More than ‘just a shoe’

Meet the creatives recycling, upcycling, deconstructing and transforming sneakers.

Words: Jacob Corner

From overnight queues for hyped drops to raffles to buy rare pairs and dedicated expos, sneakers are so much more than ‘just’ shoes. They’re also at the heart of a new creative practice that sees artists working with them as a medium in their own right. In line with the launch of Selfridges Project Earth (our new initiative which explores more sustainable ways to shop), we’re shining the spotlight on a few of those creatives who are reimagining and reworking sneakers in new ways, and, hopefully, giving you some artistic inspiration along the way.

Rudy Lim

South Korean sneaker artist Rudy Lim (aka Rudyindahouse) is one of the most exciting creatives working in streetwear today. His sculptures, which deconstruct sneakers to show their internal workings, have been covered by industry tastemakers like Hypebeast and High Snobiety, and he’s exhibited everywhere from Japan to Bangkok. 

How do you take a retail sneaker and turn it into something totally new? 

First, I separate the body and midsole of the sneakers; then I remove all the stitches – there’s a lot more sewing than you think, so it can be time consuming. Once all the pieces are separated, I work on the inside of each piece to support it with a glue gun and a thin wire ear. Finally, I use a thicker, stronger wire to secure the pieces in place with a glue gun. It takes about two-to-three days for the work to be completed. 

What’s the one project that best sums up your work?

It has to be the Air Force 1, because the purpose of my work is to show the internal structure of sneakers and this shoe was the basis of sneaker design.

What made you choose to work with sneakers?

I’ve always been a big fan of the culture – I was into hip-hop and I was a rapper. And, of course, I like basketball and I’m a big fan of Air Jordan, and I love Nike’s old-school basketball shoes. 

What’s your advice for young creatives trying to find inspiration at the moment?

As the slogan goes: just do it. I was curious and broke apart my sneakers – if I hadn’t done that two years ago, I wouldn’t be here now. I was 36 years old and working as a photographer and videographer when I became known as a sneaker artist. If you can’t find your talent right now, don’t be disappointed and don’t stop.

Step to it, gents

Mr Lee

London-based, British-born Chinese visual artist and designer Mr Lee has built up a cult following for his stylised artwork. Starting out in portrait illustration, Mr Lee began customising sneaker boxes before moving onto the sneakers themselves.

What made you choose to work with sneakers?

I’ve always been a sneaker fan – from my first pair of Classics, to my Air Maxes and Common Projects to my RSXs.... My work with sneakers started right here, at Selfridges. I had a pop-up in the Birmingham store, drawing portraits of customers, and someone at Selfridges came up with the idea of drawing on customers’ shoeboxes. People started asking: ‘Do you only draw on the boxes?’ And soon, I was drawing on the shoes as well. Supply and demand, man, that’s how it all began and that’s how it goes. 

What’s the one project that sums up your work? How did you make it?

It’s always my latest one. Unfortunately, I have NDAs on my latest project, so it’ll have to be my previous one: a commission from Puma, depicting the history of legendary basketball player Ralph Sampson. It all comes together a little more with each project: the techniques, the artwork, my style. I’m very particular about the projects I take on; I put a lot of energy into it – that’s why I feel like the latest project is always my best. 

Could you talk us through your process?

The way I customise a sneaker is purely illustrative. As an artist, I always want to tell stories, so I come up with a theme by talking to my client to see what they’re into, what makes them tick. Then I need a colour scheme – the story we’re trying to tell and the colourway of the shoe we’re working on usually dictates that. The materials of the sneaker decide what I use to make my marks. As soon as I see a shoe, l usually know which parts I want to draw or paint.

If you could change one thing about sneaker culture, what would it be?  

Right now, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Nothing stays the same, culture changes and evolves, so I’m just going to keep evolving, too, and hopefully we evolve in the same direction. 

Where’s the first place you’re heading as soon as lockdown is over? 

I’ll go to Donde Carlos on Goldhawk Road, London, and get the weekday lunch deal (rice, stew and fried plantains) with soup and two empanadas and a sugar-cane drink. That’s all I need in life right now. 

Jekske Peterson + Jarah Stoop

Peterson Stoop, founded by Jelske Peterson and Jarah Stoop, deconstructs vintage sneakers and rebuilds them with natural materials in an ethical and sustainable way.

What’s the one project that sums up your work?

Our collaboration with Staple Pigeon. We were pretty flexible in our approach, but we wanted to use secondhand Nikes, and founder Jeff Staple gave us the OK. It was a turning point in our career: one of the founding fathers of sneaker culture giving our philosophy his stamp of approval. Together with Jeff Staple we designed our first pair of black shoes, called the Wavy Pigeon, which combined our asymmetric (and fully repairable) sole with secondhand Air Force 1s.

How has lockdown affected your practice? 

It’s as if somebody held a great big mirror up and now we can’t un-see what we’ve seen. The whole situation has shown us there’s still so much to learn and change about the fashion system. We’re developing new ideas, looking for collaborations and trying to make positive changes to how our company works. 

If you could change one thing about sneaker culture, what would it be?  

As designers we dip our toes into sneaker culture, but we’re no sneakerheads. To understand the meaning of what we’re doing in a cultural sense means we’ve had to learn about sneaker culture. We don’t want to change the culture, but we’d like to change a great deal about the sneakers. We’d like to see companies designing sneakers for repair.

What’s your advice for young creatives trying to find inspiration at the moment?

Tune in to what makes you unique and follow where it takes you. We don’t need more of the same, we need sensitivity and authenticity.

Our top sustainable sneakers

Ancuta Sarca

Ancuta Sarca is a Romanian-born, London-based designer who has gained international recognition for her upcycled trainers and sneaker-spliced kitten heels and boots. An advocate of sustainable fashion, she made her debut with a footwear presentation as part of Fashion East at London Fashion Week SS20.

What have you been doing to pass the time in isolation?

Working, exercise, cooking, baking, reading and doing video calls with my family and friends. It’s quite good for me not to feel the social pressure for a while and change my life rhythm a bit. 

What’s the origin of your idea of reworking sneakers? What does it mean to you?

It’s one of the most personal projects I’ve ever made. I started it because I had lots of shoes at home that I no longer wore, so I decided to re-use them. It happened at a time in my life when I was going through some big changes and I never thought I would go as far with it.  

What makes a pair of sneakers good for deconstructing?

Most importantly, they should be sneakers that would normally go to waste, that people won’t wear any more, or deadstock sneakers that stores can’t sell.

What was the first pair of sneakers you deconstructed?

White and red Nike Cortez.


Which non-fashion world creatives inspire you the most?

Artist James Turrell, filmmaker Taika Waititi, and film director Yorgos Lanthimos.

When we can all go outside again, what’s the first thing you’ll do?

Meet my friends!

The latest styles for her

Let’s change the way we shop

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