The floors of FHC are scuffed with the path of self-expression

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Jia Niemeyer

Jia Niemeyer’s favorite shoes that she’s painted for herself, which are one of the two Disney pairs she’s made.

Senior Ivan Wheland walked into school one day and was told he was wearing “grandma shoes.”

“I bought a pair of New Balances from Goodwill, and I wore them to school, thinking they were fire,” Ivan said. “My best friend, the first thing he said to me was ‘Those look like grandma shoes.’ I took them off because, at the time, I cared about what people thought. Over time, since then, I’ve thought about it and cared less to the point where I’m going to wear what I like, what fits my vibe, and what fits my style. That involves customizing shoes. Customizing is the last piece of truly making it your own. No one else in the world owns it. It’s different from Air Force 1s where fifty percent of the school has them; I don’t know who else has Sharpied on them, but I have. Things like that help me stand out, but not in a bad way—not in a way where people who don’t like standing out wouldn’t want. It’s attention that everybody looks for, and I’ve received nothing but compliments.”

Shoes are just a happy little thing on your feet—I don’t know how to explain it.”

— Jia Niemeyer

Since Ivan’s unfortunate shoe incident, his confidence has grown in what he wears and chooses to add to his style with his footwear choice. Specifically, his custom Converse, which have a cream base, an olive-toned tongue, and a cow print stripe on the back, and his Air force 1s that he chose to doodle on.

For Ivan, his doodles weren’t to stand out: they were to make the shoes his own. He views customization in this way even when he buys them online. 

“I like customizing shoes because depending on the tones you wear or your style—maybe you like a model of a shoe but [not] the colors, and you can’t see yourself wearing them, but you like the silhouette—it allows you to make it your own,” Ivan said. “You can do something as simple as all black. You can do something as simple as all white, or just outlines, or make it cream. It can be basic, and it can be extravagant. That’s what I like about it. It’s solely up to the person making the shoes.”

A premier advantage to buying a simple shoe is that there are people who can custom paint the shoe, or taking Ivan’s path, the shoes could be drawn over to turn the basic into extravagant.

Sophomore Jia Niemeyer has been customizing shoes for the people around her since fifth or sixth grade. She takes her acrylic paint to primarily white Converse high tops and hand-paints exquisite images for the shoe’s owners.

Jia predominantly makes shoes for other people since she barely ever saves her own artwork. Yet despite not saving much of her artwork, she finds confidence in her customized shoes like her favorite blue and purple Donald and Daisy Duck Converse. 

“I think shoes, for me, is one of my favorite ways to express myself,” said Jia, who also paints clothing like jackets. “With clothes, I’m often kind of shy with doing bold colors and fabrics and stuff like that. Shoes are just a happy little thing on your feet—I don’t know how to explain it. They’re a bit more subtle, in my opinion, than wearing bold clothes. It’s my way of expressing myself.”

Jia and Ivan both agree on the self-expression found in shoes. While they can be found in any shoes, they embrace it the most with ones made just for them.

Similar to Jia, junior Tara Brace bides her free time painting shoes for other people. Tara runs an Instagram page for her custom shoes and has her prices beginning around $25. Tara isn’t in it singularly for the money, though. 

“I really like the creativity,” Tara said. “I like seeing what other people want and seeing their imagination and things that they see online, then me making [the shoes] and seeing them so happy about it.”

Tara is the perfect example of how shoe customizers can be just as jubilant at the outcome of the shoe as the shoe owners. Sometimes, as in Tara’s mind, the design and creation are as much ebullience as receiving the final outcome.

Personalized shoes show talent, before and after they’re finished, and are a form of self-expression but can also be reminders of the past’s hope for a customized-shoe future.

“The funny thing about customizing shoes, I will say,” Ivan said, “is that when I was younger—I know a lot of other guys have done this too—I would go on Nike’s website for fun and spend hours just customizing different shoes, knowing I wasn’t going to buy any of them. That’s a memory I have. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to live long enough; I’m now customizing them and then purchasing them with my own money.”