This is an introduction to a more editorial type of post I will be making aside from everyone’s latest custom shoes called: “Shoe Customizer Decisions”. I plan to go more in-depth to the process and thoughts shoe customizers go through outside of actually designing, painting, or sewing. I’ll share ideas, tips, and thoughts on what a custom shoe stands for, how to: share, promote, sell, build your work as a shoe customizer, and whatever new aspects we come across in this art form of a shoe as canvas. Some may say I’m making this too serious and think “aren’t they just Nike Dunks and paint, right?” Yes and no, it really depends on the person and their decision on what they want to get out of their efforts. My goal of Paint Or Thread was to bring the concept of a custom shoe created by hand and the shoe customizer as a title to as many people as possible and expand the opportunities available for a shoe customizer. Imagine the title shoe customizer being as recognized as tattoo artist or graphic designer. Yes those are VERY distinguished titles but there is absolutely room for shoe customizer to move up on the creative ladder of respect and recognition.
Creating custom shoes is a unique art form in the fact that it uses an already well known and commercially branded product. There aren’t very many similar creative endeavors aside from custom automobiles that have been more than a trend with plenty of techniques using a previously designed product. Shoes and cars are similar with the only difference being the cost to give customizing a shot. Most all people tryout making custom shoes for personal satisfaction of creating something new. If you decided to try customizing for money, fame, or recognition I can almost guarantee you will make very few shoes or make designs over and over and eventually tire out. The most credible shoe customizer in the world, Methamphibian said it best about 4 to 5 years ago: “Custom shoes are a weak hustle” (though not verbatim the exact idea) translating to “making custom shoes simply for some income on the side is very inefficient”. As you develop your skill set it is natural to find a way to sell shoes to at least be able to afford more shoes to customize. That is how I grew and many other customizers did the same thing in the last 10 years of this hobby. Of course this process of creating and then realizing your work interests other people is not unique to custom shoes, it can easily be seen in the history of anything people buy and sell since people buy and sell nearly everything in the world. The thing is this art form has made great leaps the past 10 years and still has it’s biggest steps ahead. Imagine if you as a shoe customizer had the information I plan to share and “translate” in these posts, where do you think we would be? Impossible to say really, but I’d bet a lot more people know about what you do.
One of maybe a handful of shoe customizers that is really pushing his work in an organized fashion is Seattle, Washington based shoe customizer Louie Gong with his brand 8th Generation. Pushing is by no means a bad term, in fact for Louie’s case it is really a great thing. Aside from his work being extremely detailed and almost machine like Louie puts all his effort to have each pair of his custom shoes be unique and personal as possible to the customer wearing them. All while bridging the gap of a commercial product and original art, a pair of Vans with culturally identifiable Coast Salish art. Or as he says: “You can embrace the dynamic reality of contemporary life and still maintain a strong cultural identity”. Take in that statement and see how it applies to your custom shoes or ideas you want to create.
Though Louie’s designs are extremely niche they are completely universal. We are living in a time where ANYONE can get their talents viewed by the eyes of the world. Look closely at what Louie has done with simply his Facebook page. Nearly 9000 people have “Liked” his page and a majority of those people have not nearly the useless knowledge of the awkwardly complex average “sneakerhead”. He is building a brand that reaches outside of people that know every numbered Air Jordan, who Stan Smith is, or what a Supreme Nike Dunk originally was. I could go on but I’ll save specific ideas, techniques, and concepts Louie has used for later posts. Everyone pretty much wears shoes, right? So why shouldn’t they know about the idea of a completely unique, 1 of 1 custom shoe? Find me someone that does not know what a tattoo is, and I’ll show you millions that have no clue people strategically paint on shoes and billions that do not know people deconstruct and reconstruct shoes. The tip of this post is to take a look at Louie’s work as a whole: promotion, branding, website content, designs, his communication with people, and what he is doing and has done aside from painting and designing his shoes. Now implement those ideas into your work. No, do not go and copy his latest Coast Salish design or his new Facebook contest. Continue with the general theme custom shoes have of being “unique” and piece together your efforts as a puzzle: your name/title, a logo, the decision to stick with a certain design style or niche(this will be HUGE, likely my next post of “Shoe Customizer Decisions”), your “voice”, image, vibe, creative ways to share your work, how you share, how you tie custom shoes into things in your life unrelated to shoes, and what you want to get out of your work. Then get rid of the pieces that do not fit the completed picture of your work you want to see or be.
In conclusion, I’m sure the two people that read this might think the point of this post and future “Shoe Customizer Decision” posts is somewhat vague or all over the place with no direction. Let me make it clear: what you and I do as a “shoe customizer” is extremely unique and worthy of being recognized. That may sound pompous but it’s the truth. If you think not then why have people that paint shoes been featured in the news and published in print for about 8 or 9 years now as “shoe customizers”? Being recognized is up to you though, no matter the level of your work, simple or complex, it is interesting. These posts will take the concepts of building a brand, a company, a business and how the concepts can be used and “translated” as a shoe customizer. The decision to make is: what do you want to get out of customizing a pair of shoes? I encourage you to comment, share your thoughts on this and future “Shoe Customizer Decisions” posts.
In the mean time take a minute to support one of your fellow shoe customizers (another HUGE topic, but one that pretty much all shoe customizers already follow) by Liking Louie’s FaceBook Page here: Custom Coast Salish/Northwest Coast style shoes by Louie Gong and comment on the picture below here: WIN THIS EIGHTH GENERATION CARE PACKAGE by answering the question in the graphic:
“Whats the best advice you’ve ever gotten?”
P.S. Oh be sure to read the other 300+ comments for some great inspiration