We continue to broaden our scope and put the spotlight on sneakers customizers from around the globe. This week, we speak to Amanda Yoakum, a sneaker customizer whose works are gallery-worthy.
A fashion design graduate from Parsons School of Design, Amanda Yoakum’s passion for creativity and art has accompanied her since forever. Her love affair with sneakers only came about after she started customizing them under her YoaKustoms label, and Amanda now expands her scope to include complementary canvas portraits with her customized kicks.
How did you get into the sneaker customization business?
Ah, my ever so dreaded question, because who wants to have to say “my ex”. Well, my ex-boyfriend was a sneakerhead and my first pair was actually for him. I had no idea what a large culture and following there was with sneaker art until I started doing my research to customize a pair of sneakers for his birthday. He posted pictures of the pair online and the rest is history.
What type of designs do you specialize in?
I specialize in out-of-the-box highly detailed and sculptural pieces. My designs could sit behind glass in a gallery as opposed to being manufactured by Nike. Not to say that I don’t do more simplistic, wearable designs for clients, but some of my personal pieces I like to consider “showstoppers.”
Which are the notable works that you have produced?
I’m quite proud of my more recent work; I see it as a kind of evolution from the work I was doing previously. I strove to include more reconstruction, textures, and alternative materials in my already detailed brushwork. Some of my notable works are: Consumption (2015), Wanbli (2015), Skinned (2015), Queen (2015), Takeout (2009) and Goddess Tara (2009).
You have a knack for making sneaker reconstructions too. How tricky is this sort of customization, and was there plenty of “trial and error” before you perfected the techniques needed?
Reconstruction can definitely prove to be bit of a challenge, especially when you are adding to a structure rather than starting from the ground up. I did feel grateful though to have my background in sewing and construction because it really helped in making the “trial and error” process short and sweet.
Why did you decide to include canvas portraits with your custom sneakers?
I decided to include canvas portraits for various reasons. The main being that I like my sneakers to tell a story (which is why I love the 3-D aspect and all the panels, insoles and hidden places to add to the story) and with the addition of the portrait, I felt the story could be enriched. I also just wanted to expand as a fine artist and go back to my roots of traditional painting. I felt this might also open the door to the fine arts community. I would love for sneaker art to be stronger appreciated in that world as well.
How long does it usually take to customize a pair of sneakers?
The timeline depends a lot on the design. For my clients I try to give a two to three week window, which begins when the sneakers arrive at my studio. Many hours go into creating a more detailed pair, especially one that includes reconstruction as well.
Where do the bulk of your customers hail from?
Most of my clients are from around the United States. I have had international clients as well, but not as many as the U.S. I have not received any orders from Singapore, maybe some in the future right?
Is there a trend in terms of the sneaker brands and silhouettes that they usually want customized?
The most commonly asked for sneaker tends to be a Nike, particularly the Dunk. I also do a lot of Vans slip-ons. At moments when a certain sneaker is trending, I’ll have more requests for that silhouette during that time period.
Are there any notable personalities who have ordered custom sneakers from you?
I have yet to have that really big name client. You know, that one that you just want to name drop. I did a few pairs for the executive producer and star of Ugly Betty.
Have you received any strange requests?
I’ve had some interesting requests in my time. A majority were really just concepts that I personally would not want on my shoes, rather than anything overly unpleasant. A request that stands out was roosters cockfighting.
What’s the biggest challenge in customizing sneakers?
The biggest challenge, and one I’m still battling, is having your audience understand that the shoes are in fact a work of art and a LOT of time goes into every pair. I have so many potential clients who want to pay US$100 for my work and do not value it for what it is.
What sort of customization jobs would you not accept?
I would not accept jobs that are offensive to the general public.
What are your future plans for the business?
I just want to keep constantly growing and expanding. As I mentioned previously, I am currently trying to seek representation in the art community. I’ve been applying to galleries worldwide to get my sneakers out there not only as product to wear, but also as a sculptural work of art to be displayed. I would love to expand my client base and even work with larger companies. I am not opposed to anything as long as it will promote growth and moving forward.
Besides sneakers, what other mediums do you hope to be able to use to express your creativity?
Well I’ve already started using 2-D canvases, but I’d also like to possibly expand to doing 3-D painting on mediums other than sneakers, maybe up the scale of my sculptures. I also want to continue using other objects found outside to enhance my sneakers.
This interview has been edited and condensed.