In the contemporary world, the sneaker market is saturated and awash with mass-produced pieces that makes it hard to purchase something that is unique to you. Year upon year, we hear sneakerheads complaining about how quality is deteriorating and how sneaker culture is simply, “not what is used to be.” Brands have also comprehended this consumer dilemma and imprints such as Hender Scheme have looked to serve those consumers that simply want something better than your average general release, as well as special releases to some extent. However, when Hender Scheme is stocked at more retailers than you can count and you still bump into people that are wearing the exact same “limited edition” shoe, that is when the niche area of sneaker customization steps in. We tapped Jake Ferrato of JBF Customs for our latest edition of Modern Day Artisans to explore how sneaker customization has evolved into the refined approach it has now become. The use of premium materials, attention to detail and eye-catching designs has brought JBF customs to the forefront in the increasingly competitive area and even celebrities have taken notice. Your favourite rappers, influencers and more have all been gravitating to this direction and Jake has been trying to push it further since he was 16.
For years, the stereotypical view of sneaker customization was that it was, “childish, or fake, or whatever the internet trolls call things that they don’t like,” explains Jake. Hit play on the video above and read on for our short interview with the talented designer on where customization is headed, changing and a little insight into our special collaboration we have coming.
You started customizing sneakers when you were 16, how do you think the sneaker customizing area has evolved since then?
Yeah, it’s been really crazy to watch. When I started in 2008, customizing wasn’t taken seriously by most of the culture. They looked at them as childish, or fake, or whatever else Internet trolls call things that they don’t like. I was part of a small, tight-knit group of guys who existed in the “customs” section of all the forums though — there were only 10-20 of us who posted consistently, but we had a great community at that time — everybody pushed each other to be better, all with the goal of pushing the art further.
And we really did push it forward and evolve the art — we’ve all made strides toward the mastery of our crafts, and a lot of us have turned the art that we love into a full time job. You see celebrities and athletes wearing customs all the time, and most collectors are looking to add a custom or two to the stash. Most importantly, we’ve inspired a lot of kids to step out of their comfort zones and actually CREATE something. It’s been a blessing to be involved thus far, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the next few years.
Your first custom project was based on a Pokemon theme using the Air Jordan 1 silhouette, how has your taste and influences changed throughout the years?
Haha — to clarify, that was not my first custom project, only my first COMMISSIONED project. Pokemon shoes have never been my own personal taste. My taste and influence has evolved along with my skill though — when I started as a painter, I liked brighter, more colorful shoes — I was really influenced by Nike SB and its success at that time. Now that I can actually make a shoe from scratch, my influences are totally different. I don’t look at any sneaker customizer’s work, or even sneakers anymore. That’s all become boring. Now, I’m looking at handmade shoes from different makers across the globe, people who hand-make everything from heels to western boots and even orthopaedic shoes. My taste is rather simple now — understated colorways with clean lines that allow for the quality of craftsmanship and materials to be the focal point.
What were your inspirations behind this custom project you did with HYPEBEAST?
The inspiration was the people — the HYPEBEAST audience. I made my name doing python Jordans but stopped releasing them and accepting orders for them in January so that I could work on my own original shoes. Since then, people have refused to leave me alone about them. In my absence, everyone from Chinese factories, to your girlfriend’s little brother has started making python Jordans. I hear even Jordan Brand is releasing a pair in 2016. So working with HYPEBEAST is great because they’re taking care of all the promotion and photography, and are handling sales through their webshop. This takes a load off my shoulders and allows me to release some python Jordans here and there for the people who have been supporting me for so long, while still focusing on my own original shoes.
Why are you choosing to stay independent when you could go and work for other footwear brands?
Why go be an employee when you could be your own boss?
Where do you think sneaker customization is heading when more and more people are starting to customize their own sneakers?
I think it’s going to keep getting bigger, and hopefully inspire more and more people to act on their creative instincts.
Stay tuned for the release of this collaboration project at HBX on September 19.
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