When It Comes To Custom Sneaks, DIY Still Rules
Adding your own flair to shoes is one trend that's never gone out of style.
(Photo by Francesca Ayala)
When I take the bus home, I often times find myself stuck in traffic, staring at other people's shoes to pass the time. Lately, I've observed that the customized sneaker trend hasn't really died since it was dusted off and glamorized a year ago. Thanks, Teen Vogue.
The hipsters and skate kids I see on the bus to East Hollywood are testament enough to this fact. Every day, I see at least one person on the bus or around my neighborhood rocking customized Chucks and Vans. Sometimes, it's some emo adolescent with a beat-up skateboard sporting a ratty pair of sneakers that he's Sharpied his favorite song lyrics all over. Other days, it's a hipster chick with a flannel button-down layered over a statement tee in torn leggings and slip-ons that look more like fine art than footwear.
I remember being very much into DIY (do-it-yourself) style when I was 15, angry and obsessed with punk subculture. I admired the fact that the need for a bunch of 70s Brit punk bands to express and market themselves at dirt-cheap costs had suddenly fueled this fashion trend that carried on decades after several of those band members had OD'd. My friends and I would spray paint our gym shoes and doodle on them with multi-colored felt pens after class because we couldn't afford those patterned Vans slip-ons all the cool kids wanted. Back then, we never would have predicted that decorating and customizing shoes by hand would metamorphose into a big-time money maker for several popular brands.
Converse has teamed up with the band Fall Out Boy to sell hand-painted Chuck Taylors at $140 a pop. Cleveland artist Van Monroe skyrocketed to fame last year for his $900 hand-painted Obama kicks. He only painted around 100 pairs. Website PimpMyKicks.com sells customized sneakers from brands like Adidas, Nike and Air Force One for around $230 per pair.
When I see all these fancy customized shoes, it makes me sad that people think they need at least $100 to wear an original, hand-painted design. My custom sneaks are one-of-a-kind, hand-painted canvas slip-ons. I got them for $50. I bought them in Manila, from my friend Neil. When I first met him, he was running his business, NJ Sneaks out of his parents' house. Four months and four more $50 pairs of shoes later, NJ Sneaks had been consigned to several high-end boutiques around the city and I was broke as a joke.
At that point, I decided to go back to my 15-year-old, DIY punk-loving roots to fulfill my resurrected sneaker fetish. I picked up a set of acrylic paints, felt pens and a few pairs of knock-off Vans and went to town. Neil ended up buying most of them and selling them under his brand.
I've promised myself never to pay for another pair of custom kicks. I've decided I'm a much bigger fan of doing the dirty work of decorating all by myself. Of course, I'd also be lying if I said a part of me doesn't smirk inside when a hipster in $300 graffiti-covered Nikes compliments me on my cheap, scruffy and Southeast Asian NJ kicks.