for massive profits. It allows the designer to express their originality and push the boundaries of design. And, it allows brands to tap into the innovation to see how they can improve further.