3 Things I Wish I learned Earlier as A Sneaker Artist

As of the time I am writing this blog post, I've been a full time sneaker artist for more than 10 years. I've got a 1500 sq ft Studio, a wonderful staff that helps me with EVERYTHING and the most insane client list you have ever heard of. 

My team and I have had the opportunity to travel all over North American painting sneakers for major companies like HBO, Target, Amazon, Netflix, RedBull, Corona and many others. 

We have painted custom shoes for celebrities like Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg, Taylor Swift and even President Biden. I've cracked the code on how to get these clients and I wanted to write this blog post on how you can too. Over the last 10 years I've learned a lot of lessons that I wish I had known sooner. 

Blake Barash

1. There Are Not Enough Sneaker Artists in the World

From a pure mathematical stand point, there needs to be more sneaker artists to keep up with the demand. Demand for customized shoes FAR OUTWEIGHS the amount of shoes skilled sneaker artists can paint. We cannot keep up with the demand. And I only see this situation worsening for buyers, but being a huge opportunity for artists. There is a major gap in the custom sneaker industry that not even Nike can fill. 

There are stencil cutters, airbrushes, and vinyl transfers that can help assist customizing a large amount of sneakers. But there really is no single great option for getting a lot of custom sneakers completed in a short amount of time. Painting custom sneakers is worlds away from other customization industries like screen printed t-shirts. That industry is very standardized and can reasonably scale up to take orders of 1000s of garments at a time. Time after time, I've seen sneaker artists and other artists for that matter get attention, get orders, then suffer from success because they can't keep up. 

Let me explain. If there is a company that needs 100 pairs of custom Nike Af1s, where can they get those shoes? Assuming they want their company logo and company colors on the sneakers, where do they source these shoes? Nike By You is good for some things, but they have limited options. And they won't do logos on the shoes. You could try to have them manufactured overseas, but then you're essentially working with a foreign factory to make fakes. Contacting someone to create the shoes for you from the ground up, someone like The Surgeon is an option if you have thousands of dollars to spend per pair. 

This is where B Street Shoes has found an opening to offer a service to our clients. We have proven our ability to fulfill large orders of custom painted sneakers. Our team is divided up so that 2-3 of us answer emails and do creative consulting. 2-3 of us paint sneakers and 2 of us ship product and capture pictures. And we realize how much work this is. Depending on the size of the order, we would need to add people to our team. Which is why I say There Are Not Enough Sneaker Artists in the World.

2. Getting The Sale and Not Charging Enough Is More Dangerous Than Quoting High and Not Getting The Job. 

This could possibly the toughest lesson learned. Painting shoes takes a while and things don't always go as planned. And whether you're airbrushing or using a paint brush, there is always clean up to do. Taking excess paint off the midsole, making sure there is no overspray on a logo, painting your edges, all these little things add up in a BIG time-consuming way. I've learned some tricks to speed up the process over the last 10 years, but the biggest lesson learned is not give discounts to get the job. Never under value yourself. If you're not making money, you're losing money. You could essentially be paying your client to make them shoes! 

If you stand firm on your price and the client says that's out of the budget, you have 2 options. 1. You could simplify the design and give them a price counter offer. 2. You tell them once they increase their budget to reach back out. This will now free up time that you can work on something else. Possibly a new client will pop into the picture that actually has a budget you can work with.

It will be painful to let a client go. Especially when you want the job and they want the custom shoes. But saying NO to jobs that don't feel right will be the biggest driver of personal and professional growth. I was recently inspired by Ten Hundred saying no to commissions.  

start a custom sneaker business  branded merchandise Nike Shoes

3. You Can Get Celebrity Clients

One of the questions I answer the most from up and coming sneaker artists is "how do I get more clients?" The answer isn't as obvious as it seems. The majority of clients I have painted custom sneakers for have reached out to me. How did this happen? It's because they found me on the internet. How did the find me on the internet? Because I had a website with stuff posted on it. I had social media with stuff posted on it. I think a lot of people think there is a silver bullet to getting an insane celebrity client list. Should I send shoes to celebrities? Should I reach out to them over Instagram? Should I make a pop-up shop or display shoes in a boutique? Should I go to Sneaker Con? While all these are great ways to build your career and network, the simple act of documenting your work and showing it to people online is the number 1 thing you can do to super charge your custom sneaker career. Yes that takes the most work. But really it's the most fun. You actually get to paint shoes and be creative. When I became aggressive about posting all my customs on my website, emails from celebrities and other big clients started rolling it. 

I hope you guys got something out of this blog post. There really is more people that want custom sneakers than artists to paint them. Once I realized this, I decided it was my mission to help other sneaker artists level up their career and make the life of their dreams. Secure the bag. If you get an amazing custom sneaker gig, all power to you. It's not a zero sum game. We're a small family and I want to see everyone succeed.

And of course, if you want to hit me up for some custom painted sneakers, please submit a custom order from HERE

Zedd Custom Nike AF1 Halsey Custom Jordan 1 Low Retro

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published