Shoe customization isn’t something that most people would choose as a hobby, much less as a part-time job. The process is difficult, time consuming and expensive. However, Kip Roland, a sophomore entrepreneurship and innovation major, has taken his love for shoes and used it to start his own customization business, Kicksmiths.
Rolland’s ideas started small in a barber shop in his hometown of Lamar, Missouri. “I bought a beginners customization kit and painted a set of Jordan 3’s that I wore to my local barber shop, and one of the guys in there loved them,” Rolland said, “and he kept encouraging me to try and actually go somewhere with it. He was the first one to really invest in the business.”
“It started small with only about 300 people following. But I was having fun with it and just kept it up,” Roland said, “I’ve also bought a more expensive kit to be able to do more elaborate designs, and I think that’s helped my brand.” Now Kicksmiths has almost 1000 followers on Instagram.
After establishing headway in the shoe customizing business, Rolland wanted to learn more. Dominic Ciambrone, also known as “The Shoe Surgeon,” is one of the most widely known shoe customizers. His designs have been worn by Drake, Lebron, and other mega-celebrities. Ciambrone also hosts the “Shoe Surgeon School,” a four-day experience in which he teaches people from around the world how to reconstruct shoes. “I started saving money and producing more custom shoes, and this past fall I got to attend one of his classes,” Rolland said, “I got to create my own shoes. Learning from those guys was 100 percent worth it.”
When talking about how far Kicksmiths would go as a business, Rolland was uncertain. “The want and need for customized shoes is rapidly growing—a lot, in part, to Ciambrone,” Rolland said. “I don’t know how sustainable painting and customizing shoes is for me. I’m not a fantastic artist, but I do enjoy it.”
Rolland does however want to use his experience with shoes to carry over into fashion and clothing. “I don’t want to do only shoe customization forever, but I would like to be in the design aspect of sneakers and clothing eventually,” Roland said, “I don’t consider myself an artist. I couldn’t paint a mural on a wall or anything like that. I’m just passionate about shoes and fashion, and I want to use this business as a stepping stone.”
Athletes including Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Trout and Deandre Hopkins, show the increased popularity of customized cleats promoting certain brands, people or causes. Beckham Jr. wore cleats with Nintendo characters; Mike Trout’s featured a shout out to Kobe; Hopkins wore cleats supporting Kanye. The National Football League has a week dedicated to custom cleats in support of causes athletes choose.
Sneaker culture has taken over the fashion industry. Exclusive tennis shoes are being sold for thousands of dollars. Customization allows for shoes to be unique without charging extreme prices. “A lot of it depends on what you want,” Rolland said, “I’ll only charge $50 to $80, but the more time-consuming the project, the more expensive it will be.”
Rolland’s business is representative of the creative minds of entrepreneurial college students. His skill and passion for shoes have combined to create a small business that is growing in popularity. Even if it doesn’t last forever, Kicksmiths has laid the groundwork for Rolland’s potential future success in the fashion world.