Custom sneakers have never had more traction. The exclusivity of a one-of-one item is universally appealing, and in the context of sneakers, what was once a niche hobby is now a booming market. Let's clarify, customs are nothing new and they're as old as the sneaker-game itself. Yet now that sneakers and streetwear appeal to a larger audience, customs are no longer exclusive to sneakerheads and maniacs.
The history of the custom shoe, at least in the modern, sneaker-obsessed world, can be traced back to when people like Bobbito Garcia were painting different colours on the Swooshes of Bruce Kilgore’s iconic Nike Air Force 1s to create a one-of-one look that would, effectively, blow people's minds. Other pioneers included Methamphibian and SBTG who made names for themselves by hand-painting Nike Dunks and re-selling them at a premium. Raif Adelberg chopped up Nike Air Force 1’s and shipped his custom creations to Eddie Cruz to be sold at Union LA in the very early 2000s. Several years later, JBF customs popularised the use of luxury materials, while the Shoe Surgeon garnered a reputation for creating the most intricate customs on the market. Today, customs have permeated the marketplace in every way imaginable, as consumers desire more opportunities to differentiate themselves. The wearer would have a piece of footwear that no one else in their neighbourhood would own. That idea would take off into people painting elaborate images—scenes from Scarface, rappers, or one-off colorways—onto sneakers in the early to mid 2000s.
The legendary Air Force 1 is the perfect sneaker to encourage customisations, especially in its classic white colourway. It can be customised in multiple ways and both beginners and veterans can find a good reason to work on this specific silhouette. For beginners, it will be easy to create hand painted designs (hand paint is usually the most basic step in sneaker customisation, even if it also can be brought to really high levels). Masters can reconstruct almost entirely the silhouette, featuring materials of their choice and partial reshaping of the shoe. Nike is most likely promoting customisation as a part of the re-launch of Air Force 1. With a giant like Nike pushing, the custom sneaker trend can do nothing, but grow bigger and bigger and we will probably witness really soon how competitors will react to keep Nike from monopolising the custom trend and relative market.
The custom shoe scene in Australia has been the slowest in terms of growth compared to our influencing countries, the US and UK. Yet the evolving fashion trends inspired by streetwear and thrifting have catalysed the rise of custom sneakers, pushed by the desire to express oneself and the ever growing importance of individualism and impressionism. The infancy of the Australian market has established a few foundational brands, such as Customs Den, Ashkollective, Grail Crew Customs, Sekured, Miss Customs, and RM Customs. Albeit, Australian custom shoe artists are growing in abundance and the market will begin to monopolise. Those who don't step into a higher realm of creativity and originality will be left behind while others will continue to leave their mark on the Australian custom sneaker scene not only nationally but globally.
Despite the incessant number of unoriginal custom shoes introduced each day, custom sneakers remain one of the sneaker industry’s most important sub-categories. They inspire brands and individuals alike to continue innovating. Whether it be exceptional construction, a unique design process, or an attempt to communicate a compelling narrative, there is no doubt that outstanding custom designs will continue to flood the marketplace.
The simple idea to reinvent and transform a pair of shoes with hand-painted designs, prints, new fabrics or partial rework just boosted its appeal to the sneakerhead crowd in recent times. Custom sneakers are now a massive trend, capable of involving an ever-growing public and cluster of artists. As consumers we determine the fluxes of the marketplace. It is our responsibility to discern the good from the bad. It is our responsibility to maintain the integrity of our community. Sneaker culture was built on authenticity—let’s not forget that.