We continue to broaden our scope and put the spotlight on sneakers customizers from around the globe. This week, meet Wissam, a sneaker customizer whose specialty is in reconstructing sneakers.
Dessert shop manager by day, sneaker customizer by night, Wissam Al-Madhon boldly takes apart sneakers and reconstructs them with new materials. Through this, he’s gained a new-found appreciation for handmade goods and respect towards the craft, and eventually hopes to create his own line of luxury sneakers, handbags and accessories.
What got you interested in sneaker customization?
I got into sneaker customization one day when I was bored and had a lot of time on my hands and no wi-fi. I always enjoy getting hands-on with things and creating stuff. I used to love drawing when I was a kid and studied design in school. I even enrolled in 3D modelling and animation in university, although I never went into that field. I started out by adding spikes and snakeskin to a few pairs of fresh kicks I had. I placed them on my newly created Instagram page and slowly but surely, things kicked off from there. I invested over £3,000 within two years, with the money coming from my day job. I’ve never really made any money from customizing, as I always re-invest the revenue for better tools and materials in order to grow.
What type of designs do you specialize in?
I specialize in exotic leather customs, although I can work with any material. I have my own custom designs and can work with ideas clients may have. My work ranges from basic customs like replacing one or two panels with different materials, to a complete reconstruction, which is taking the original pair of kicks entirely apart and remaking them in the client’s chosen materials.
Are there any notable designs that you have produced?
I have a few notable designs made for clients from around the world, from the Python Huarache, to the full Python Buscemi 100mm. I did make a pair of genuine crocodile skin Air Force 1 Lows with switchable tongues for a client in Indonesia. I have also just finished a pair of Vans Sk8 Hi reconstructed with Louis Vuitton Damier and Monogram canvas, from two handbags.
How long does it usually take to reconstruct a pair of sneakers?
The full reconstruction process can take between 40 to 60 hours or more, depending on the complexity of the design and amount of parts required. A basic custom that consists of panel changes can take between four to 15 hours.
Which sneaker brands and silhouettes do people usually want customized?
It depends on which country the customer comes from. In the UK, I’ve had more Huarache requests, while Europeans ask for Air Force 1s and Jordans. Customers from USA usually want customized Jordans. When it comes to luxury shoes it’s usually Buscemi and Christian Louboutin. I like working on new shoes each time, as you can experiment more with different silhouettes.
What’s the biggest challenge in customizing sneakers?
The main challenge is doing a shoe that hasn’t been done before, as I have to figure out how to put the shoe back together without certain vital tools and machines that the original manufacturer has. It makes it all the more interesting and you figure out shortcuts and your own techniques as well. Getting the stitches perfect and finding exact sticking points is important as it can make or break the project. An important aspect of making a reconstructed pair is the shoe last. When you last the shoe it has to have the exact same shape; a wrongly shaped last can ruin the shoes. Learning how to make my own lasts for the specific shoe I’m working on has helped me beyond my imagination. Also, reconstructed shoes are not as forgiving with mistakes as compared to painted customs; once you make a mistake you have to take apart the shoe, throw away the piece you just messed up and start again. If you are working with expensive materials then that would be quite a costly mistake.
Have you received any strange requests?
Material choices, design changes and sole swaps are normal in the bespoke world of sneakers. I like to think nothing is impossible, so to me, the requests I get are normal,
What sort of customization jobs would you not accept?
The only jobs I refuse are painted customs. Painting is not my specialty and I would refer clients to appropriate customizers. I may paint certain things in my work or if it’s part of a bigger project, but won’t do an only-painted custom.
Just how popular is sneaker customization?
Sneaker customization is definitely gaining popularity each year. Much like when shoe companies like Nike or adidas drop a limited release, people want something that’s limited edition. Customizers offer the chance to create anything and be unique. People don’t want to look average, they want to be at the next level. Customizers who do reconstruction are now popping up everywhere and their ideas and skills are amazing when you look around. We just need to keep the culture alive and keep supporting it!
This interview has been edited and condensed.