How to Start A Custom Sneaker Business

The sneaker market is a $55 billion per year industry.  But even the secondary market for sneakers is a $1 billion industry.  That $1 billion per year is just shoe owners selling sneakers to other people!  Custom shoes are big business, and getting bigger every year.

People of all kinds will pay up for one-of-a-kind, hand painted custom shoes.  And in the age of the internet and social media, celebrities and athletes are buying these shoes and wearing them out in public.  That publicity drives even more business to the artists that created the custom kicks.

As noted in a recent New York Times article, custom shoe artists from California, to Cleveland, to Connecticut are setting up customization shops.  They sell their freshly painted shoes both locally and in online stores, and even take custom orders.

The average pair of painted sneakers sells for 3 to 10 times the original retail price of the plain sneakers.  For example, BStreetShoes in Costa Mesa, CA sells its hand-painted Nike sneakers starting around $250 a pair, and prices go up to $800+ for a pair of sneakers with a complex design.  That’s a nice profit margin for a few hours of a sneaker artist’s time.

So you want to get into the custom sneaker business?  This might help get you started.

1.  Start painting shoes.  Now.

Celebrity sneaker artists become well know because they’re good.  Their talents, creativity, self-promotion, and work ethic make them stand out from the crowd.  The only way to get good at painting sneakers is to start doing it.  And it takes hundreds — if not thousands — of hours to get good at painting shoes.

Like Benjamin Franklin said, “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”  Pick up a beginner’s custom shoe paint kit and dive into coloring some kicks ASAP, even if you start with a worn-out pair from your closet.

While your first few pairs of custom kicks probably won’t sell for $7,000 (like the pairs customized by Cleveland sneaker king Jacob Ferrato do) you’ll probably still be able to turn a modest profit.

2.  Run in the same circles as custom sneaker fiends.

To successfully hang your shingle as a customer sneaker artist, you have to be able to hang with current sneaker artists.  (And ideally, surpass them.)  It’s time to follow some of the sneaker kings of Instagram, to see what they’re up to.  Need some names to get a start?  Follow Dan Gamache of Mache Customs, Jacob Ferrato of JBF Customs, and Blake Barash of B Street Shoes.

If you know of anyone local who designs custom kicks, reach out to them.  Befriending the local players and potentially gaining a business partner or mentor can give you a huge boost to your young business.

3.  Market your services and products.

Once you’re good enough at coloring kicks that you feel comfortable putting your work on the market, you need to start promoting your talents.  Come up with a catchy business name and create social media accounts to start spreading the buzz about your business.  Start with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Create Craigslist ads to sell custom sneakers you’ve already painted, or advertise for completely custom shoe painting services based on your client’s color and design preferences.  Show some photos of your work in the listing–it will help broadcast your talents to potential customers and fellow artists alike.

Craigslist is an easy and free way to get your first few gigs.  If you don’t have the particular colors your client wants, you can always head over to Angelus to pick up a few individual color bottles that will get the job done.

Once you’ve sold a few pairs of shoes, you can put the profits toward starting a basic website.  Squarespace and WordPress provide easy templates to get you started.  A dedicated web storefront will really boost your sales and open the door to serving national and international clients seeking custom sneakers.

4. Hang on for the ride!

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.”  If you have the skills to create awesome custom sneakers, the market will find you and pay you well.  People love rare and unique things, and if you can offer sneaker lovers amazing, one-of-a-kind custom kicks, they will compensate you well for your talents.

Every great journey starts with a single step.  Or, as any good basketball coach would tell you, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

So get a move on!  Pick up some supplies, go color your kicks, and start up your custom sneaker business!

19 thoughts on “How to Start A Custom Sneaker Business

  • January 11, 2018 at 12:17 am
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    Can u use like other brand for ur custom shoe

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    • Sneaker Pete
      June 10, 2018 at 5:37 pm
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      Yes, Nathan — you can customize any brand of shoe, and almost any shoe material. The paint kits from Angelus that we recommend are for use on leather shoes. If you plan to customize fabric, mesh, or cloth shoes, you will likely want to either dilute the paint with a thinner (like acetone) or use a fabric dye instead. But you can certainly customize any brand of shoe you want!

      Reply
  • July 19, 2018 at 6:35 pm
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    This is super helpful, thank you for this. It’s much appreciated.

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    • April 24, 2019 at 12:52 pm
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      Check out @latenightcustom on Instagram !!

      Reply
  • August 1, 2018 at 8:27 pm
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    Hi, thanks a lot for the content. I’m very much interested into this business model. I have two major concerns : (a) What about licensing and trademark infringement? Do I have to get any kind of licence for customization? And if yes! Then how? (b) How can I get these shoes at wholesale price? How can we buy in the branded shoes like Nike, Yeezy, Adidas etc. at its lowest price?

    Reply
  • Sneaker Pete
    August 16, 2018 at 1:54 am
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    Jaykant, we are unaware of any jurisdiction that requires a license for painting shoes! It is a form of art, and there is really no good reason to restrict people’s ability to paint sneakers. As for licensing or trademark infringement, as long as you are painting original designs, there should be no problem. However, if you are painting a copyrighted or trademarked character or logo on a shoe (for example, the official logo of a professional football team), you may run into legal trouble. To be safe, just paint original designs! As for the best prices on sneakers, you will likely need to buy sneakers in large quantities to get a discount. Keep an eye out for coupons or sales. You could stock up on some “inventory” sneakers on Black Friday, and then paint them for customers the rest of the year!

    Reply
  • August 28, 2018 at 8:43 pm
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    Where do you get these shoes from? Do you buy them in bulk? Does the customer send you the shoe ? I mean how much money do you need to get started with something like this because a lot custom shoes are the hypebeast type of shoes and as soon as they hit retail are already over priced because of the hype ! And that’s expensive. So how do you really get a hold of these shoes at retail and not resell so that you can resell them as customs?

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    • April 29, 2019 at 5:11 pm
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      From my own experience, grabbing popular shoes at a outlet factory store will get you the best prices. It’s hit or miss with the shoes, but a lot of popular shoes can be found for a pretty cheap price (Like the Air Force One for example) And getting them at outlets makes the price even cheaper. As for hypebeast-type shoes, its all about watching the price on Websites/Apps like StockX and GOAT. On there, you can set things up so they’ll notify you when the price drops, and you can pick certain shoes.

      Reply
  • January 13, 2019 at 5:43 pm
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    Ok.
    Ive been painting shoes for a while, and have a stock starting to build up. I plan on selling these after their photos are used for my advertising needs. I also plan on offering resto services as well as custom orders.
    My question is how do I price something that is one of a kind? The majority of shoes I have customized are used shoes in good condition, although I am starting to grab some deadstock pairs for future work. Double retail even if theyre used??
    Just seems high to me… any help is greatly appreciated. Great article too.

    Reply
    • April 29, 2019 at 5:12 pm
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      Normally Used Customs aren’t sold, Deadstock will be the normal, but i’d go possibly around double retail for used (depends on shoe)

      Reply
  • January 16, 2019 at 1:32 am
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    How do you handle shipping, do you something set up with ups. I would like to start my own custom shoe buisness but I dont know how to go about the shipping portion.

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  • February 26, 2019 at 7:25 pm
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    Do you have any shoes you reccomend starting with? I have looked into Air Force 1 but they are at least £70 – any other ideas to start? Thanks a lot for this post by the way!

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  • April 22, 2019 at 4:46 pm
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    Currently doing sneaker customising and this add is great looking for a bit of info though as I see and I do personally do for example nike af1 with Gucci or lv supreme logos on swoosh is there anything for copy write am I ok to do this as I’m not advertising as a lv or Gucci sneaker any info greatly appreciated thank you

    Reply
  • May 1, 2019 at 6:34 pm
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    can I customise Branded shoes without any legal restrictions and then further sellem?

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  • May 1, 2019 at 10:14 pm
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    This is so helpful! I wonder how they do so many sizes of the same designs. Do they actually paint every single one of it ?

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  • May 16, 2019 at 2:22 pm
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    what would be the best price to charge people to customize their shoes?

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  • June 3, 2019 at 5:12 am
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    Hey, This is John I’m a young sneaker artist around and i was hoping a few people here could support me and my Instagram @custommayhem_ . I’m based in Sheffield UK and really hoping to get somewhere. This was really helpful thanks

    Reply
  • August 2, 2019 at 8:01 am
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    Gotta save this. This is great help. Much appreciated!

    Reply

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