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.
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!