The In-Depth Guide to Starting A Sneaker Customization Business in 2024

The In-Depth Guide to Starting A Sneaker Customization Business in 2024

Hey there, fellow creatives! If you’re dreaming of stepping into the world of sneaker customizing in 2024, you've come to the right place. After five years in the game, Sneaker Queens Customs (@sneakerqueenscustoms) has put together a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and must-have supplies to help you succeed in creating custom shoes (or really any art business) this year. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to hone your skills, this guide will set you up for success in 2024.

 

Sneaker Queens Customs

Introduction

Jumping into sneaker customizing can be a thrilling but daunting experience. There are countless supplies to consider, techniques to master, and business strategies to implement. Let’s break it all down so you can hit the ground running, armed with the knowledge Sneaker Queens Custom wishes she had when first starting.

Diving into sneaker customization is like embarking on an adventure. Imagine standing at the edge of a vast, colorful jungle, each tree and vine representing a new technique or tool you need to master. The excitement of creating something unique and beautiful can be exhilarating, but the sheer volume of things you need to learn and acquire can also feel overwhelming.

First, there's the supplies. From the essential paints and brushes to the more nuanced tools like accessories and paint additives, each item plays a crucial role in bringing your designs to life. Without the right supplies, even the most creative ideas can fall flat. When Sneaker Queens Customs first started, she mentions not knowing the difference between flat black and glossy black paint or why a heat gun was necessary for fabric shoes. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what worked best.

Next up are the techniques. Customizing sneakers isn't just about slapping some paint on a shoe. It involves detailed prep work, careful layering, and meticulous finishing. Understanding how to properly prepare a leather surface, why painting in thin layers is essential, and how to avoid common pitfalls like paint cracking or smudging is key. These techniques can make or break your custom project. You don’t have to learn the hard way that skipping steps or rushing through the process often leads to unsatisfactory results.

Then, there's the business side of things. Transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional sneaker customizer means more than just perfecting your craft. It involves building a brand, engaging with your audience, and managing client relationships. Knowing how to market yourself, price your work, and handle customer inquiries professionally can be just as important as your artistic skills. 

Paint Sneakers with Angelus Basics Kit

 

Essential Supplies for Sneaker Customizing

Starting with the right supplies is crucial. Here’s what you need to get started:

 

Leather Shoes Supplies

  1. Leather Prepare and DeGlazer or Acetone: For removing the factory finish on leather shoes.

  2. Cotton Pads: Preferable over cotton balls to avoid leaving fibers on the shoe.

  3. Sandpaper: Useful for prepping areas prone to creasing, like the toe box.

  4. Flat Black and Flat White Paints: Basics for any design.

  5. Primary Colors (Red, Yellow, Blue): Mix to create any color using a color wheel.

  6. Paint Brushes: A variety including micro detail and larger brushes.

  7. Vinyl and Masking Tape: Vinyl tape for curves, masking tape for larger sections.

  8. Detail Knife: For precise application of tape.

  9. Four Coat Finishers: Matte, high gloss, and others to seal and protect your work.

 

Fabric Shoes Supplies

  1. Too Soft Fabric Medium Additive: Keeps paint flexible on fabric shoes.

  2. Heat Gun: Required to heat set Too Soft.

  3. Shoe Trees: Prevents shoes from flexing while working.

 

Non-Essentials (But Nice to Have)

  1. Paint Mixing Jars and Palettes: For efficiency.

  2. Easy Pour Twist Top Caps: Useful for larger bottles.

  3. Disposable Gloves: Keep hands clean, especially with airbrush work.

  4. Angela’s Brush Cleaner: Extends the life of your brushes.

  5. Shoe Trees: Prevent movement while painting.

painting a bag with Angelus Paints

 

 

Painting Tips for Beginners

Getting the hang of painting is essential. Here are some pro tips:

Continuous Practice

The most crucial piece of advice I can offer is to practice consistently. You won't become a master overnight. Make painting a regular part of your routine, even if it's just for 10 to 30 minutes a day. This practice helps you improve your skills, discover your style, and understand your strengths and weaknesses. Just like learning an instrument or a new language, consistent effort is key to improvement.

Proper Prep

Preparation is the foundation of a successful custom sneaker. Spend more time than you think necessary removing the factory finish from the leather shoe. Use acetone or a leather deglazer and ensure you get into every crevice and seam. For areas that are likely to crease, like the toe box, use sandpaper as an extra precaution. A well-prepped surface will ensure your paint adheres better and lasts longer.

Thin Layers

When it comes to painting, patience is your best friend. Apply your paint in thin, even layers and let each layer dry completely before adding the next. This approach prevents the paint from cracking and gives you a smoother, more professional finish. Thick, gloppy layers might seem like they save time, but they will likely lead to disappointment as they can peel or crack over time.

Undercoating for Transparent Colors

Some colors, especially reds, yellows, and neons, are more transparent and can be frustrating to work with. To achieve vibrant, opaque coverage, start with an undercoat of a lighter, more opaque color. For example, if you're painting with red, apply a layer of pink or a mix of red and white first. This base layer helps the final color pop and reduces the number of layers you'll need.

Paint the Edges

One often overlooked detail is painting the edges of each leather panel. On shoes like Air Force Ones, different panels create seams and edges that can look unfinished if left unpainted. Painting these edges ensures a cohesive and professional look. It's a small detail that makes a big difference in the overall appearance of your custom sneakers.

Avoid the Sock Liner

Getting paint on the sock liner is a nightmare. It's incredibly difficult to remove paint from this fabric, and it can ruin the overall look of your shoe. Be meticulous and treat avoiding the sock liner as if it's your life's mission. If you do accidentally get paint on it, you might have to resort to painting the entire liner to cover up the mistake, which is not ideal.

Plan Your Design

Before you start painting, plan your design thoroughly. Use digital tools like Procreate or Photoshop to create mockups. Having a clear vision of your design will guide your painting process and help you achieve the desired outcome. If digital tools aren’t your thing, sketch your designs and print out reference images to keep on hand while you work.

Be Original

While it’s okay to draw inspiration from other artists, it’s important to put your own spin on your designs. Replicating someone else’s work not only stifles your creativity but also can harm your reputation. Originality helps you build a unique style and an audience that appreciates your distinct artistic voice.

Experiment and Learn

Don't be afraid to experiment with new styles, techniques, and tools. Growth happens outside your comfort zone. Try different painting methods, use unconventional materials, and constantly seek to learn and improve. YouTube tutorials and online courses are fantastic resources to expand your knowledge and skill set. 

Posting custsom shoes on social media

Creating Content and Building Your Brand

Social media is your best friend for reaching a larger audience. Here’s how to maximize your presence:

Regular Posting

One of the most critical steps in building your brand is maintaining a consistent online presence. Regular posting keeps you relevant and visible to your audience. Aim to post at least a few times a week, if not daily, on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest. Consistency helps keep your audience engaged and attracts new followers. When I first started, I realized that irregular posting meant people forgot about me, so I made it a habit to post consistently.

Batch Content Creation

Creating quality content can feel like a full-time job. To make it manageable, dedicate a specific day each week to batch create content. This approach allows you to produce multiple pieces of content in one go, which you can then schedule to post throughout the week. For instance, one sneaker project can yield various content pieces: a time-lapse of the painting process, a short tutorial on a specific technique, and a showcase of the finished product.

High-Quality Photos and Videos

High-quality visuals are essential for showcasing your work. Spend some time learning the basics of photography and videography to ensure you capture your creations in the best light. Use natural lighting whenever possible, and invest in a good camera or smartphone with a high-quality camera. Editing tools like Adobe Lightroom or free apps like Snapseed can help enhance your photos. For videos, learn to edit using software like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, or simpler apps like iMovie.

Trending Audios and Hashtags

Using trending audios can boost the visibility of your videos on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Regularly check the "For You" page to find current trends. Incorporating these audios into your content can increase engagement and reach. Additionally, use relevant hashtags to help people discover your work. Tags like #customshoes, #sneakercustoms, and #handpaintedshoes can attract your target audience. Also, use tags related to your specific design theme, like #animeart or #abstractart.

Engagement

Engaging with your community is crucial for building a loyal following. Respond to comments and direct messages promptly. Even a simple "thank you" to someone who comments an emoji can foster a connection. Consider hosting Q&A sessions, live streams, or behind-the-scenes content to make your followers feel like they're part of your journey. Showcasing your personality helps people connect with you on a personal level, making them more likely to support your work.

Show Your Face and Personality

People love to connect with the person behind the art. Don’t be afraid to show your face and let your personality shine through your content. This transparency builds trust and makes your audience feel more connected to you. Whether it’s a short video introduction, a story about your creative process, or just a candid moment in your studio, sharing these aspects of your life can make a significant impact.

Learn and Adapt

The social media landscape is always changing. Stay updated on the latest trends, algorithm changes, and new features on different platforms. Adapt your content strategy accordingly. For example, Instagram might favor Reels one month, then switch to prioritizing carousel posts. Being flexible and willing to learn will keep your content fresh and engaging.

Quality Over Quantity

While posting regularly is important, never sacrifice quality for quantity. High-quality content will always outperform frequent, mediocre posts. Take your time to create well-thought-out, visually appealing content that showcases your skills and creativity. This approach ensures that each post has the potential to attract new followers and retain your current audience.

Build a Community

Creating a sense of community around your brand can lead to a more engaged and loyal audience. Encourage your followers to share their own customizations, provide feedback, and participate in discussions. Highlighting user-generated content, such as featuring a follower's custom work, can make your audience feel valued and appreciated.

     

    Mixing paints with Angelus 2-Soft

    Business Tips for Aspiring Customizers

    Transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional sneaker customizer involves more than just perfecting your artistic skills. Here are some crucial business tips based on my own journey to help you succeed:

    Show Your Face and Personality

    Showing your face and personality is a fantastic way to build a genuine audience. It makes it easier for your followers to connect with you and understand the person behind the work. Sharing videos of yourself, your creative process, and your inspiration helps build trust and loyalty among your audience.

    Maintain Professionalism

    While it’s important to show your personality, maintaining professionalism is equally crucial. Remember, you are the face of your brand. If you get into wild arguments in the comment sections, you might turn potential clients away, and even loyal followers may decide to unfollow you. Always respond to comments respectfully, even if they are critical.

    Make Your Brand Searchable

    Ensure your brand is easily searchable both on social media and the internet. Use relevant keywords on your social media profiles and website. For example, if you specialize in anime-themed custom sneakers, make sure your page includes keywords like "anime custom shoes." This makes it easier for people to find your work.

    Engage with Your Community

    Engage with your community regularly to foster a genuine audience that cares about what you're doing. Respond to every comment and direct message, even if it's just an emoji. Thanking your followers or starting a conversation can make them feel valued and appreciated. Additionally, hosting Q&A sessions, live streams, and behind-the-scenes content can help your audience feel more connected to you.

    Attend Local Events

    Getting out into the community can be an awesome way to promote your brand. Participate in local events for artists and small businesses. Setting up a table with your artwork at these events can provide free advertising through word of mouth. Many people aren’t even aware that sneaker customizing exists, so talking about your art can inspire others and help you build connections.

    Clear Communication with Clients

    Maintaining clear communication with your clients is essential. Be honest about your turnaround times to build trust and show that you're serious about your work. Keep your clients updated on the progress of their orders. Let them know when you're starting their project and provide estimated delivery times. This transparency helps manage their expectations.

    Don’t Rush Your Work

    While it's important to meet deadlines, never rush your work at the expense of quality. If clients pressure you to finish sooner, explain that taking your time ensures they receive your best work, leading to the happiest version of your client. Quality should always come first.

    Require Deposits

    Always get a deposit before starting any custom work. A non-refundable deposit (usually 10-20%) ensures you are compensated for your creative efforts. This also filters out non-serious inquiries and ensures that clients are committed to the project. When they have financial investment, they’re more likely to respect your time and effort.

    Set Clear Pricing

    Be transparent about your pricing structure. Clearly outline what each service includes and how much it costs. Avoid underpricing your work to attract clients, as this can undervalue your skills and effort. Pricing your work fairly not only ensures you're compensated adequately but also sets a standard for the value of your art.

    Short and Long-Term Goals

    Set both short-term and long-term goals for your business. Short-term goals might include increasing your social media following or completing a certain number of custom orders each month. Long-term goals could involve expanding your product line or collaborating with other artists. These goals help you track your progress and stay motivated.

    Embrace Continuous Learning

    Always be open to continuous learning. Stay updated with the latest trends, techniques, and business strategies. Watch YouTube tutorials, take online courses, and experiment with new styles. Growth only happens when you step outside your comfort zone. The more skills you acquire, the more versatile and valuable your brand becomes.

    Learn from Mistakes

    Failures and mistakes are going to happen; it's how you learn. Don't let the fear of messing up prevent you from starting something that could change your life. Reflect on what went wrong and how you can avoid similar issues in the future. Each mistake is a chance to learn and improve, helping you grow as both an artist and a business owner. 

    Angelus Paints

    Embrace the Journey

    By implementing these business tips, you'll not only create amazing custom sneakers but also build a strong, professional brand that clients trust and admire. Remember, the journey to success is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay patient, keep learning, and enjoy every step of the way. Happy customizing!

    If you found these tips helpful, don’t forget to like and subscribe to my channel. For more in-depth tutorials, check out my other videos. Happy customizing!