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Kenneth Cole – Sneaker Customization

Learn about creating your first custom sneaker and what it takes to get started.

Creator: Kenneth Cole Customs | @kennethcolecustoms

My name is Kenneth Cole and I am a twenty three two year old entrepreneur from a small town in central Tennessee. I started a business in early 2016 all on my own where I hand-paint and airbrush custom wearable footwear. This allows people to get truly one of a kind custom shoes to express their unique style.

„How long have you been customizing and what made you start?“

I started customizing, officially, under the name of Kenneth Cole Customs in February 2016. I always had a love for art and I started detail drawing when I was just five years old. My freshman year of high school, when my interest in sneakers was increasing tremendously, I was gifted a pair of all black Air Max LTD’s.

 

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I loved sneakers that were bright and flashy so I had the idea to paint them.

My first custom was decent and I received many good looks and compliments when I wore them to school on the last day, but it quickly came to my attention that I painted them totally incorrectly. The paint chipped off and peeled, ruining the product of many hours of painting.

Like any young person, I was motivated by all the attention the shoes brought, so I decided to do my research and I discovered the right process to customize a sneaker. From there, I just continued to build and perfect the craft.

„How did you start? What were your first steps, like, did you just dive right into it or was there a lot of trail and error?“

I started out like anyone who first starts a business does, almost like taking a shot in the dark.

The thing about art is that it is subjective. One person may love what I do, but I knew for every person that did love it, I was to expect three more to hate it. There was definitely a ton of trial and error. My first custom was completely ruined after the first wear because of my ignorance. I had many tell me that what I did was “trash” or that I was untalented.

It’s important to know that in art, you can not, nor should you worry yourself with trying to, please everybody. Trying to take on that task will only hinder you. Trying not to fail will do the same.

 

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You will fail many times, but it is your job to learn from those failures. Do that and success will come.

Do you keep some of your customs to yourself or do you solely produce for other people?

I do keep some customs for myself. I like wearing my art, and it shows that I’m not afraid to test their durability.

I like my customers to feel safe when they order work from me and no artist who is afraid to wear their own work should be trusted in my opinion.

„Which custom are you proud of the most?“

I would say I am most proud of the “Paul Walker” Air Max 90’s. The reason for that is it was the first custom I really went all out on. I had a custom box made, custom engraved lace accessories, insoles, everything.

They were a tribute to one of my favorite actors, being Paul, and everything down to the price was an homage to him. They caught the attention of Vin Diesel and eventually got featured on Hypebeast.com which was a big deal to me.

„How did you come up with the Swoosh Yeezy, absolutely brilliant idea by the way!“

Something that sets me apart from many many other customizers is that I am always thinking of ways to push artistic boundaries. Obviously Kanye used to be with Nike, so it only made sense to offer an altered perspective of the modern day Yeezy sneaker.

The idea to change the typical stripe with a Nike swoosh was half motivated by trying to make the 350 upper more interesting, and half motivated by wanting to cause a little controversy. I had many people who loved and appreciated the look and others who suggested I should be killed for even thinking of the idea. I received a lot of publicity over the design which led to me gaining about 500-750 followers a week.

 

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One of the most important things with what I do is marketing and getting my name out. I knew that was a great way to do it because many big sneaker pages want to repost pictures that will ultimately bring more traffic their way as well, so it is a mutual benefit. It is important not to focus simply on being the first to bring something crazy to life, though, because the execution of the design is far more important.

Always put out your best work and do not rush anything.

„Ok, let‘s get into details. What products do you use? Please speak about paint, brushes, air brushes and other materials you use!“

I only use Angelus Direct products. They are by far the best products for what I do in the game.

I get most of my brushes through them as well. I also airbrush which opens up a whole other realm of opportunity in terms of what I can do on a shoe. I have a machine that allows me to custom make any stencils I may need.

„What should they start with? How did you start? A lot of people say Jordans are a great way to get into customization because of the leather and less fringing, what would you recommend?“

I think Jordan 1’s are a great shoe to do a first custom on. They have a good leather base to work with but I also think that your mindset is more important than the shoe you work on.

Getting into customization is more about consistency and quality. I stress consistency because those starting out need to know that you’re not going to blow up over night. I have made my business my life ever since I started 22 months ago. It took me a full year of grinding, people disliking my work, doing without a social life, and trying to balance it with college work just to get 450 followers.

At that time, people asked me if it was even worth it. People did not respect me because they did not see me and my 450 followers as credible or worthy of attention.

I did not let people define my work and I kept working. I took what I learned in that first year and I applied it to everything that was soon to come. Not even a full year since hitting 450, I have gained another 10,000.

I believe I owe that to the fact that I kept my focus on my goals and I kept putting out quality work until I reached those goals. So whatever shoe you decide to work on, take your time, focus on the quality of the job at hand, never lose sight of why you are doing it or what you are striving for, and you will reach the success you are looking for. Mindset is everything today; some have a good one, some do not.

 

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„Is there anything else they should know?“

If you got a dream or goal, go for it and do not let ANYONE slow you down. Time is the only asset we as humans can not get more of so take advantage of every second.

„Thank you very much for taking the time, what custom can be we expect next from you or is it a secret?“

I will be planning my next big project to push boundaries. It will be something no one has seen before. I was the first to put a Swoosh on an Adidas Yeezy sneaker, I was the first to do a lot. That will not change anytime soon.